The last week on the Olympic Park has been a bit of a blur. The first time I actually saw any sport was when I managed to get out of the park for one day on Wednesday to see some men’s’ kayaking at Lee Valley White Water Centre. It was fascinating to see how another venue outside of the Olympic Park functions. I checked out all the grandstands and chose one in the middle to give the best view of the course where I witnessed Italian Molmenti win gold in the men’s’ K1 (individual kayak). Annoyingly it was the following day when I was not there that Team GB won gold and silver in the men’s’ canoe final!
A couple of days later I managed to get into the Velodrome. It was a last minute thing and we were not allowed to wear work uniforms so we quickly went to the London 2012 shop and bought ourselves t-shirts! We ran across to the venue in time to see Team GB win two gold medals, including my hero Victoria Pendleton – just unbelievable. The velodrome is like no other venue for noise, look and shape. A text came through from our friend saying “just saw you on TV in the crowd at the velodrome!” It was a phenomenal atmosphere and I thought the night could not get any better until immediately afterwards we managed to get into basketball for a women’s Team GB match – incredible! The ludicrous night continued when myself and my friend were dancing in the crowd and a young man approached us. I assumed we were in his seat or something but he said he had seen us dancing and asked us to be part of a dance off in front of the whole arena at half time! Stupidly we said yes and ended up following on the cheerleaders to dance with just two other people. It was boys versus girls and despite some impressive “virtual basketball” dance moves from myself and some guy I had just met, the girls won on a crowd vote. Apparently we were on the BBC Red Button dancing! Sadly Team GB lost in overtime to Team France in a nail-biting super-close encounter. But what a night! The basketball arena actually looks inflatable up close and, along with many other venues on the park, looks amazing at night. Outside The Velodrome Action From The Inside Pendleton Victorious
On Sunday I managed to borrow a couple of passes to the stadium to get in for the 100m final night of athletics. It was only appropriate that I took a Jamaican colleague of mine – it turns out his wife knows silver medallist Johan Blake’s mum and when he shouted to him, Johan turned around! The photographers around us were delighted! Not for the first time, we had snuck into an area we were not really supposed to, after much running around trying to get close to the medallists and being denied access repeatedly. Earlier, we had struggled to find somewhere to stand (we did no have seats, only accreditation) and security were not being helpful. I managed to sneak us into the media area before we were told broadcasters were being ushered to the top of the stadium as they were clearing that area. We followed the broadcasters’ herd, knowing one of two things would happen. Either we would be kicked out or we would have the greatest seats in the house, right in front of the 100m with the best view of the whole stadium. No one disturbed us all night and we witnessed sporting history on a truly “I was there” occasion.
Every day there are new stories of my colleagues having sat at centre court at Wimbledon to watch Roger Federer, or being told that they look tired by Boris Becker, or nearly being run down by BBC Sport’s Jake Humphrey in one of our golf buggies, or even being filmed giving buggy training… I could go on. All this, of course, is in addition to the incredible sporting stories coming out of all the venues that we are all hearing about. The Olympic Park is such a pleasant place to be, with people chilling out on the riverbanks cheering on their heroes in the “Park Live” sites. It is a bit busy though and as a result takes time to get places. The pre-designated buggy routes have never quite been marked out by the “Look” department responsible for signage in the way that was intended. As a result it is quite difficult to get about the park quickly and dangerous to drive the golf buggies too quickly. So far, everyone is being sensible though, even the broadcasters who need to rush across the park to film a piece to camera at a certain time. The other night I managed to drive a golf buggy right underneath the BBC Three television studios whilst the British canoe gold medallists were showing their medals off above me and the crowd were going wild to my right! Personally, though, it is hard to find a highlight to top last week’s opening ceremony night, watched by 27 million Brits and a billion across the world. Quite frankly, I do not think it will be topped. So much happened in such an incredible show of such intensity, that it was easy to forget some of the most remarkable parts. I thought I would run through the show bit by bit, and muse on which bits were included in the rehearsal I saw and which bits were surprises.
