Monday, 30 July 2012

London 2012: Interview with a Volunteer!!

2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony...... and my friend, Declan Cooke, was one of those wonderful people who rehearsed for months to get the night right.  He agreed to be interviewed, and I think I got a scoop here! 

Hello Declan!  Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed.  An exciting time for us all, and so let’s get going.  When did you first realise that you could be part of this special event?

I applied on line sometime in September 2011.  I'd already applied to be a "Games Maker" volunteer and I thought, "why not?"  There was an audition that November followed by a "recall" (i.e.  if you'd done ok at the 1st one) 2 weeks later.   By the way - In between the two auditions, I challenged 3 yoofs who were loitering inside the locked inner doors of my small block of 6 flats. I ended up with 2 black eyes for my trouble. I was fairly traumatised but worse, I had to go to the 2nd audition with my black eyes - ALL my official passes throughout rehearsals and the actual OOC (Olympics Opening Ceremony) had my picture from that time -  looking like a right thug - I got endless comments from the squaddies on security duty - who by the way, did an amazing job - friendly but professional - so full of admiration for those men and women.

The auditions were crazy - hundreds of us in the huge 3 Mills Studios in Bow (where they filmed the 1st series of Big Brother) - walking up and down, moving from H6North to H6 East in the straightest line without bashing anyone, dancing movements, endless routines. I genuinely found dance moves difficult and I was out of time on so many occasions that I didn't hold out much hope.   But, I got an email in Jan 12 telling me I had successfully been assigned a role.   "Character based - utility - non dancing"  was all I knew - the non dancing bit didn't surprise me in the least but I was over the moon. They attached a schedule of rehearsals.
What was it like, turning up the first time?  Was there a moment when you realised how awesome this was going to be?

The first rehearsal in May 12 at 3 Mills.  I was given a bib to wear that said "WMW957" - it meant "Working Men and Women, number 957 of 1,000" - I'd wear this bib over my shirt to every rehearsal for the next 3 months. There were 750 of us excitedly chatting in a room, wondering what our role would be.  Up popped Danny Boyle (I was really shocked, I thought we'd never meet him. He was at almost every rehearsal, rain and wind, encouraging us, sending us emails, chatting to us all and signing whatever we brought him - the man is inspirational, truly inspirational.  Danny showed us a mock up of "Green and Pleasant Land" (real sheep; 70 real sheep? was all I could think). He took us through a 20 minute video of how he envisioned the content of Pandemonium (the title of our Industrial Revolution scene). I just remember filling up with tears and saying to people "he's got it, he's really got it, he's nailed the history so well". I just felt immense pride.

You actually spoke to Danny Boyle for a short time - as there were 1,000 of you, how did you manage that, and how did you get your photo (I have seen your facebook page!) taken  standing next to him)?

I looked on Wikipedia and saw that his mother came from the same small village in Ireland that my Mother came from, so as children we’d holidayed in the same place. He's also - like me - from (near) Manchester and moved to London in the 80's.  He was at the end of our row of seats in the stadium one day.   I had a sheet of paper in my pocket with a monologue from Julius Caesar that I was trying to learn for a drama school audition.  I HATE asking for autographs but I thought "I really want this one".  So I sidled along and asked him to sign it - he started chatting to me about it (I had a nightmare that night - MY GOD, DID HE THINK I WAS AUDITIONING TO HIM - AAAGH!!) and then we chatted for a few minutes - just one of the nicest guys I've met.  

The photo?  Someone from County Kent (we were divided into county groups, there were 50 of us in Kent and we had a marked area of the “green and pleasant land” that was our responsibility to transform; it also meant we got to know each other very well as we always worked by County) saw me chatting and took the photo - I could have kissed him!
Danny Boyle’s vision for this - was it inspired?

YES - everything he does is inspired!

Describe your feelings as you walked into the arena?

 It's weird as you walk into the arena!  A bit of background.....We'd done 2 dress rehearsals that week in front of a full stadium so while you couldn't say you were getting used to it, it really wasn't as scary as you'd think. We'd been in costume for about 3 hours and just done the half hour walk from the costume area so you're actually starting to flag a bit but at the same time the adrenalin is starting to really pump.

