I will never forget the afternoon of Friday 13th July this year when my mobile phone rang and a softly-spoken Irishman called John asked me “would you like to help out at the Olympics this summer?” It wasn’t entirely out of the blue as I had applied to be a “Gamesmaker” 18 months before and then attended an interview in the spring of 2011, but when I received an email in early July to say there was no vacancy I was disappointed that I would not be able to make a contribution to the Games.
I asked John what it involved and he replied it was to help out with the press operations at Wimbledon. I would be working in Court No 1 and Centre Court. After a few milliseconds deliberation I of course said yes and then made plans to change my summer working arrangements. Time was short and I had to spend a day training, picking up accreditation and uniform. I had missed a lot of the training sessions prior to the games and I had to catch up very quickly.
My first shift was the first day of the games and I travelled down by train to Wimbledon on Saturday wearing my uniform, at first a little self-consciously (I had not worn a uniform since secondary school) but then realising that you were the centre of attention. Instead of being ignored by most people (how true it is that you become invisible after the age of 55) I was approached by people of all ages. They wanted to know “Where are you working?” “Do you get the uniform free?” “How did you become a Gamesmaker?” And even “Can I buy your trainers?” Even people on the tube came up and talked to me. Was London changing into something different?
On arrival at Wimbledon the crowds were building and the excitement of the first day was apparent. I had never been to watch tennis at Wimbledon but I was sure it was never like this. First a flashmob of synchronised dancers on the famous Hill, then the Pet Shop Boys appeared on stage performing “Always on my mind.” Was it sport or were we having a party? It proved to be a bit of both.
The shifts were long but the work was not onerous at first. The press were notable by their absence in the initial stages of the competition, there were far too many other sports to look at. But as the tournament came to a climax the press area became full of journalists from all over the world. Australian, American, Argentinian, Russian and many other countries. The overwhelming feeling was fun. London was having a party with some sporting events as entertainment and the whole world was invited.
I saw some incredible tennis matches. Murray looked majestic and Serena Williams demolished all in her path. The Bryan brothers –twins who played tennis as if they were one person with two bodies. There were also some tense moments such as during the first ever medal ceremony. As the Stars and Stripes was raised for Serena Williams, the women’s singles champion, the flag came fluttering to the ground as it was dislodged by the wind. Thankfully Serena saw the funny side and no big deal was made of it. .We cringed at the thought of another North Korean flag incident.
I met some wonderful people from every part of Britain and further afield in our team. All showed great commitment to making the Games a special occasion for all. There were teachers, students, pensioners and people who worked in business. We were a very mixed crew but united by the belief that we wanted to show everybody that London can be more friendly and welcoming than anyone could believe..
I shall never forget my week in Wimbledon. The atmosphere was wonderful and the sense of history and uniqueness was very apparent. I may never see a Games again in this country but I have a tale to tell to the grandchildren.