So, after all the waiting, the planning, the fretting, the problems and confusion, the brilliant bits and the bad bits it is finally, finally here. By the time this gets to you the Opening Ceremony will have been and gone and London 2012 will have started it’s cavalcade of sporting championships in London and around the many other venues in the UK.
Finally too people started to get excited about the whole idea, with the irrepressible Boris Johnson reaching new heights of hyperbole in Hyde Park when the cauldron was lit the other week. I often wonder if, somewhere in the wings of the stages he turns up on, there is a poor communications person standing with their fingers in their ears and their eyes shut tightly, praying fervently that he doesn’t say something really, really outrageous. That must be a great job, testimony to which is the fact that his last Director of Communications has moved on to work for News Corporation, presumably thinking that after Boris he can have a bash at anything.
I will always remember how upset the IOC was with our beloved Mayor of London after his rather shambolic and eccentric contribution to the handover ceremony in Beijing. The then IOC Head of Events and Ceremonies was shocked that he seemed so badly prepared, had nobody with him to assist or brief him and only the vaguest idea of what he was actually expected to do. His subsequent performance was roundly criticised by the local Chinese press; we meanwhile just laughed as he went on to talk about playing whiff whaff when he was in the London House later. There, standing behind him, Seb Coe’s face looked like that imaginary communications person I mentioned earlier.
There are many things that I hope the industry will learn and gain from hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games this year. Ensuring that we capture the best practice and learn from things that could have been done better will be critical and it is something that I’m keen to make sure Eventia takes a lead role in. So once the Games circus has trundled on its merry, expensive and often somewhat incestuous way, we’ll be asking members that have been involved in the delivery of activation or events to share their experience and learning. That will I’m sure make for fascinating reading.
So I found myself thinking about what lesson I’d draw from the extraordinary journey that so many of us have made to get to this point. Despite all the new venues, the wonderful space created in the Olympic Park, the passionate enthusiasm that hundreds and thousands of people have shown by getting involved in whatever way they can, the one thing that has struck me most forcibly is the leadership that Seb Coe brought to one of the most demanding roles anyone can ever undertake. The sheer scale of the challenge and the demands of the task are daunting, yet he has shown exemplary skill and dedication when leading the many teams that are involved in this hugely complex project.
I wonder if it was the same dedication and endurance that he called on when he was himself a world class competitor and Olympian. The hours of work involved in training every day, the discipline required, the elation of victory and the bitterness of defeat – I’m certain that all of these will have equipped him to cope with the enormous demands that he’s had to deal with ever since we won the bid in the first place. I’m also certain that he was fortunate enough to work with some of the best live event professionals in the UK through the launch and bid process and that their support, advice and expertise improved his confidence and abilities in an area where he needed to step up his game.
Like his athletics training, they put him through his paces over and over again and it certainly paid off. He is a much more confident and open communicator than he was when he started this journey and being very clear about the value of communications and the importance of getting the messaging absolutely right every time has been an invaluable tool in the task that he’s so ably completed. We should all be very proud of that achievement and applaud him for it.
From the London Bid launch event to many elements of the bidding process, I was fortunate enough to work on the project over the years. My favourite moment without doubt was the Town Hall style public meeting we held in Stratford, not long after work had started on the main Olympic site development. A packed house heard a panel including Seb Coe, the ODA, BOA and some of our Olympian athletes like the lovely Denise Lewis, answering questions and discussing the key issues around the Games.
The broadcaster Nicky Campbell was hosting the event and I gave him a prompt after around 90 minutes to start to wind things up. I pointed out that there was a woman at the back left of the theatre that had been waving her hand madly for most of the night. He went to her for the last question of the evening. “Is it true” she demanded in a voice quivering with emotion, “is it true that you are killing all the cats that you find on the main build site?” The audience gasped in disbelief and then burst into spontaneous applause. Nicky Campbell struggled to regain order.
“How very, very British of you all!” he shouted, trying to get the crowd to calm down, “we’ve been talking about budgets, legacy, security, the opportunities that these Games will bring to sport in the UK, yet the thing that gets you the most excited all evening are cats? So panel, who’d like to answer this question then?” The panel all looked at each other in a distinctly nervous way – apart from the brilliant Sir John Armitt, Chairman of the ODA. With hardly any hesitation he spoke in a firm and authoritative voice. “I will answer that. It is absolutely true that we are killing all the cats on the site.” He paused and the whole audience gasped in horror, but with impeccable timing he continued unabashed, “We are killing them as fast as we can catch them. The reason for this is that the whole site is infested with them and they are all feral. We’ve consulted widely with animal charities and vets and they’ve all agreed that as difficult as this sounds, it is the only sensible and humane course of action.” Silence descended, Nicky Campbell thanked everyone as fast as he could, I got the house lights on and the panel filed into the wings of the stage.
And there, off to one side, slapping his forehead with his hand, was a distraught looking Seb Coe. “Bloody cats! Bloody cats! The only thing they can think of are bloody cats!” Well, nobody is thinking about cats anymore. Let’s hope everything goes really well, that everyone has a safe and enjoyable time and that Britain does us all proud. By the way - anyone got any spare tickets?