Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Opening Ceremony Experience…from on the field!

My cousin Chris (pictured in costume below on the right) had the awesome opportunity of being one of the participants in the 2012 London Olympics Opening Ceremony last Friday night!!  He was in the ‘Pandemonium’ scene near the beginning and sent out a cool email Sunday sharing some of his experiences.  I enjoyed it so much and thought you might too so asked him if he’d mind if I shared it with you.  He was happy to so I now give you his email.  Thanks Chris!Chris in 2012 Open Ceremonies 1

Hi All,

Well, I didn't get caught on camera during the Opening Ceremony but it was a wonderful experience to be part of it.

After three months of rehearsals, trekking out to a disused parking lot next to the Ford factory on the outskirts of London and standing for hour after hour in the rain, we managed to pull off Danny Boyle's vision on the Industrial Revolution.

Apparently our segment was the most expensive part of the $40 million dollar show and, during a rehearsal in the stadium itself, he explained to us why this part of the show was so important to him. "The Industrial Revolution changed the world like no other moment in history. I am willing to argue that point with anyone. Even the fact that I can read and write today is a result of it. But it was monstrous. These people built themselves a hell and then they had to live in it. Even today we are still feeling its impact on the global environment. But these people created great cities. And it is in great cities that we are able to come together and celebrate something like the Olympic Games." It was a pep talk we were in need of while facing another day of lifting sogging wet and muddy turf under the pouring rain. This is also why he chose to call this section of the show Pandemonium. I didn't know that the word 'pandemonium' was invented by John Milton as the name of the capital city of Hell in his epic poem Paradise Lost. 

But part of this amazing experience was the unwavering spirit of all the volunteers. Yes, nerves got frayed and people were tired and arguments happened. Still, the focus on doing the hard work and achieving the end result remained firm. In my little group there were people from Mexico, Taiwan, New Zealand, Trinidad, Jamaica and South Africa. The Brits among us were also travelling long distances to be there; one was coming from Liverpool and paying the train fares and hotel costs from his own pocket just to be a part of it. My little group contained a travel agent, an accountant, someone who works for the government on environmental issues, an ex-Royal Air Force pilot, a glass artist, a fraud investigator and an immigration officer. And what a terrific group of people they are. I will miss them all.

We had had a couple of dress rehearsals in from of an invited audience of 40,000 people each night. Every time they made last minute changes. Even as we were just about to walk out on Friday night again we were told by our mass movement team leader, "there have been a few changes." It became a catch phrase for the whole event.

On the night, with 80,000 people in the stadium, including one of the biggest ever gatherings of heads of state and VIPS, as well as a television audience estimated to be somewhere between 1-4 billion people, the adrenaline was running high. We really had no idea from the ground how our bit of the show would look. To be honest, I had just about forgotten how spectacular the towers coming up from the floor are as we had become so used to them in rehearsals. The moment of stillness to remember the soldiers from the wars was always a touching moment. Then, as the lead was pouring down the troughs and the central ring was forged with the drummers all around us and up on the tor the atmosphere took on the feeling of a primal ritual to bring the rings into existence. It was as if the drums were willing the rings to raise up and float above the stadium drawing them together with a primitive magic. Then the moment the pyro shower begins and the fire rains down. It was so moving to be there so close standing under it. Wonderful that I had the honour of being there to experience three times (including the dress rehearsals). Just breath taking. Something I will never forget.

Hope you enjoyed it. I am pleased that lots of people seem to think our section was the best bit. I think Danny Boyle was trying to push the government to continue investing in the National Health Service by showcasing it to the world. There is a quote in the program which reads, "No society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means".  Then there was the Thanks Tim section. Probably the most polarising. The younger crowd loved it and the older crowd found it a too long. It wasn't made clear until the end that it was all in honour of Sir Tim Berners-Lee who invented the world wide web. He still works as a professor at Southampton university. But here is another moment in history, albeit recent history, which has revolutionised the way we live and even the way we conduct our relationships. I can thank Tim that you are reading this email.

After doing my bit and leaving the stadium I managed to pause to see the Queen jump out of the helicopter.  What a great moment and how cool that she agreed to do it.  We had seen the helicopter jump during our rehearsal on the Saturday before and we assumed it was James Bond, but no one knew he would be with the Queen.  Then walking back to the dressing rooms I passed the athletes lined up and waiting to enter the stadium.  I made a point of searching out team Canada and gave them a shout but I think they were a flummoxed by my dirt covered face and strange attire.  Anyway...Chris in 2012 Open Ceremonies 2

My dreams of working with an Oscar winning film director somehow never included carrying wet sheep poo covered turf. And when I auditioned to do the Opening Ceremony I could never have imagined that this would be the role I would play before a live TV audience of billions. But I am very grateful to have been there and proud of what we achieved. Now I'm looking forward to another week off work next week to go out and enjoy the Olympics and soak up the energy and excitement of being in the host city.

Hope you will enjoy the games too.

Thanks so much Chris!  Enjoy the Olympics and the fun of living in the host city!  Hope to see you next time you’re visiting Canada. 

Love you, Cathy xoxo


  1. What an experience! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Cool!   Thank you for sharing this Catherine and your cousin as well.

  3. Catherine..that is incredible. How absolutely amazing. Thank you both for sharing.


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