Wednesday, 14 November 2012

London's Olympic Summer Like No Other: Review of 2012

During the past couple of years, I've used this blog to write about London's build-up to the Olympic Games. In the Autumn issue of Square Meal's Venues & Events magazine, I was given ten pages to review the city's Olympic achievements over a 'Summer Like No Other'.

Below is the opening part of my review (reproduced with kind permissions). The full length article can be read here (PP160-170). A full set of my images showing how London welcomed the world, can be viewed here.

In the words of Mayor Boris Johnson, the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games “routed the doubters and scattered the gloomsters and for the first time in living memory, caused tube train passengers to break into spontaneous conversation.”

Sharing Games-time highlights with fellow underground travellers wasn’t the only act of impulsive behaviour from a normally reserved English tribe however. 

During intervals between play at the Beach Volley Ball at Horse Guards Parade, commuters and tourists, accustomed to avoiding eye contact in London’s streets, were up and dancing together to Queen’s We Will Rock You and the theme tune to Benny Hill. 

They'd then join the back of a conga line snaking its way through the stands or scream ever louder each time the announcer berated the Prime Minister by urging the crowds to distract him from his work in nearby Downing Street. 

To a global television audience of 14.7 billion, London must have seemed somewhat alien. Only the city's iconic landmarks, which served so well as sporting backdrops, kept reminding us that this was the UK capital's time to shine. 

During Danny Boyle’s Opening Ceremony, viewers and spectators had already been caught off guard by the Queen’s readiness to play her part. Footage of her Majesty bidding James Bond a ‘good-evening’ before making her royal arrival into the Olympic stadium by supposedly parachuting in, after jumping from a helicopter with 007 in tow, set the tone for an Olympics which brought the whole country together. 

The next time images of Buckingham Palace were again beamed around the world was during the women’s and then the men’s triathlon in adjacent Hyde Park. 

In the men’s event, Alistair Brownlee swam, cycled and ran his way to achieving Great Britain’s 19th gold, equalling the team’s Beijing total with five days of Olympic action still remaining. 

What had gone before had already surpassed all expectations. To reflect on the sporting achievements still makes hairs on the back of the neck stand on end. 

In the beginning, the crowds had turned out in force, come rain or shine, for each leg of the Torch Relay. They had cheered on celebrity Torch bearers including David Walliams, Sir Bruce Forsyth, Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders. And they had witnessed ordinary people, chosen to run with the torch for doing extraordinary deeds, as they danced up the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral and climbed over the top of the O2 Arena to exchange the flame on the venue’s viewing platform.

Now the public, many of whom gathered each day to watch on big screens at the BT London Live Sites, craved sporting success. 

Shortly after rowers Helen Glover and Heather Stanning had obliged by scooping Britain’s first gold medals, Bradley Wiggins added a gold in the Time Trial to his Tour de France victory a week or so earlier.

He celebrated by sitting on an ornate purple and gold throne in front of Hampton Court Palace and gave a double V for Victory sign. 

Wiggins’ achievement in the grounds of Henry VIII’s former royal lodgings inspired the golden floodgates to open. 

The atmosphere reached fever pitch on 'Super Saturday' in the Olympic stadium as Jessica Ennis recorded a series of personal bests on her way to winning gold in the heptathlon. Then, a few minutes later, Greg Rutherford leaped his way to gold in the long jump. 

Then, a few minutes after that, Mo Farah’s burst of speed on the final lap won him gold in the men’s 10,000 metres. His sheer exultation as he crossed the finish line also won a place in the nation’s hearts for the hands-on-head Mobot celebration. 

British sport had never seen a night like it but it didn’t stop there. 

In the velodrome, Sir Chris Hoy became the most successful British Olympian ever with six gold medals. 

At Weymouth, Ben Ainslie became the most decorated of all Olympic sailors, winning a fourth gold. 

Spectators at Wimbledon rubbed their eyes in disbelief as Andy Murray took inspiration from his fellow Team GB athletes and demolished Roger Federer in straight sets to win his Olympic gold. 

Whilst in the ring at ExCeL, Nicola Adams won the first ever women’s Olympic boxing medal. 

