2012 London Olympics Opening Ceremony from a Sri Lankan Participant
It was a Friday afternoon in 3 mills studio east London. I was queuing up for the opening round of auditions for London 2012 opening ceremony cast. I was excited! but I had no clue what laid ahead. I looked at the programme details and it said each volunteer is expected to dedicate at least 150 hours for rehearsals, spans over 15 weeks. This is not very attractive to a busy Londoner and I asked myself, is it worth it? Well Yes it was!! London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony was a spectacular success and it opened the XXX Olympiad to the world and billions of people got a glimpse of my bowling and appealing!!!
Leading up to the games there was lot of speculations if London could deliver what Beijing did four years ago. Negative vibe was in the air leading up to the games, mainly due to the media speculations. One thing they all forgot was how unique London is and the generous input from volunteers to make these games successful. 70,000 volunteers pulled to show colours of London by holding one of the most successful Olympic Games.
7500 volunteers were selected from two rounds of auditions to participate in the Olympic opening ceremony. Auditions were organised in a friendly way to accommodate all volunteers and their skills. There were acting, dancing and mass movements. Cast organisers roamed around us during auditions taking down our bib numbers to note down our talents. My bib number was 195 and I was known as “195” for the first couple of weeks. I was thrilled when I got the email confirming, my selected for the opening ceremony but not so thrilled when I saw 19 days of rehearsals and each session averaging out to be about 7 hours. However I manage to turn up to the first rehearsal 1 hour late.
The organisers were really kind and they provided us travel card for the duration of rehearsals and offered refreshments during rehearsals. Early rehearsals were not very complicated but we all figured that organisers are still in the selection mode and taking down our bib numbers based on talent level. So all of us were very keen to show off whenever we had the opportunity. It all turned around when I got an email asking if I wanted to do a sport segment. Having done lot of sports in my school: Kingswood College and University of Westminster London, I decided to reply Yes! Following rehearsal session I was asked to join the cricketers. I was delighted to find that, I will be playing cricket in the opening ceremony. I am a Sri Lankan and Cricket is in my blood.
Few more rehearsals were held in 3 mills studio east London to learn the basics of the activities and also to break the ice with other volunteers. Our group was called 43 Green and Pleasant land. Our role was to show the world what 18 century Victorian Briton looked like and then help to transform the field to industrial revolution. There were about 300 volunteers in this segment and when I got to know the volunteers I realise how diverse London is. I met a Slovakian, Hungarian, South Indian, South African, Australians, American and of course many Brits around the country; from Leicester, New Castle and Cardiff. This really demonstrates diversity of London and the Olympic games. The Olympic opening ceremony artistic director, Danny Boyle said to the media “Our show was the ‘volunteers' show. If you want to judge us as an island, these people are the best of us”
Mid part of the rehearsals were conducted in a huge open space in a secret location (Dagenham east London). Far away from population and media to safe guard the ceremony secrets. Couple of days it rained, but it never deter the enthusiasm of 7500 strong cast. We bonded more and more and practised our routines, tricks and logistics. During the rehearsals I was selected as the opening bowler for the largest televised cricket game in history!!! I guess I had the bowling rhythm and calmness to perform in front of billions of audience.
After few weeks of training in Dagenham we came to the stadium for final rehearsals. I was amazed by the scale of the stadium. The sound system and the lighting in the stadium blew me off. I thought to myself in few weeks’ time this is going to be our theatre and I will be bowling from one end of this massive stadium. 80000 stadium spectators and billions more from all over the world will be watching us live. £486 Million was spent to build the stadium and £27 Million for the opening ceremony. Overall £9.3 Billion was invested to transform an industrial waste land in east London to host the Olympics 2012.
We had 5 dress rehearsals and I was impressed by the 18th century Victorian costumes. Most of my fellow volunteers got fake moustaches to show the era. Organisers liked my youth look so I was lucky not to get any moustaches. On the first dress rehearsals I met the big boss!!! It was Danny Boyle!!! The Oscar winning Director who directed Oscar winning Slum Dog Millionaire. He is loved by Britons and I was privilege to be directed by him. He came towards me and said “Udara can you bowl closer to the wicket so we can get a shot” and he took about 4 cuts of me bowling from the batsman’s stump angle. This video segment is in the beginning of the opening ceremony in the journey along Thames River. There was more footage of me taken live on the day of the ceremony. 6 second footage of me appealing for a slip catch and getting disappointed after umpire call it a “No Ball”. Not bad for a Kingswoodian grew up in Kiribathkumbura. These footages are all in first 10 minutes of the broadcast.
There were two more technical rehearsals before 27th of July 2012 opening ceremony and we executed them very well without any hick ups. I was really excited on the opening ceremony day and I could not sleep the previous night. I knew I am going to play a part in it and I wanted to make my family in Sri Lanka proud. There was a big buzz in London on the day of the opening ceremony and I felt that London is ready to deliver a great party.
We got into our costume for the last time and there were lots of pictures taken to remember the day. We were queued up according to entry times and were waiting in one of the grand entrances behind black curtains ready to enter the stadium at 20.12 p.m. When our time was called via the ear pieces we stepped in to the field of play and the crowd went ROARRR!!!! It was a magical feeling and I got goose bumps.
Our segment was simply a Sunday cricket game, played by regular local competitive village teams in rural Victorian England. We captured the calmness and relaxed rhythm of the game as well as moments of fast activity to counteract that. It was an old-fashioned, stylish, quintessentially English, and yet quirky cricket game with moments of comic oddness and sometimes visually plain weird to entertain 80,000 strong stadium audience. We played it with clear and sharp choreography/movement and slick palming of balls, always a step ahead of the audience. We gave space to everything we do, deep breaths, wide steps, to make the audience believe the pitch is larger than it is. This real cricket game lasted for approximately 35 minutes.
Our play ended with dramatic uprooting of rural Briton by the great British mechanical & civil engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The music and the change of landscape were choreographed beautifully to surprise and to the keep audiences at the edge of their seats. We slowly disappeared away to grand entrances with a large tree from green and pleasant land to give away to industrial revolution.
When I watched the recorded ceremony on TV I was ecstatic by what we presented to the world and I was proud to be part of London Olympics as a Sri Lankan. Photographic memories will always remain in my heart reminding me that, I lived the moment when XXX Olympiad was opened for the world. Lord Sebastian Coe (Chairman of London Organising Committee of Olympics and Paralympics Games and 1500m, 800m Olympic gold medalist) summed it all up in the closing ceremony saying “When our time came - Britain, we did it right”