The album “Isles of Wonder” literally has not been off my iPod since the ceremony. “And I Will Kiss” is the scariest song and makes me jump on the bus, “Always Loved A Film” is incredible, and the entire second half of the album (starting with the brilliant choice of Chemical Brothers’ Galvanise) is 120bpm – to make the athletes walk faster round the stadium – so perfect to work out to! Or, indeed, to make a slideshow video which changes image every half a second (sorry, I’m a video geek). Caliban’s Dream is the highlight, though, Underworld have seriously delivered with this track.
8.12 pm (aka 20:12) the crowd are warmed up by the likes of Frank Turner – the “Wessex Boy” singer was a fabulous choice as his music fits the William Blake-esque set well.
9.00 pm The show begins with a fabulous tour of the Thames from its starting point at the stone all the way to the stadium, as the incredible Muse song “Map of the Problamatique” plays whilst logos of the previous 29 summer Olympiad are displayed over the footage. Along the way, we see the Pink Floyd Animals cover pig floating over Battersea Power Station, Ratty and Moley from the Wind in the Willows, hear Irish music, The Clash’s London Calling, The Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen and the Eastenders theme as the camera pans out to show the whole of the central River Thames. Choosing the river as the theme for the introduction is clever as it truly is and always has been the life blood of the city. I had “Map of the Problamatique” going round my head for days after this.
9.03 pm Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins rings the largest tuned bell in Europe to start the games. In the rehearsal, he was introduced as “Bob Smith” as his identity as bell ringer was kept secret.
9.04 pm We flash around the United Kingdom and hear children’s choirs in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales singing Jerusalem, Londonderry Air, Oh Danny Boy, Flower of Scotland and Bread of Heaven (Land of my Fathers). You could almost feel pride from everyone who had originally been cynical that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would be left out of the party. This section was not left out of the party but was left out of rehearsals.
9.06 pm Casting Kenneth Branagh as Isambard Kingdom Brunel was inspired, wasn’t it? He was there for rehearsals, as was all of the next stupendous section of the show. And the famous “Isles of Wonder” speech from Caliban’s speech from The Tempest, that the opening ceremony takes its name from, was wonderful. The “green and pleasant lands” were always going to be a logistical nightmare to remove subtly from the stage, so Danny Boyle overcame that problem brilliantly by having the cast remove it as part of the Industrial Revolution piece. The chimneys emerging from the ground was something to behold.
9.09 pm 965 volunteers drumming in unison as the industrial scene was completed was incredible. “Pandæmonium” flashed up on the screens, famously John Milton’s capital of Hell in “Paradise Lost” and also a book by Humphrey Jennings, a collection of stories about a changing world.
9.18 pm Pearly kings and queens, Sergeant Pepper-style outfits, Chelsea Pensioners, Suffragettes and a moment to reflect on those lost in two world wars.
9.22 pm The molten ring forged by the industrial workers is raised to the roof to form the Olympic logo as four more rings converge from all angles. This looked great inside the stadium but from outside you could just about see the rings, which was awe-inspiring.
9.24 pm The incredible parachuting James Bond/Queen sketch featuring the Queen’s first prime minister, Winston Churchill! (See video below) This bit was top secret – it was not present at rehearsals and even Prince William and Prince Harry did not know! We had been watching parachuters practising for days beforehand though… Once someone had parked one of our golf buggies where one of the rehearsing parachuters was supposed to land and we had to scramble at one in the morning to rescue it!
9.30 pm The Kaos Singing for Deaf Children choir sing the National Anthem acapella in their pyjamas.
9.34 pm Great Ormond Street Hospital patients are wheeled in by doctors and nurses on beds that spell out first the GOSH logo and then spell NHS. Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells plays before giving way to In Dulcet Jubilee. This was fantastic in rehearsals and hard to keep a secret it was so good!
