Well this is THE main reason we’re in London - the Olympic Closing Ceremony which starts at 7.30 tonight.
09.30am: The day started well with us heading down to the restaurant to be greeted by about the most positive and energetic person I think I’d ever met (at breakfast anyway !) Dwayne, clearly was in ‘Olympic mood’ and was dressed in the full gear including a gold medal, one red and one blue sock, a 2012 logoed-top, shorts and trainers. He was loving it, and so were the guests. With a flourish, he directed us to our table and Ralph and Karen joined us not long after. We discussed our plans for the day and then tucked into the legendary ‘Premier Inn full-English breakfast’.
11.15am: With the full-English for fuel, we headed back to south-bank of the Thames for our morning walk. The weather was glorious and we even got to see Tower Bridge raise its bascules.
1.00pm: After walking as far as we could, we headed off to The Blueprint Cafe where we’d booked a table. It was getting warmer and luckily we’d organised a window-seat giving us another glorious view across the Thames. As with yesterday’s restaurants, the food here was fab and the the place had a really good buzz about it.
3.00pm: Suitably stuffed, we headed by Tube to the Olympic Stadium. The journey was pretty straightforward, but when we got there, they wouldn’t let us in to the actual stadium area because of the final security-sweep. There were quite a few of us in the same situation, so there was a massive ‘retreat’ back to the Westfield Shopping Centre.
The Shopping Centre was predictably, packed, so we took sanctuary in John Lewis and their coffee shop. Our feet needed the well-earned rest!! Whilst we were queuing we heard we’d won another medal.
The Olympic Park
5.30pm: An hour-or-so later we headed back to the Park. The much-commented security arrangements were very well organised and in spite of gazillions of people, we were through in no time. Then it was the short walk to the Stadium itself. Along the way, we were greeted by more Games-Makers – this time they were singing to us and if you listened to the words carefully, they were suggestions of how to avoid the crowds!
The Volunteers were doing a FANTASTIC job. At my age, I’m allowed to be cynical, but these guys and gals were a credit to Great Britain and the training they’d been given. Their smiles and general positive energy was highly infectious.
Once were in the Park, for me personally, the overriding impression was the sheer size of the area – it seemed to go on forever. The Stadium itself looked really impressive and the landscaping and open layout made the whole place look very inviting. I didn’t expect to see so much ’green’ – but I guess that’s why they call it a PARK!
‘The Orbit’ in any other location would look weird, but here, it seems to sit perfectly next to the Stadium. The whole area is a ready-made venue for future sports/leisure events, so I hope it gets a permanent home.
7.00pm: After a quick walk round, it was a quick visit to McDonalds gave us the extra boost of energy. Even though it’s the biggest one I’ve ever been to, the service was lightning fast! Just as well as the queues stretched forever!
7.30pm: And then, it was into the Stadium. Eventually! As with everything in the UK, we had to queue and even the best efforts by a confident (and courageous) Games-Maker couldn’t persuade any of us to shift to the section next door where the entry-process was flowing freely! Someone jokingly commented: “We’ve paid good money to queue here, so we’re not moving!”
The Olympic Stadium
So, how were first impressions once we were inside? In a word ‘WOW!’ In another three: ‘What a construction!’ Nothing could have really prepared us for the sheer scale of it. Looking from one end across to the other, people seemed ant-like in size. Like many, we’d only ever seen the Stadium on TV - in real life, it was simply enormous! And, as a testament of how generally UNfit I am, by the time I’d scaled the stairs to our seats, I was out-of-puff.
The Stadium was about a quarter full when we got there, but was filling-up quite rapidly. Hat’s-off to the organisers for shifting as many people as they did in such a short space of time.
Having got ourselves to our seats, it became clear that my promise to others of tweeting, photographing and videoing was going to be impossible given that the seating was quite cramped – and I just didn’t have enough hands nor batteries to keep it all going – sorry! The regular (and it seemed, obligatory) Mexican Wave also tested my dexterity!
Within ten minutes, we were all suffering from NBS (Numb Bum Syndrome) and that was only going to get worse as the evening progressed. Still, the pain was going to be worth it – to be HERE, seeing it all for real, was such a treat!
Now, suitable wedged into position, we could survey the Stadium and what was to come. It took me a while to work out that the floor design (by Damien Hirst) was in the pattern of the nation flag – Doh! There were plenty of sound checks and various vehicles appeared and disappeared doing circuits of the track. We noticed that we were about the farthest form the main stage, but there were some big screens conveniently located so we could see what was going on.
It was much warmer in the Stadium than outside. Obviously the Olympic Flame was playing its part, but the sheer number of bodies, together with all the lights added a few degrees to the inside temperature. Perhaps not ideal given the seating arrangements!
One of the unique benefits of actually being there, was that we got to see a lot of the preparation – and part of the fun was trying to work out what it all meant. The first thing we saw was a load of cars covered in newsprint being manoeuvred into position. As we were to discover, this was going to be a big part of the opening scene. The odd thing was that we noticed that one of the cars didn’t have a driver and was being pushed into position. In spite of being covered in newsprint, it was easy to see it was a three-wheeler and for most Brits, there’s only one famous Reliant Robin!
We then noticed that miniature models of famous London landmarks were being wheeled into position. in spite of their semi-assembled state, it was fairly easy to work out what-was-what – but we still couldn’t work out what it all meant.
