Pete’s Olympic Opening Ceremony!!

We thought we needed a special story to launch our blog.   What better way than with an experience of a life time from our Tumble coach Pete!….

 

12 April 2012
London 2012 Ceremonies – Congratulations
Dear Peter

Congratulations! London 2012 Ceremonies are pleased to inform you that you have been successful in your audition to become a Ceremonies Volunteer Performer in the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony………………

Up to that point it had been a very ordinary day.

It had all started 8 months before when I discovered an application form on the London2012 Web site …… or had it started 8 years before when Katie had been involved in the Athens games opening and closing ceremonies?

Whichever it was, there it was, the application form; and so started an incredible journey.

Audition 1 – 3rd November 2011 – Three Mills London – Audition letter in hand with identification, through security and on to the end of an endless queue. ‘How British’, I thought. However this queue kept moving and soon I was introduced to another key factor of this process. The friendly efficiency that was to become such a part the organisation that was London 2012. I was soon numbered, measured, and photoed then off into a large hangar like studio with, probably, 500 other. From this moment on the fun began; nerves immediately settled by the overwhelming sense of fun and informality.  We settled into a series of what were obviously test but came over as games and playful sequence.

Audition 2 – 2nd December 2011 – Off to Three Mills again – Role specific………….. what did that mean? Much like the first one very efficient, very friendly and still more fun but much more detailed and harder sequences to follow.
How did I do?
Was it enough to get through?

Months went by.

A couple of emails with the message, ‘……be patient we’re still thinking’ ……………… at least it wasn’t a rejection?

Then, on an otherwise ordinary day, there it was ‘…………. you have been successful in your audition to become a Ceremonies Volunteer Performer..’

Oh my goodness …. Goosebumps all over……

With it came a ‘Volunteer’s Agreement’ . Basically – you do it all for free, no expenses, and you don’t tell anyone anything about it – or take any photos.
Yep I’ll go along with that!!!

Next the schedule. 16 days, in London, mostly unconnected but some would require staying over. Most sessions at least 6 hours long, some as long as 12 hours on top of the 2 -3 hours traveling each way.
Time off and holiday time booked, places to stay and parking researched. Ready to go!!!

London!!! Best laid plans of mice, men and satnav? An hour late for the first rehearsal at Three Mills!! What a start!
Was there a fuss? – Na, the friendliness and efficiency kicked in and there I was back on track, my new number ‘HIS 250’ with an extra label ‘Windrush – Porter’ What was this all about?
After a bit of warming up and acting lessons we were introduced to the sack truck… Good old fashioned, well built, metal wheeled, HEAVY sack trucks. My goodness. The next hour was learning how to get it to do as it was told and not take anybody’s shines off.

‘Excuse me can you come with me’ – Off we went to a dressing room lined with all sorts of clothes and costumes…. and a box with my number on ………… My outfit and BOOTS – Oh dear no flip flops??

Back home I looked up the Windrush story.
I started here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MV_Empire_Windrush and followed many links to build up a feeling for the times and this episode in British Life. Whilst we have a lot to be proud of in our history there are times where it’s difficult to find excuses………………….

The subgroup I was with was 6 guys who were to be trained as Porter meeting 30 West Indians off the Empire Windrush. Well this wasn’t going to be dull or quiet. We had a ball.

The next time we all got together was going to be a long week end. Thursday at Three Mills, Friday pick up the Stadium Accreditation, Saturday in Dagenham.  I choose a quiet hotel just outside the M25 and then made the mistake of deciding to WALK between the hotel and the station. Well it didn’t look that far on the map!!
Got to Three Mills in good time had to queue a bit but got in. This time it was all about where we would go with the trolleys and how we would stack the suitcases and how we would run with them.

The story was that when the West indians arrived from the Caribbean they had no idea about our ways and culture, never mind our weather. We were to meet them, take their cases from them, about which they were somewhat worried but didn’t like to say no, then run off with the cases with them in hot pursuit finally handing them back, putting our hand out for a tip when all we got was a handshake! …… and off we would go in disgust. That was the plan.
2 hours and a number of practices later we were getting there and it was time to go home. A little tired I got on the train back to hotel … and then there was that walk. How could the hotel have moved so much further away?….. and, please, when was it going to stop raining?
It’s funny how a good night’s sleep, a long lay in and a good breakfast help one to forget the pain…………
It was accreditation day. This meant I had to get to an industrial estate just outside West Ham, prove who I was and get my badge to hang around my neck, without which I simply would not be allowed in the stadium. So off I go walking to the station – you never learn. Train Direct to West Ham, train, one stop down to Star Lane, 20 yards across the road, end of queue of some 300+ people ………. oh dear………. however half an hour later I was accredited, out and back on the return journey! What organisation!! Brilliant. Pity I couldn’t organise myself as well. Back at the Station it was across to Lakeside shopping centre for a McD’s and then to the hotel. Now I was beginning to struggle. The hotel had been moved further away and my hip was letting me know what it though of the whole idea.
The next day was to be an early start to get to Dagenham East in good time to get the transport, so off for an early night and first down to breakfast in the morning.
I DROVE to Upminster Railway Station, parked as close as I could to the station entrance and got under way to Dagenham.