9.38 pm JK Rowling reads an extract from Peter Pan and some of children’s literature’s scariest characters appear in larger than life scale. Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmations, Captain Hook from Peter Pan, the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. The largest of the lot though was Lord Voldemort from JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series. From the stands during rehearsals it was hard to spot all the different characters, so much was going on!
9.42 pm Voldemort and his cronies are defeated by an army of Mary Poppinses flying down with umbrellas from the roof of the stadium. We cheered at this point during rehearsals as due to the angle we were sitting at we got to see them before most people! Then things take a more sensible turn – oh wait actually there’s a giant baby sleeping in the centre of the stadium.
9.47 pm Mr Bean, Rowan Atkinson’s famous alter-ego joins the London Symphony Orchestra for a hilarious rendition of Chariots of Fire. He is a truly international character in that he does not speak so there is no language barrier – Mr Bean has been shown in 245 different countries. Spot the product placement – he uses a Samsung phone during this sketch. This whole sketch was missing from the rehearsal and was a fabulous surprise.
9.52 pm A red mini with a “2012” number plate pulls up outside a house. Michael Fish’s famous 1987 hurricane mis-prediction is played whilst a rainstorm pours down from a fake cloud above the house.
9.54 pm We watch a British family enjoy a variety of classic British television sitcoms, soaps and films. Harry Hill’s TV Burp, Coronation Street, Eastenders, Blackadder, Only Fools and Horses, Fawlty Towers, Oliver and so much more! Upstairs, teen daughter June gets ready for a night out and updates her Facebook status. This was at the rehearsal but of course at the stadium, whilst you can see the clips played on the walls of the house (a very cool touch); you could not see the Facebook statuses which were superimposed over the official Olympic Broadcast Services (OBS) feed.
9.56 pm June and her friends get on an underground train, symbolised by large colourful fluorescent arches and tube line maps are shown on the awesome interactive screens on every chair in the stadium. In reality you cannot pull these very far from their holders but in rehearsal we were taught how to move these in a certain way to create clever effects across the whole stadium. The Jam’s Going Underground (what else?) plays as June glimpses a boy called Frankie and it is love at first sight. June drops her (Samsung) phone and Frankie picks it up. British film clips such as Kes, Gregory’s Girl and Billy Elliot are projected on the house.
9.58 pm June and Frankie try to find each other as music from the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties and Nineties plays. My Generation by The Who, Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones, My Girl Lollipop by Millie, She Loves You by The Beatles (a massive hit during rehearsal), Tiger Feet by Mud, Message to You Rudy by the Specials, Starman by David Bowie, Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen… You name it, they played it.
10.04 pm The music now shifts to Born Slippy by underworld from Danny Boyles’ famous film Trainspotting. Next up is a clip from the quintessentially British movie our Weddings and a Funeral – Hugh Grant’s famous “I think I love you” speech, and June and Frankie kiss as Blur’s Song 2 (WOO HOO) rings out – perfection. The Internet went nuts, proclaiming the 18 year old hitherto unknown actress who plays Frankie as the most beautiful girl in the world. West Ham anthem I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles plays out – during rehearsal we were all taught to sing this in the 48 minute warm up between 20:12 and 21:00 when the ceremony started.
10.06 pm Local boy Dizzee Rascal performs Bonkers live – this was simply played without the presence of Dizzee during rehearsals. Great modern British music is played – the late Amy Winehouse’s Valerie, Muse’s Uprising and Tinie Tempah’s Pass Out, to name a few. The mash up was quite frankly brilliant and it is a shame it was missing from the final cut of the Isles of Wonder album. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Lady and the Tramp, Shrek, Prince William and Catherine’s kiss are all projected on the house.
10.08 pm The house rises to reveal Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, sitting at a computer screen – hence why this section, where the couple were brought together by social networking, was called “Frankie and June say Thanks Tim”. The words “This is for Everyone” appear on the audience’s screens.
