London can keep a secret. With only hours to go before the official kick-off of the 2012 Summer Olympics, the morning papers are full of speculation about the content of tonight’s splashy Opening Ceremonies. Rumours of 30 Mary Poppins look-alikes battling a 40-foot Voldemort. News that soccer star David Beckham, desiccated pop star Paul McCartney, and Daniel Craig, the latest James Bond will all play a part. And host broadcaster the BBC has even released a few teaser photos: people dressed as birds riding bicycles, nurses pushing giant hospital beds as patients rise into the sky, and lots of dancers.
But the actual content of the three-hour, $41 million show is still largely unknown. Which is all the more impressive when you consider there are more than 10,000 volunteers who will be participating in it.
Patrick, a neighbour on the leafy street in North London where Maclean’s has established its bureau for the Games, is one of them. A gardener by trade—The Plot Doctor is his nom de spade (www.theplotdoctor.co.uk)—he had originally intended to work as a driver, ferrying dignitaries to and from the Beach Volleyball venue. But a mate told him organizers of the Opening Ceremony were desperate for more male participants. So early in the spring he went for a brief audition, was measured and had his photo taken, and couple of weeks later was delighted to learn that he had won a spot, and wouldn’t be required to dance.
His role can be disclosed here for the first time. During a segment that will see the floor of the Olympic Stadium transformed into a piece of idyllic English countryside, complete with fields, stream, trees, flowers and livestock, Patrick will be a spectator at a cricket match. (Watch for the tall, thin man with a shaved head and mutton chops.) His moment in the limelight will only last a few minutes, but it’s taken a lot of preparation. “We’ve been rehearsing every weekend since May,” he says.
It won’t compare to the pageant the Chinese put on at Beijing 2008. “They practiced 12 hours a day,” the gardener laments. “I hear they even wore nappies so they wouldn’t have to leave the floor.” But it will be a good show, with plenty of big names. “There are loads of celebrities,” says Patrick. “They’re desperate to be part of this.”
Created by Danny Boyle, the director of Slum Dog Millionaire and Trainspotting, the show has gone through two dress rehearsals over the last couple of weeks. The filmmaker was reportedly asked to trim more than half hour of content. Coupled with an athletes’ parade that will feature teams from 205 nations, there were fears that the ceremony could drag on for four or five hours, and cause transit chaos as 60,000 spectators crowd the trains and Tube trying to return home afterwards. (As is it, the subway’s operating hours have been extended to 2 am to try and accommodate the crush.) It’s been raining on and off today, but the latest forecast is optimistic—just a 20 per cent chance of light evening showers, and a temperature of 26C.
The big question is whether the stadium will actually be full. As on Thursday night, there were still plenty of prime seats available—which surely has everything to do with the insane asking price of 1,600 to 2,012 pounds apiece. Lord Coe, chair of the London organizing committee, vowed they would be sold by today. (The Maclean’s team has two seats in the press box and will be tweeting updates throughout.)
Still, it promises to be a fun, if somewhat weird party. “There are a lot of surprises,” Patrick says with a sly smile. “No one will be disappointed.”