Adams was followed by boxer Anthony Joshua, who won Team GB’s climatic gold medal on the Sunday afternoon after staging a remarkable comeback in the final round. 

As Team GB was preparing to enjoy a Closing Ceremony concert, featuring the Spice Girls’ reunion, Joshua was sealing his place in Olympic history by beating the reigning Olympic champion to claim Great Britain’s 29th gold from an Olympics that delivered 65 medals in total. 

And that was just the Olympics. 

David Weir, the wheelchair athlete won the 800metres, 1500metres, the 5,000metres and then on the final afternoon of the Paralympics, the marathon. And when Jonnie Peacock beat Oscar Pistorius in the men’s T44 Paralympic 100metre final, nearly seven million people watched on Channel 4. 

The concerts that closed both the Olympics and Paralympic Games were moments to rejoice in celebration. They were never going to compete with the pageantry and emotion of Danny Boyle’s Opening Olympic Ceremony but nor were they the only times that London had partied during the 27 days of sporting action.

Across the capital, restaurants, bars, boats, museums, galleries conference centres and unique event spaces had celebrated every single medal win by each of the 205 competing nations. 

National Olympic Committees took over 42 London venues whilst a further 16 were transformed into branded hospitality hubs. 

It was here that the London 2012 party had been raging since Wiggins rang the world's largest harmonically tuned bell to signal the start of the Opening Ceremony. 

Together, they transformed the capital into a multinational map, demonstrating myriad cultures, cuisines and entertainment. 

Many of these NOC and brand houses were free to enter and open to the public.

Visitors relaxed in the sunshine on green beanbags in Perks Field to watch Russian entertainment onstage or toured Brazilian culture with three exhibitions at Somerset House.

Some of the Houses were ticketed to control numbers. Alexandra Palace, for example, had around 6,000 revelers a night celebrating Dutch success whilst enjoying the party atmosphere of Holland’s Heineken House. Club France in Old Billingsgate meanwhile limited entry to holders of a French passport. 

In welcoming the world, London’s venues also rolled out the red carpet for Presidents, Prime Ministers, Royalty and of course, medal winners. 

Czech President Vaclav Klaus played basketball at the Business Design Centre; Francois Hollande, President of the French Republic, paid tribute to the excellent organisation of the Games and to the number of volunteers of all nationalities, during his address at Old Billingsgate; and Italian President Giorgio Napolitano thanked the staff of the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre during his tour of Casa Italia.

Team GB's flag bearer in Beijing, Mark Foster and former US Olympian Carl Lewis partied at the House of Nations in Kings Cross whilst Etienne Scott and Tim Baillie showed off their London gold medal in the canoe slalom to guests at The Retreat - a pop-up members' club at The Brewery. 

Yes, the streets of London were unusually quiet during the first week of the Games and yes, the Mayor’s voice warning commuters to plan their journeys was removed from all stations after it became apparent that the warnings had perhaps worked a little too well. 

But the transport system didn’t fall over as many had predicted. The Tube ran smoothly and ran late into the night. If anybody got lost, there was always a volunteer dressed in pink on hand to help. And getting a travelcard, which covered all zones, free with Olympic event tickets proved it could be done, and may help pave the way for it to always form part of the welcome package for delegates attending major conventions and events in the capital. 

Being a part of the Olympic and Paralympic Games felt like you were seeing London at its best. Venues, events agencies, sponsors, athletes, media, volunteers, organisers and the general public made it happen. 

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Where will business be carried out during London 2012?

City Hall, the Mayor’s headquarters located next to Tower Bridge and opposite the Tower of London, will become a base for UK firms to network with international business leaders during the Olympic Games.

The offices of London Mayor Boris Johnson are being rebranded as 'London House' and more than 100 business leaders from around the world from companies such as Microsoft, Paramount Pictures, Time Warner and LG will attend. 

London House will host debates, seminars and receptions and allow companies in the technology, creative, environmental and financial services sectors to meet and share knowledge. 

Mayor Johnson said: “London House will actively showcase the capital’s fantastic array of artistic, cultural and business assets. It will portray London as the business capital of the world, a thriving centre for international firms to locate in, with a rich pool of talent.” 

