What a year to be British in fact the Queens speech this year is going to need to be an hour long for Her Majesty to be able to capture the year in words!
There’s a self-deprecating negativity that seems to ooze from the pores of most British people when it comes to anticipating large events. “It’ll be a disaster”, “Just hope it doesn’t turn into an unintentional farce”, “We’re Doomed!” and so on. The run up to the Olympics were no different with predictions of huge gridlock and traffic chaos, threats of strikes, nightmare weather just days before, and major cock-ups by a security company that I wouldn’t trust to guard over my dustbins let alone a worldwide jamboree of sporting excellence.
The news might try to fill us all with doom’n’gloom and the tabloids might like to sensationalise the headlines by making us believe that it’s all down to the latest scapegoat to grab their eyes. But despite all this we’ve had a year where we’ve been able to stand tall and proud, where we can loudly sing out the national anthem and where we’ve talked about truly inspirational stories and people.
Perhaps it comes from our grey, wet, weather. Perhaps we’re just the kind of people that can’t believe that we can genuinely stand as equals with the big boys, but we’ve always liked to support the smaller teams and the underdogs. Perhaps it’s just an inherent humility – it’s just not British to blow ones own trumpet you know.
Well I say stuff that. With the Jubilee earlier this year, the Torch Relay then putting a spark in peoples eyes, and then the most amazing showcase of Britain with the 2012 Olympic Games I am just bursting with pride at being British.
I confess I am a proud patriot anyway, and I get goosebumps whenever I hear Elgar played or see the Red Arrows fly-by or watch the Last Night of the Proms but this year has caused me to stand taller and prouder than ever before.
The year kicked off with the Diamond Jubilee celebrations and with the Queen, and the other Royals, visiting as much of the UK as possible and embracing so many different elements of culture to bring relevance to “the yoofs” whilst also bringing the pomp and circumstance that we also love and enjoy.
It’s quite something when you look at our Royal family and realise just how famous they are around the world, and how much they actually do for the UK. There’s no other Royal Family out there that comes close and, with Princes William and Harry, the future looks very nicely sorted.Forget the scandals that the media likes to rake up – the Royals are genuinely Brits who we can, and should, be very proud of.
Then, of course, there’s been the biggie – London 2012. The Olympics and The Paralympics.
For 6 weeks (after the initial fiasco with G4S and the usual British pessimism) the news was bright and cheery each day. We celebrated. Offices resounded with chatter of “Did you see….?” and Kleenex shares went through the roof as the nation collectively shed tears of pride and joy every time we saw another victory or heard another glowing report about the organisation, the games makers, the venues – even the WEATHER played along. For once our kids were presented with real inspiration and examples instead of the z-list celebrities who feel that they need some trashy scandal to ensure they get enough exposure.
Those with tickets to the games were eyed with glowing green eyes of envy and the London 2012 website was probably refreshed more than eBay when it offers a unique crisp that looks just like Elvis.
KingsGate (our Church) hosted a special evening where there was food, music and the opening ceremony on the big cinema screen. Over 1000 people crammed in to watch Sir Danny Boyle’s (it’d be criminal if he didn’t get a knighthood!) wonderful “Isles Of Wonder” presentation and we all cheered, laughed, cried, sang – and yes, we did all stand when the National Anthem was played. Being unable to be in the venue itself, this was the next best thing and was a joyous experience. He successfully wrapped the essence of British-ness in Union Flag printed paper and tied it off with nice red, white and blue ribbons to be delivered to a world that, whilst not always understanding ever element, appreciated the humour and uniqueness of the audio/visual feast that was unfolding before their eyes.
During the event itself all you heard were compliments on the volunteers who made up the “Games Makers” and they were touted as being one of the great highlights of the event. I know there were some who had come from abroad to volunteer (which I find amazing) but the majority were British and there’s still pride to be had in the whole block of volunteers who served with a smile and with no complaints.
The clever usage of iconic venues around London served to deliver a huge profile boost to these tourist attractions, whilst also presenting them in somewhat unexpected ways (be honest, you would have logically expected Horseguards Parade to host the show-jumping rather than Greenwich wouldn’t you?)
Even the sun blessed us with its presence over the majority of the 5 weeks, and the crowds brought their own sunshine as they cheered on Team GB, ParalympicsGB and every other competitor. As the commentators were heard to remark quite frequently – it’s a good job they didn’t put a roof on the Olympic Stadium as it would surely have been blown away by the roars that came from the 80,000 crowd.
Although we were initially gutted not to get tickets to the Olympics, we did manage to somehow secure a set of tickets on two consecutive weekends to see the Paralympics – with Athletics in the Olympic Stadium and Boccia in the Excel on the first weekend and then a general access Olympic Park Ticket for the weekend of the Paralympic Closing Ceremony which we doubled-up with the “Our Greatest Team” victory parade on the Monday.
It was phenomenal. The organisation genuinely *was* superb. The games-makers really were as friendly and brilliant as the news made out. The Tube system worked amazingly well without any major issue. Everything was signposted and guided so there was no travel-related stressed. And the venues were beyond amazing.
When we were in the Olympic Stadium we were sat just above the cauldron and could see everything. Yes we had to dodge a few 747s as we were that high up in the stadium, but you didn’t feel removed from the action and you could still see everything going on – and you could even see the facial expressions on the athletes faces.
Outside the stadium we noticed a Anna Sorokina, a Russian athlete who had just taken the Silver in the Women’s Javelin F12/13. We just had to ask for a photo and if we could see the medal itself and she was so friendly. To add the cherry on the cake, a passing games-maker came and offered to take the photo so we could all be in it together. There was such an approachability to everything and everyone. We spotted one of the ParalympicsGB coaches and he was there chatting to fans quite happily and there are many other stories from other people about how welcoming everyone was. I mean even the McDonalds staff at the worlds largest McDs were super friendly and chatty, despite still having queues well out the doors even with the superb efficiency they were working under.
Heavily laden with enough souvenirs to open our own museum, so many photos you could wallpaper the whole of Buckingham Palace, and a vast treasure of lifelong memories, we were of mixed emotions when we got home after the victory parade.
Normality is sinking back in (very slowly it has to be said), but there’s still the odd mention of the Olympics here and there – and when there is you can see the smiles on faces and the glimmer in peoples eyes as they recall when we, as a nation, truly showed the world how Great Britain really is.
I’ve always been very proud and patriotic – but this year I’ve been almost bursting with pride. Long may it continue.