The Closing Ceremony
8.00pm: Another benefit of being there was that OUR show started one hour earlier than the televised version. It consisted of a warm-up guy getting us all prepared for the parts of the event where we would be expected to join-in. We were told that the 300 million worldwide TV audience would join us on the stroke of 9, when we were asked to shout (predictably) “It’s 9 o’clock!”. He also explained where else we were going to participate including Freddie Mercury’s ‘Dey-Oh’ intro to the banana boat song; the chanting of ‘Parklife’ as well as various other singing parts.
There was also a warm-up act called (in the best spirit of Brit irony): The “Hackney Colliery Band” a eccentric brass ensemble consisting of around half-a-dozen musicians. It didn’t quite do it for me, even though the music was good and they were clearly having fun.
We were reminded that we shouldn’t stand-up as it would affect the lighting – ehh? It was then we noticed a small black-box on the back of everyone’s chair with 9 tiny LED lights embedded in it. You will have seen the effects at home watching it on the TV as a blaze of colour effortlessly synchronised with the music – and it was all down to these black boxes. I’m sure these are going to catch-on big time for stadiums like this, all around the world. See an article about this technology on the Daily mail website HERE.
On the stroke of 9, the spectacle unfolded. We sat back to see how the evening would unfold and there’s a complete list of who-sang-what on wikipedia HERE.
The show began with vehicles of all shapes and sizes covered in newsprint racing around the stadium. These included a number of very large articulated lorries – the strange thing being (and you wouldn’t have noticed this at home), they didn’t make any noise. Presumably if they’d been running on diesel, the whole stadium would have been consumed in fumes and smoke. Clever! The highlight for most of there, was seeing the three-wheeler explode and Rodders and Del Boy, run from the car. The Brits got it, but my guess is that for those around the world watching, they’ll still be scratching their head as to why the Dark Knight and his partner were in the car in the first place!
Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill popped out of the top of Big Ben to survey the traffic that was quickly heading for gridlock and quoting from The Tempest. Next up we were up for the National Anthem and a rather nervous looking Prince Henry of Wales.
A street part followed where we saw Madness,The Pet Shop Boys and for the yoof, One Direction.
Emile Sande entertained us with a short piece - “Read all About it” accompanied by a man on a piano (covered in newsprint naturally! – the piano not the pianist!!). Waterloo Sunset followed, sung by the evergreen Ray Davies. He had a good strong voice (a certain ex-Beatle please note!) and we all sang along.
Then the country flags arrived followed by the Olympic Athletes, where Mr Elbow performed a couple of tracks including the rather appropriately named: ‘One Day Like This’. In spite of the length of the two pieces, by the time he’d finished, there were still hundreds of athletes waiting to get in. Cue a second opportunity to hear (but not see) Madness, The Pet Shop Boys and (scream!) One Direction where they replayed their earlier performance.
Then it got a bit weird, visually. The music was recognisable as ‘Running up that Hill’ by Kate Bush (the ‘Deal with God’ remix disco fans) but it was the performers taking white boxes ‘up the hill’ to build a bigger pyramid structure that initially confused me. Those at home would have had the benefit of commentary explaining the significance, but I was struggling. Then it became clear (but not by much!) Each box represented each Olympic event – all 303. Of course, “simples!”
Back to the music and for the next hour or so, a whole host of stars performed. The stand-outs for me were: George Michael, Jessie J, Eric Idle, Queen and of course, the Spice Girls who didn’t look any older than when they first appeared on the pop scene all those years ago (but we were quite a long-way back!)
Another short break form the music where the official close with speeches from Lord Coe (who live, sounded as if we was losing his voice, but maybe it was emotion?) and Jacques Rogge. The flame was then extinguished (sniff).
The evening finished with a blistering performance from The Who who demonstrated that they’d still got it – Roger Daltry’s voice nearly brought the Stadium down.
00.05am: With the event over, a tear in our eye and a numb in our bums, we, together with 79,996 other equally impressed visitors, like Elvis, left the building. There was an initial delay, but on the whole, getting out pretty straightforward. Where it got challenging was when we followed the masses to West Ham station, which was signposted as the easiest/quickest route back to civilisation.
00.55am: We walked and walked and walked, finally arriving at the station at around 1am. The journey was made easier by the Games-Makers, who once again sang, smiled and jollied us along. Those that know me, will realise that at that sort of time, I’m normally thinking about getting up! :), so
01.25am: Eventually, a train arrived and we climbed aboard together with squillions of others. By the time the train departed from West Ham, it was packed. Many passengers already had their noses pressed to the glass, and at each successive station, more people got on board – this was the time see whose anti-perspirants were still working!
02.00am: Finally, we arrived back at Tower Hill, and sleep-walked our way back to the Premier Inn. We must have fallen into bed at around 2.30. We were tired, our feet ached like they’ve never ached before and we’d sampled 19 different armpits on the tube-journey back. Was it worth it? You bet!
But it was a late, late (late) breakfast the following morning!
I’m not a great sports-fan, but our tremendous achievements at these Olympics even made me sit up and take note. If we were Austin Powers (behave!), then this would be the year that we got our mojo back. Whatever your political views, John Major was the guy who first orchestrated funding for sports via the National Lottery – strategically, a brilliant decision that has directly contributed to the sporting success of London 2012.
Additionally, the whole London 2012 success story seems to have reminded many Brits as to why we have Great as part of our country name. We’re so very proud of our athletes and at last, the youth has an alternative to the pop-star route, where for (far too) many years, seemed to be the only route to becoming famous.
OK, as a country, we may still have some serious financial challenges ahead, but everyone seems to be so much more upbeat and positive. The glass is at last, more than half-full! :)
Well done Team GB!