It was on the afternoon of the 6th of July 2005 that we huddled around a portable TV in the meeting room of our Clerkenwell office. We were waiting for the big announcement. Doesn’t it feel like a long time ago now? We screamed and jumped up and down, thrilled that the Olympics were coming.
Last night saw the closing ceremony in the Olympic stadium, the flame passed on to Rio (good luck with that…), the athletes celebrating a super two-week competition. And no sign of Paul McCartney and his na-na-na-na-nas.
For several years we have witnessed debate, controversy, overspending, planning, doubt. Can we really host an Olympic games when we, on an ordinary day, can barely make a trains run, we are rubbish at sport, we’re in recession and, as Brits, we tend to be pretty negative? The media have, on the most part, been very downbeat about it. So many people expected a disaster, an embarrassment. People fled London, arranged to work from home, went on holiday, avoided public transport. Our cab drivers went on strike, in protest at the travel arrangements. In the run up, it really looked like this would be a self-fulfilling prophecy. That, frankly, we’d make complete fools of ourselves.
And then came the opening ceremony, masterminded by Danny Boyle. And suddenly, we all took a breath, a collective “phew”. It was spectacular. And across London and the UK, we saw the first glimpse of what could be. Let’s face it, if we can ask the Queen to jump out of a helicopter with Daniel Craig (I know that bit wasn’t her, but so what!), then why the heck can’t we host a splendid Games?
Outside of London and the M25, the impact of the Olympics was minimal, up to then. My own parents, based in the south of Scotland, had little interest or attachment to it. But, given the opportunity to spend the day in the Olympic park in East London, they became fans. And this effect spread far and wide. People who had either been unsuccessful or simply not interested in tickets previously were now clambering for entry to this marvellous site. Keen for just a small taste of the flavour of 2012. The very real problem of empty seats at the start of the Games was soon sorted and people were spinning themselves into a frenzy to get inside those gates.
Team GB finished third in the medals table. And the best part of that was the sheer range of events that we did so well in
(and the Aussies were nowhere) For the first time, we are allowed to fancy ourselves in any sport, not just the UK norms of football or, well…..not a lot really. Suddenly, Team GB are pretty good at everything. Not just the pity and smiling through gritted teeth of “well, we did our best”. Oh no, now we can truly say “we were bloody good, check us out!”.
The Union Jacks that had been bought for the Jubilee earlier in the year appeared again, bunting was back up, parties enjoyed in back gardens. Say to anyone in the street “How are we doing?”, they’ll know that you mean “How many medals have we won today?”
We. Yes, I mean us, the Brits. You know, the ones who are normally a bit dour? Love to moan about the weather, the government, how crap we are at most stuff? Afraid to fly our flag in case people go a bit BNP or worse, a bit Daily Mail on us. We, who dared to believe that we could win the Olympics and get away with it.
It wasn’t just the athletes who performed. The volunteers were the stars. People who gave up their time, took annual leave, wore dodgy beige trousers, all in the name of making our experience better. I would love to know what the overseas fans thought. Because, in my opinion, they were brilliant. They looked like they were having the time of their lives and they showed what being British is really about. Humour, individuality, eccentricity, manners. I have not heard a bad word said about any of them. So, well done you lot.
The Armed Forces stepped in at short notice thanks to a bunch of incompetents called G4S who were supposed to be securing our Games. Every cloud! What a wonderful chance for us to get up close to our ladies and gents in the military, to see them enjoying themselves and to thank them for being there. And to the Emergency Services too. Yesterday, on leaving the Olympic mountain biking venue, I saw a little boy gazing up at a stern looking policeman, machine gun in hand (I’m sure that my husband will correct me on that. It looked like a machine gun or something equally scary anyway). The policeman gave him a big grin and high-fived him. The wee boy was thrilled and went all shy. He’ll be telling all of his friends when he sees them. A small gesture but a big memory.
So many superstars came to the forefront, people for us all to admire, for our kids to aspire to be like. Sir Chris Hoy, Ben Ainslie, Jessica Ennis, Tom Daley, Bradley Wiggins, Mo Farah. My goodness, you really could list them all day. Isn’t that amazing? I think most people would struggle to pick just one highlight. But above all, the superstar that is Usain Bolt will remain in the excited hearts of so many people. Someone who can make sport look easy, look fun and have a great laugh doing it (who else can smash the 200m and then do press-ups?). That’s what we want our little boys and girls to dream of.
In a country where our popular culture is suffocated by reality TV, z-listers, wannabes and overpaid, unappreciative footballers, we are grateful for this change. I think a tide has turned, I do hope so anyway. Will we still allow people who have zero talent to get away with being on our front pages? I want my little girl to grow up thinking, yes I can be beautiful and strong but I can also swim, dive, run, hurdle, row, be a rocket-scientist. We can’t accept mediocrity anymore. Not in our popular culture. Not in sport. Not in organisation, not in our public transport. We’ve seen what we are capable of now, so the standards are set.
The message of the London 2012 Games was to “Inspire A Generation”. We need our government to stop feathering their own nests and to cough up the money for sports facilities, for playing fields, pools, bicycles. We need our kids to grow up thinking that they can do anything and, most importantly, that they have the backing for it too. But, I also think that it’s our own generation that should be inspired, not just the kids. What we’ve seen in the last few weeks is that we can all fly our flags, we can all be that bit prouder, that bit nicer to each other, we can be positive, we can serve food and drinks inside venues without ripping people off. Have a bit more fun (Bo-Jo dancing!). We can be what we want to be. That’s the legacy.
One final positive note for me goes back to the time when we watched the Olympic Games being awarded to London. The very next day our commute, our peace and our safety was blown away on July 7th, 2005. Something that we saw and heard and were profoundly affected by. Well, I am so relieved that nobody took it upon themselves to do anything silly in the name of their misguided and extremist views. Our security and armed forces kept us safe and for that we are thankful.
I guess that this is just my little way of raising a written toast to all the people involved. I am not a Londoner and I no longer work in London. But I was lucky enough to watch, to attend and to witness the tremendous events that have graced the last couple of weeks. Onwards and upwards to the Paralympics now.
Well done to everyone. We did it. We are all Team GB.