“We have to capitalise on this positive momentum. As Mayor, I will do all I can to help secure the Olympic legacy that has always been promised. By driving investment and helping to deliver thousands of new jobs, homes and infrastructure, we can make London an even better place to live and work, long after the Games have gone.” 

Meanwhile, Lancaster House, a stately home close to Buckingham Palace with a large garden space, will act as a trade hub for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office during the Games. 

The British government agency, UK Trade & Investment, will hold events for visiting countries and seek to promote the UK to international markets and secure inward investment. 

Lancaster House is located on the Mall and is used exclusively for government hospitality.

UKTI will also have a strong presence alongside Tech City companies at Hackney House in Shoreditch.

Hackney House is a free-to-enter temporary structure on Shoreditch High Street. It's at the heart of the borough’s plans to showcase the area’s investment opportunities to the media and a host of global business leaders. 

In just three years, Tech City has expanded from about 15 companies to more than 700 who have set up base in and around Shoreditch. These include Groupon,, Songkick, Wildfire, Moshi Monsters creator Mind Candy and Tweetdeck.

Other business hubs planned for London 2012 include The Retreat at The Brewery on Chiswell Street, which has partnered up with the Financial Times and is offering high-speed broadband internet. 

Hospitality and meetings amongst National Olympic Committee members, athletes and dignitaries will also take place at venues across the UK capital.  

French House will be at Old Billingsgate in the City, Casa Italia is at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster and Czech House will be hosted by the Business Design Centre in Islington. 

Belgium’s National Olympic Committee (BOIC) will take over Inner Temple, one of four Inns of Court (professional associations for barristers and judges) located close to the Royal Courts of Justice in the City. Whilst, German House will take over the Museum of London Docklands, a listed Georgian warehouse on the Isle of Dogs. 

Home to the Royal Aeronautical Society, No 4 Hamilton Place behind Park Lane will be used by the Japanese National Olympic Committee for formal meetings, receptions and dinners. 

Plus, Slovak House is taking over two of the 12 available event spaces at the Institute of Director's head office at 116 Pall Mall. The Slovakian National Olympic Committee will entertain, conduct business and host press conferences at the IoD headquarters. 

The remainder of the IoD headquarters will become the British Business Club during the Olympic period and provide members with a base from which to work and avoid the difficulties of traveling into the office each day. 

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The story of Sebastian Coe

At the end of last month, I attended the launch of a story telling service, which has been brought over from the US and is aimed at conference planners looking for inspirational keynotes. 

The master storyteller for the UK division of Mark of a Leader is Tom Griffin, a former director of events agency Sledge. 

The evening consisted of a few sample stories, including how Roger Bannister achieved his 4-minute mile and how the same 12 notes of music have been used to inspire some of the greatest musicians throughout history. 

But this is an Olympic year for London so I thought I'd re-tell Tom's tale of a fearless leader who also just happens to be Chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, and a former gold medalist himself.

He was the reason for my interest in the Olympics and his great rivalry with Steve Ovett will forever be associated with 800-metre and 1500-metre running. He is, of course, Sebastian Coe.

Seb Coe was born in London but grew up in Sheffield, where his father worked in the steel industry and his mother was an actress.

Although he had always been an active child, it was at a school assembly at the age of 12 that Sebastian first became inspired about the Olympics.

On the screen he and his schoolmates saw grainy pictures of two athletes from their home town who were competing in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. He was gripped by the drama of the competition, and the possibilities it represented. By the time he got back to his classroom, Coe says, he knew what he wanted to do - and what he wanted to be.
With his father Peter acting as his dedicated trainer, over the next decade he steadily advanced into the upper echelon of the world’s runners. The intense competition for records between Coe and his greatest rival, runner Steve Ovett, gripped the British imagination… and kept the fans watching.

In 1979, in the space of only 41 days Coe set three world records (800m, mile, and 1500m) – the first person to hold all three records at the same time.

At the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow, he took home the gold medals in two events (800 and 1500m).