What was going to be next in the adventure? A wind swept car park.. I say a car park – this was where Ford parked all those cars they used to make in this country ready for export – it was massive and the wind was strong and the rain was wet and the puddles were deep!! Dampened spirits? – Na! Just got on with it.
5 circuits, 20+ 25 meter dashes pushing and partly controlling that trolley through the puddles and between the raindrops latter, burger from the mobile canteen in hand, it was time to crawl home…… I needed to be fitter.

An email: We got it so right that the next Dagenham session was cancelled, Hooray!! – next trip The Stadium. Wow!!

And so the 24th June arrived – just under 5 weeks to go to ‘The Show’ as it was now referred to. Our first visit to the stadium.
The drive up to Upminster, park, catch the train to West Ham then change to Stratford on to the Stadium, practice then reverse the journey was to become a regular pattern of event for the next few weeks, and, until the final week, all to be accompanied by rain, lots and lots of rain!!

On the 24th I arrived to stand in a queue, luckily, between showers, be welcomed with an x-ray machine and body scanner, walk the half mile or so to the registration building, pick up our bag of food for the day then follow the queue into the stands, collect a poncho (which would be well used over the coming weeks)  and wait – well there was a lot of waiting to do. We were here so that Danny Boyle and his team could put on the greatest show on earth, this meant that we had to be there when he needed us and not when he didn’t. We were there from 9 am to 12:30 (we got out early because the heavens really did open up!!) and practice our routine twice – all 12 minutes of it, twice. However what an atmosphere – the drummers practicing made a phenomenal  sound easily filling out the stadium. The Steel Band kept on jamming to entertain us and, well, thirty West Indians from London in one place at one time!! We were never bored.

This was the general pattern for July 1st , 8th,14th and 18th other than each time we tried our routine from different entrance points, exit point, routes, sequences knowing that soon it would be the dress rehearsals time, however the changes were not to stop until the final dress rehearsal when, for us, it all came together. (Watching it, you wouldn’t have been aware that there were changes for some on Show night!!)

Once we had the opportunity to stay and watch one of the other section – Mary Poppins flying in – Wow!  Wasn’t expecting that – this is getting better and better.

Some good news now we were all to be given 2 tickets for the final dress rehearsal. Now, I wonder who were to get these?

The final week had arrived. Time for everyone in the show to be there, time for us to be locked away in our dressing rooms waiting for our call.

Friday 20th was the first time the whole cast were together. Arrival time 12 noon departure around 10 pm!! Some long days ahead. From today there would be lots of people on the track moving in opposite directions, crossing the track with rolls of grass, fences and bits of house, marching up and down with banners, dodging equipment and keeping away from tractors and trailing. No wonder this section is called ‘Pandemonium’. There were clashes and emergency stops, one of which saw me slip up and land squarely on my back, in the wet!! Numerous re-sets – and that’s no easy task with several thousand people milling around. Anyway things did get better.

The first dress rehearsal to a largely empty stadium on Saturday went reasonably well. However this is when we were told that we would be asked to leave the area as soon as we had finished our part . No going back into the stadium and watching the rest of the show!! Bit of a groan and moan there ……. We were to be part of the few that would never actually see the show until we got home after Friday 27th and it was available on the iPlayer!! Not fair.

Monday 23rd – First Dress rehearsal in front of 40,000+ people – lots of them from the media; lots of them from the volunteer groups. Arriving at 3pm to the sound of the protective helicopters and not being called until 8:30pm ready to do our bit at just after 9:00pm meant lots of hanging about. By this time we had learnt to bring books to read, games to play and explore the stadium up to the point where our passes would allow.
7:30pm get dressed; 8:30pm get called just after 9 off we go. Yep all going to plan. Out ,turn left, over the bridge, do our bit and WOW – the applause, the appreciation, the crowd’s reaction. Fantastic – now that was different. That was exciting. That made you feel really, really good.
Back to the room, change and go home. Still buzzing from that reaction. WOW!!