10.09 pm We see a film showing highlights of the Torch Relay; it began in Greece with the torch lit from the sun’s flames but mostly took place in the British rain! But it sure shows Britons at their best all across the country – one even proposed during the torch relay!
10.13 pm An incredibly cool looking David Beckham races down the Thames, through Tower Bridge, on a speedboat with the Olympic Torch. Having spoken to security and logistics staff at the Aquatics Centre, I had guessed the night before the ceremony that Sir Steve Redgrave would arrive by boat and participate in “the final kiss”, where one torch is lit from another. I witnessed the torch relay twice in Stoke Newington I Hackney and it was a fantastic community experience. The sponsor buses (Samsung etc.) come past a few minutes in advance and whip the crowd up before the actual torchbearer comes past.
10.14 pm A short tribute to deceased friends and relatives of those in the stadium.
10.15 pm A giant orange sun appears in the middle of the stadium on the floor and dancers perform a moving “struggle of life against death” dance routine around it whilst Emile Sande sings a beautiful rendition of the hymn Abide With Me. Everyone’s respect for Emile Sande went through the roof when she showed what she is capable of – this was essentially acapella, sung only over a heartbeat played around the stadium. I could not believe this was Emile Sande during rehearsals.
10.20 pm Greece kick off the athletes’ parade – Greece of course being where the games began all==those years ago. The modern games are a derivative of the Ancient Greek games and began in 1896 (this is the 30th Olympiad). The 203 other nations then file in in alphabetical order starting with Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, American Samoa, Andorra etc. Each nation has one child among the athletes carrying a mysterious copper petal… Of course during the rehearsal, it was LOCOG staff and volunteers carrying the flags and we were told to leave after a while. Not until after we had danced like lunatics in the stands though!
12.00 am Finally! Team GB arrive in the stadium last as the host nation, accompanied by David Bowie’s Heroes – a very appropriate choice. Four time Olympic cycling gold medallist Sir Chris Hoy leads the team out. Once all the nations are done, the Arctic Monkeys play I Bet You Look Good on the Dance floor, followed by Beatles hit Come Together. 75 symbolic dove bikes circle the edge of the stadium, celebrating he role of bicycles in everyday life, not just the Olympics.
12.10 am Lord Seb Coe welcomes the world to London, claiming he has “never been so proud to be British”, adding that the Olympics are here to “celebrate what is best about mankind”. Next to speak is International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, the dude who seven years ago in Singapore famously announced “the Games of the thirtieth Olympiad are awarded to… Lon-DON”. The Queen then declares the Games officially open.
12.18 am Fireworks erupt from the roof of the stadium. The Olympic flag is brought in, carried by some of the world’s humanitarian icons (you know, UN secretary Ban Ki-Moon and Doreen Lawrence, whose son Stephen Lawrence was murdered in 1993, et al.) There is a shock appearance from Muhammad Ali, who gets a standing ovation, frail from Parkinson’s disease but still a champion.
12.28 am Sir Steve Redgrave receives the Olympic flame from David Beckham and runs into the stadium with it. Seven stars of the future nominated by British Olympic heroes take the flame.
12.34 am The young athletes ignite the torch made up of the copper petals brought in to the stadium by each of the 204 participating countries. They rise to from a spectacular bowl of unity. Obviously, this did not happen in the rehearsal I witnessed and the exact form of the torch was kept a closely guarded secret. The bowl echoes the place of the torch in the 1948 Olympic Games, and was similarly later moved to the side of the stadium.
12.36 am A montage of iconic Olympic moments – everything from Jesse Owens in 1938 showing up the Nazis to Usain Bolt in 2008 – play as fireworks are let off.
12.37 am Sir Paul McCartney takes to the stage on the piano leading a mass sing-along of Hey Jude. Most people were pleased this did not make the final cut of the “Isles of Wonder” album… Perhaps Sir Paul is past it but he certainly seemed fine when I saw him with Bruce Springsteen in Hyde Park the other week. More fireworks were then let off right above me (see my previous blog) and the Games had officially begun!