Four years later in Los Angeles, he won silver in the 800m, and a second gold in the 1500m… making him the first athlete to win gold medals for the same event in two successive Olympics.

My father, who was perhaps the most inspiring figure in my life, gave all of his children (and all four of us have done very well) the best advice at every stage of our lives and our development that any parent can give.

Basically, his message was this: “… You don’t really have to do it any way other than the way you want to do it; but just do it — and do it with passion.” - Sebastian Coe

But despite his many successes, during his athletic career Coe had been plagued by a number of health issues, such as back problems and toxoplasmosis – a chest infection he had picked up during training in Italy. On a number of occasions he was unable to compete; his health almost prevented him from going to the 1984 Olympics, and was a factor in his not being chosen for the British team at the 1988 games in South Korea.

By the late 1980’s, Coe knew that his days as a competitive athlete were behind him. His innate clarity of vision meant that he had done a lot of planning over the years, and he had no shortage of other skills to offer.

In 1992 he won election with the Conservative Party as a Member of Parliament…a post he held until the 1997 General Election. In 2000 his previous achievements and potential for future great achievements was recognised when he was invited to become a member of the House of Lords. Over the same period, he leveraged his public image to generate business success, opening a chain of health clubs, which now has 20,000 members.

By 2003 his tirelessness and tenacious ambition was preparing him for what is generally considered to be one of the most complex and demanding feats of leadership and organisation in the modern age. A challenge that has to combine the sometimes conflicting needs of the worlds greatest athletes, the worlds most successful brands, geo-political imperatives and effectively taking control of the infrastructure of one of the worlds greatest cities. With billions of viewers right across the globe it was also a challenge that, if won, would go on to be delivered in the glare of the most intense media spotlight.

At that time in 2003 the City of London was midway through the complex and expensive process of bidding to be the host city for the 2012 Summer Olympics and Paralympics. From the beginning, Seb Coe was an immediate, familiar and enthusiastic ambassador for the plan.

Then in May 2004, the person who had put together the original concept and the bid team suddenly resigned. Coe accepted the role of chairman.

Five cities had been selected as finalists by the IOC at that point. Paris was considered to be the strongest. London’s plan had been criticised in two major areas: there were too many events taking place outside Greater London, and the city’s aging, overcrowded transportation system had to be addressed.

Over the next year, the bid team worked tirelessly to find solutions to every issue. Coe himself worked in close partnership with Ken Livingstone, the then Mayor of London, despite the fact that they were from opposite ends of the political spectrum. Venues were changed, event schedules rewritten, bylaws revised, alliances forged, and budgets approved. 

With Lord Coe on board, quite literally nothing was allowed to deflect the focus, no obstacle was considered too big and no challenge too complex.

Within a year, the bid had evolved to include a high-speed shuttle service to the Olympic park, as well as substantial upgrades to London’s existing transportation systems such as the Tube.

It was also driven by a new sense of purpose that was to prove to be a pivitol point for the ambitions of the bid; using the Olympics and Paralympics to build a legacy for the future. 

This legacy focussed on the youth and included new sports facilities throughout the city… as well the Olympic Medical Institute, a sports rehabilitation centre, and the largest urban park developed in Europe for more than 150 years. 

It also reached out beyond sport in to society as whole with what has become dubbed the ‘Cultural Olympiad’ and since which has already involved over 16 million participants since it began in 2008.

“I believed that we had to answer the question: Why are we doing this? And it wasn’t until we started to articulate, internally as an organisation, that it was about using the Games to inspire young people to participate in sports that we each understood what we had to do.” - Sebastian Coe

But even with these improvements, a win was far from certain as the IOC met for the final judging on July 5, 2005, in Singapore.

What turned the tide, according to most observers, was the stirring final presentation by Sebastian Coe. 

According to a BBC correspondent: "His final speech was fantastic. It was statesmanlike. It was just a stunning performance."

He focused his remarks around youth and his own commitment to the Olympic ideal. He spoke of attending that school assembly when he was 12, and how much it had inspired him in choosing his path through life.

And his words hit home with the IOC judges. When they announced their decision later that evening, the winning city was London.