Wednesday 25th. Final dress rehearsal. Set off from Eastleigh in bright sunshine  with 2 additional excited individuals in the car – it was Katie and Imi’s trip to see Gaga do his stuff. Good journey up, bit of a pain parking but sorted, off to the stadium via McDonalds and in by 3pm leaving two excited girls killing time shopping in the massive shopping center right next to the stadium. A couple of texts came through to break the tedium of waiting for the call. Pictures of new boots brought. On the way into the Olympic Park.
Then ‘Switching off phone only 20% left’
OMG!!!.
The spare battery, must get it to Katie before she get into the stadium. Found it. Let Katie know ………. Oh dear… phone off!!! Have to get out there. Dashing out to the Park …. phone still off ……… Thousands of people OMG …….. Up and down, up and down ………. phone still off. Must get back now ………. ‘Gaga!’ I had been spotted. Must have passed them so many times. Battery passed over, some precious moments spent, then time to get back, much relieved. Settle down.

Four billion people watching on television is nothing against two loved ones in the audience. The nerves had started to show!!! Was the costume right? Was I going to slip up? Would someone get in the way? 2hrs to go….
How long can 2hrs take? – Finally the call. Waiting to go on. The noise – clearly it was going well.  Once again out we go… don’t look up, it won’t look right ……….. can they see me? ……. just do the job!! .. Oooohh that applause!! That is good!! However… Back to the room, quick change, out, up the lift and to the meeting place in the shopping center …………. wait a minute, let’s see what happens if I try to go into the stadium ……… Oooo in, round the corner, no one saying anything!!! Let’s watch the show!!

Goodness Gracious Me!!! What a production!!! The lights and that sound system!! Soooooo exciting, vital and the memories!!! Unbelievable!! WOW …….Time to go.

Time to go with the crowds, all 50,000 of them ……….. Oh Dear …….. did I say they were well organised. A number of texts, phones calls, quiet ‘inappropriate’ words and one and half hours later we managed to meet up at the station half a mile away……. took the edge off it a bit there!!

Katie couldn’t find enough superlatives in the English language to describe what she thought of the show, but had to report that Imi’s comment was, ‘Can Gaga turn the music down? It’s too loud!!’ She was asleep now so I couldn’t explain that I didn’t really have that much control. Bless her.

Despite a long lie in on Thursday, my goodness, it did drag.Tomorrow was the 27th. Show Day…………….

Up early, check, double check, got everything? I do hope so. Phone and iPad cleared out to get as many images as possible? Yes, today we could take as many photos of anything we wished… ready to go.

Uneventful journey up, easy parking, no hassle on the trains. Well done Boris!! A little more crowded in Stratford today. In for a McDonalds, it’d be a few hours before I’d eat again. Off to the Stadium still early, no queue, straight in, however registration not ready yet. A queue! A queue of excited, bubbly people of all ages, all backgrounds and all with one thought on their minds – This times it’s for real.
Half an hour and a hundred different stories of individual experiences later, registration opens and the day really begins.

The atmosphere in the changing rooms was different, an air of expectancy, the buzz of excitement, groups gathering together for photos, new friends exchanging details. Up in the stadium the sun was out and it looked fantastic The meadow looked greener, the house was so peaceful in the middle – no idea what was to come. Maypoles set ready for the children. Perfect.
So, back to the dressing rooms. iPad half full already and still 4 hour to go before the call. Busier now, the excitement building, burst of laughter from bustling groups, more photo calls, cards exchanging hands, memories being shared. Time was no longer dragging.
Time to get changed – already? Yes the audience was in the pre-show had begun, the Red Arrows had flown by.
The changing rooms were red hot now, everyone moving from the 21st century to the 1940s. Another round of photos in costume……would the iPad give out??
Half hour call. Check every thing – cap, coat, tie, boots? All in order.
10 minute call. Good Luck Everyone.
Here we go.

Out in Vom 1 everything was going exactly as we had practice, time and time again but with that extra briskness that excitement creates. More photos, more of those gatherings that excited people, many of whom you’d never met before and would, probably, never meet again, are united by.
Countdown.
10; 9;  8; 7; 6; 5; 4; 3; 2; 1 Boom the drums kick in …….. Isambard Brunel gallops up to the tore. Pandemonium breaks loose. Britain is about to change forever;  the meadow is transformed, there is work to do, the Jamaicans arrive on the Windrush to provide a workforce for Britain’s post war recovery, the porters on the dockside to help with their luggage….. oh my goodness were here, here in the stadium doing our bit….. The sounds are sharper the lights are brighter…… The ring is forged and, with others,come together above us. They burst in life, the music crescendos then quietens only to be overtaken by the roar of the crowd………. Fantastic. We clap our  thank yous, take our bow and we’re off

What an experience!

What a day.

That, will never be forgotten!!