For the past six months I have worked as a Venue Logistics Manager at the Media Complex on London’s Olympic Park. At times this has been an incredibly tough and responsible job, but the last week has made it one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
Last Wednesday I was lucky enough to have a ticket to the final rehearsal for Danny Boyle’s 2012 Opening Ceremony “Isles of Wonder”. Those of us present witnessed approximately 80% of the final show as it was performed on Friday night and keeping the contents of the spectacle a secret whilst knowing how incredible it would be was a challenge.
The following day myself and a friend took the opportunity on the last day the park would be quiet to drive on a golf buggy to as many different venues as we could and make a lighthearted video tour of the park. Each venue requires a different pass to get into so this required us calling around in advance and asking for a few favours. In the end we got to the village, which was fantastic as it is notoriously difficult to get access to, as well as aquatics and hockey. We also drove up to the outside of many of the venues via the park routes across what is known as the common domain. The video is shown below.
On Friday night itself I was just outside the stadium, halfway between the BBC studios and the entrance to the stadium itself. On what I can only describe as the best night of my life, I stood essentially backstage at the greatest show on earth, greeting all the performers immediately before and after they were on stage taking part in the best opening ceremony of all time. The workers from the industrial sequence provided great banter, the children and young performers were buzzing from the experience and many of the nurses flashed their union jack underwear at us and the photographers!
Next up was the turn of the athletes. The line up of 204 nations stretched all the way from the stadium on the south west side of the park across the common domain to the athlete’s village over a mile away on the east. I walked alongside most of the queue before assuming my place near the front so I could greet each nation as they walked past one by one.
Myself and several of the performers from earlier were cheering and shouting at each country with an enthusiasm perhaps only matched by Team Canada and Team Ireland as they came past. Some countries were less enthusiastic in their response, particularly some from the middle east which appeared to have no athletes and only dignitaries representing them. North Korea did not appreciate us shouting “we love your flag” either after the podium flag mix up the previous day – that was perhaps the only awkward moment of the night.
We joked about jumping the barrier and joining one of the lesser known countries in walking around the stadium waving with their national flag. I was astonished to find that someone actually did this to Team India!
When tennis star Novak Djokavic came past I failed to get a decent photograph of him on my phone so I ran down the queue to meet him further along. I shook his hand and got a great photo, which made my night. I also got a photo of Usain Bolt from a distance and several of the countries were up for having their photos taken with the performers in particular.
Usain Bolt with Team Jamaica
All this time of course, the show was going on inside the stadium. Being just outside it allowed me to get some rather different shots to those I had taken inside the stadium on Wednesday night. I got great pictures of the Olympic rings hovering just above the stadium, James Bond and “the Queen” parachuting in, and the Red Arrows which began the evening at 20:12 exactly. I did not mind about only having an iPhone camera on the night as the world’s best photographers had the world’s best cameras in the best possible locations at the time – Friday night was about living the experience and sharing the memories.
At the very end I was encompassed in the most awe-inspiring fireworks display I have ever witnessed and it really was hug-a-stranger moment. We had been listening on local radio to the Queen, the IOC president and Sebastien Coe talking inside the stadium whilst trying to watch on a stranger’s iPad (the giant screen in front of us had stopped working for some reason). When the fireworks happened we all literally were jumping and whooping with joy. I have seen many notable firework displays, at the London Millennium night and at three Edinburgh Hogmanays to name a few, but this time we were not just watching the fireworks – we were in them! If you watch the footage back you will see what I mean. The explosions just got louder and louder and lower and lower until we felt every bone in our bodies shake as the cloud of noise swallowed us up. It truly was a majestic end to a magnificent night.