As with the greatest of achievements, winning the opportunity is just the beginning, the hardest part is turning the vision into a reality and it requires a whole new set of leadership skills.

In the seven years since then, as Chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG), Coe has been instrumental in turning London’s dream into a reality.

New venues and infrastructure have been built…a legacy for the future. The transportation system has been upgraded. Tickets have been sold around the world, and the Olympic torch has begun to wend its way around the country, heading for the opening ceremonies at the end of July.

The race is on. Through it all, Sebastian Coe continues to be what he has always been: a man in motion. And clearly, a leader of great purpose, tenacity and vision.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

London Pleasure Gardens transforms docklands wasteland into arts and culture oasis

An ambitious project to convert a 20-acre stretch of east London wasteland into a 35,000 capacity arts and culture destination will be completed on 30 June.

The London Pleasure Gardens, located at Pontoon Dock, will feature a 27,000 capacity open-air space for live concerts, a 2,800 capacity sound proofed indoor space with late license, a floating cocktail lounge with a 24-hour licence, large-scale sculpture gardens and a dome building with an events capacity for 1,000.

Events already confirmed for the site include, UK electronic music festival Bloc, featuring Snoop Dogg and Orbital on 6 and 7 July, plus the Africa stage for BT’s River of Music, taking place over the weekend before the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony.

Part of the London 2012 Festival, the BT River of Music will feature performances by musicians representing all the Olympic and Paralympic nations.

Musicians from the world’s major continents will be represented across six stages: Battersea Park (Asia stage); Trafalgar Square (Europe stage); Somerset House (Europe stage); Tower of London (Americas stage); Greenwich Old Royal Naval College (Oceania stage) and London Pleasure Gardens (Africa stage).

During the Olympic Games, the London Pleasure Gardens will provide a waterfront location for live art, film screenings, promenade performances and community projects.

On 30 July, a pyrotechnic show will animate the concrete architecture that surrounds the site.

The show will be inspired by a traumatic event that happened on the site in 1917, when a TNT factory exploded, tragically killing 73 people and filling the sky with burning grain. The performance will fuse music, pyrotechnics, projection and theatre.

Between the 17th and 19th Centuries in Britain, Pleasure Gardens were communal spaces where people from all walks of life, converged to listen to music, admire paintings, stroll, drink and immerse themselves in the culture that made their city great.

The most famous Pleasure Gardens were in Vauxhall. Mozart played there aged nine and Charles Dickens wrote about them. Between 1851 and 1884, the Royal Docks had its very own Pleasure Gardens, named The Royal Victoria Gardens.

The modern day scheme is supported by Newham Council, the Mayor of London and the London Development Agency to kick-start regeneration initiatives planned for the Royal Docks in the London borough of Newham.

As winners of a Mayoral competition to find ‘Meanwhile’ uses for prominent brownfield sites in the Olympic borough, the team behind the Pleasure Gardens will stage events, concerts and cultural collaborations on the site until 2014.

The London Pleasure Gardens team includes Debs Armstrong, who is the Creative Director and Co-producer of the Shangri-La area at Glastonbury Festival, and was also the co-Founder and Producer of The Lost Vagueness area which preceded it, as well as the designer of bespoke events and live music tours by bands such as Groove Armada, and Ed Harcourt.

Also involved are Robin Collings who organised Stoke Newington Festival and Bassline Circus at Glastonbury, and Garfield Hackett who produced Mutate Britain, and Cordy House.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

London 2012 Festival will be largest cultural celebration in our lifetime

The full programme for the London 2012 Festival was launched today (26 April). It contains some 12,000 events and performances from over 25,000 artists from all 205 participating Olympic nations.

Kicking off across the UK on 21 June and running until 9 September, there will be 137 world firsts and 85 UK premiers, featuring well-known names from the arts, music, comedy, dance and culture. 

Billed as the ‘Once in a Lifetime’ Festival and taking place at 900 venues, the London 2012 Festival  begins with four opening day events. 

Lake Windermere in the Lake District will stage a free outdoor event featuring French pyrotechnic wizards Les Commandos Percu to celebrate the Olympic Flame’s arrival to the region, whilst in the heart of Derry/Londonderry’s new cultural quarter, a Peace One Day Global Truce Countdown Concert will take place. 