 The costume area - Eaton Manor, where the Paralympics tennis will take place - was definitely one of the most bizarre places I have ever seen in my life and needs a book to be written about what it saw that week.  Huge white tents containing 500 working men blacking up with industrial grime and changing into "working clothes" - segregated (i.e. separate tent) from the "working women" getting into their petticoats and bonnets and boots - segregated from 500 nurses changing into all in one body stockings, blue uniforms, heavy makeup and 40's style hair nets - segregated from - 1,000 "Thanks Tim" dancers changing into 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's and NOW disco gear. You'd go to the loo and be met by a group of Bowie's - 12 guys in electric blue spandex with full Aladdin Sane make up - get a bottle of water and crash into the Doves (the people on bikes with the huge white wings), then walk round the corner into the green faced, black feathered Dementors from the Harry Potter books. And everywhere this huge camaraderie and excitement, everywhere colour and shouts and laughing - we clapped each other in and out as each group came and went.

Anyway back to Vom 3 (the tunnel leading onto the FOP).

Stop right there, Declan!  My readers may not understand Voms and FOPS! 

OK, I'll stop being an arse; Vom is short for Vomitarium (apparently where we get the word VOMIT from as in Roman times, gladiators would be sick before they went into the arena). There are 6 Voms in the Olympic stadium, our group entered from Vom 3 onto the Field of Play - the "stage" or "FOP". We all had In- Ear Monitors and could hear all the music and Shakespeare through our IEM's - we all knew our cues and how long we had.  It got strangely quiet in the Vom,  just the odd shout of "let's do this";  "come on"  or "my f***ing radio has bust".  You'd also hear occasional instructions from Steve, the head of MASS - the Mass Movement Team who co-ordinated all the entrances and exits. Finally Kenneth Brannagh finishes the words from The Tempest and we hear the words  "Standby Strike..." followed by  "Strike GO"  and off we march.

I didn't REALLY notice the audience at first because you're concentrating on marching on in time and listening desperately for the cue for the first piece of choreography (a series of 16 movements known as "levers pull"). You're concentrating really hard because you know it looks so good when everyone strikes out their right arm (to pull back the first "lever" movement) at exactly the same time. The noise of the drummers is beautiful and deafening, you're filled with excitement and pride and then you're up the steps and "striking" the Green and Pleasant Land" set and transforming it into the Pandemonium of the Industrial Revolution. Exhilarating and genuinely hard work - the sweat at the end is very real!

Hard work!  But was it fun as well?

Incredible fun - we were paired off into smaller groups and I met one of the funniest guys I have ever met, an engineer called Ben from Derbyshire. I think he insulted every nation on the earth without once being offensive. I think only Northerners can get away with this, I think it's the cheeky laugh we do as we let the insults fly. For example, we passed a group of waiting athletes when we came off, they were beginning to queue for the Parade - Ben started high fiving them as if he'd just won a Gold Medal - he spies the Argentinian flag and exclaims "Argentina! Yay! You're not getting those Islands back" and chuckles off into the night.    Great fun, the best fun I've had in a long time.

You live in London, but what time did you get home?  I mean what happened afterwards?

We decamped to the pub about 11pm. We had to go straight back to Eaton Manor, collect our clothes and things and exit the Olympic Park as there was a huge exclusion zone around the Stadium for the Fireworks. Miraculously we found a pub in Stratford where we could watch the athlete's parade. We got to keep our costumes so a lot of people wanted pictures with us. Fame!  We left there about midnight and watched the amazing fireworks from a very unglamorous bridge near the tube station. Brilliant view.   I must have left about 1.30 am after many heartfelt, tearful goodbyes. We had worked and played together for 3 months and we had played a part in creating something rather beautiful. We were proud, happy and sad. I cycled back from Stratford to Brixton in full costume, no-one took ANY notice of me, and I just looked like another London eccentric. I got home about 3 am, exhausted, and immediately sat down to watch the Opening Ceremony on my laptop. Remember, we hadn't actually seen ANY of the TV coverage.  I was so proud of the whole thing. Strange, beautiful and funny.  Danny Boyle often says "I'm just a story teller". Well he's a bloody good story teller in my opinion.

I know you are proud to have been part of this.  How proud? a) makes you smile all day b) chest nearly popping out of T-shirt  c) want to take up shouting from rooftops?  Seriously, Declan – how do you feel now it’s all over?

 Deeply, deeply proud and a huge sense of gratitude and privilege.

And your final memory, please.

Final memory - driving my speedboat down the Thames to the David Holmes soundtrack. Some people said I looked a little like David Beckham, I think I looked far better. Don't know who the woman was up front with the Torch but she kept hogging the limelight.

Was that you?   hahaha! 

Thanks so much Declan for sharing this so quickly after the excitement, it's been a pleasure to talk to you!

 You are very, very welcome Sue.

(copyright - Declan Cooke)

So..... a privilege for me too, to get Declan's thoughts like that. 

Here's a link to a YouTube mini film, so if you want to see how the magic was created... this may help.  and there are loads more clips there, too!

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