Also, on 21 June, the children of Raploch in Stirling will perform in The Big Concert, conducted by world renowned conductor Gustavo Dudamel, and Edward Gardner and Simon Halsey will raise their batons together for the UK premier of Weltethos at the Symphony Hall, Birmingham. 

London highlights during the Festival will include the floating children’s opera The Owl and the Pussycat written by Monty Python star Terry Jones and Oscar winning composer Anne Dudley, which will travel through London’s canal network, plus pop-up Shakespeare performances around the city, with a cast led by actor and director Mark Rylance. 

A barge manned by a group of well-known British comedians will set sail from London and attempt to reach Edinburgh’s celebrated Fringe venue, The Pleasance, staging pop-up comedy gigs along the way. Whilst, The BT River of Music will showcase performances from five continents across six stages located in iconic locations around the capital. The six stages will represent the continents - Asia in Battersea Park, Africa in Jubilee Gardens, Europe in Trafalgar Square and Somerset House, the Americas at the Tower of London, and Oceania in the Greenwich Old Royal Naval College. 
Some 160,000 free tickets are available for confirmed acts including the Noisettes and the Scissor Sisters. 

Major London events which form part of the Festival include BBC Radio 1’s Hackney Weekend (23-24 June), the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, the World Shakespeare Festival and Urban Classic - a mash-up between the BBC Symphony Orchestra and urban acts including Ms Dynamite planned for Waltham Forest Town Hall on 5 July. 

Other much anticipated activity from across the country includes the world premiere of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Mittwoch aus Licht, which features a string quartet streamed live from helicopters flying over Birmingham, plus an ‘Unlimited’ programme of events involving deaf and disabled artists. 

Ruth MacKenzie, Director of the Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival said: “It will be the largest cultural celebration in our lifetime. With new work from the best musicians, comics, artists, film makers and more, there will be arts events taking place in unusual places all over the UK that will showcase the best in international culture when the eyes of the world are on us this summer.”
Principal funders of the London 2012 Festival are Arts Council England, Legacy Trust UK and the Olympic Lottery Distributor. BP and BT are Premier Partners. 

Friday, 27 January 2012

London announces plans for 2013 cycling festival

This week saw the announcement of the first mass participation event, to be held in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park after it reopens to the public following the London 2012 Games.
The two-day cycling festival is an ambitious undertaking to kick-start an events legacy for the park and encourage more cycling in London.

On a Saturday in August 2013, a family-fun-free-ride will take around 70,000 participants passed many of the UK capital's famous landmarks.

The following day, an elite race and amateur cycle challenge will comprise a 100-mile route, which is intended to start in the Olympic Park and finish in central London. Some 35,000 riders are expected to take part.

The Olympic Park Legacy Company will also organise a full weekend of wheel-based activities on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to support the festival of cycling. They will aim to bring local communities together through events, competitions, workshops, music, food and film.

Below is a short video of the press conference to announce this Olympic legacy initiative and to call for an events delivery partner to come forward. If you can't see the video, please click here to access it on YouTube.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

London's year as sporting host

As 2011 draws to a close, 2012 will truly be a year of sport for the UK capital.

But it's not only the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games that will have sports fans jumping for joy. There's a host of other sporting events planned, many of which will be held at official Olympic venues from January all the way through to Games time on 27 July.

Oympic test events and qualifiers will enable the public to experience sports ranging from gymnastics to diving whilst new fixtures for London include a Grand Sumo tournament, taking place at the Royal Albert Hall from 13-17 June.

The British Swimming Championships will take place at the Olympic Park Aquatic Centre from 3-12 March and a National Lottery Olympic Park Run will test the park's capacity for large crowds on 31 March.

High profile international events returning to London during Olympic year include an NFL clash at Wembley in October and the Heineken Cup Final at Twickenham on 19 May.

Tickets for the London Prepares series of Olympic test events can be purchased from Ticketmaster.

To download a full calendar of sporting activity in London during Olympic year, click here.