In the winter of 2011/12 my friends Sarah, Emma and Elaine encouraged me to audition for the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics. As fellow-members of the ENO Community Choir, they’d recently put themselves forward and made the trek out to deepest Bromley-by-Bow to be surveyed amongst hundreds of other hopefuls – not, apparently, to sing, but to dance. Emma was successful, selected to be part of one of the dancing ensembles. There continued to be a paucity of blokes coming through for the event, so I made a late application and was invited to audition soon thereafter.
Everything out East was exceptionally well organised, which indeed was a portent for the Games as a whole. I was particularly struck by the friendliness of the ushering staff and the use of safety pins for attaching my candidate number to my shirt. I was measured – height, head, waist, hands – for the costume I knew I would never wear.
The audition involved rushing around in groups, pairs, solo, arm waving, being required to find particular positions on a huge grid, and generally doing stuff in loose formation. Looking around, I noticed suspiciously large numbers of middle aged men with middle age spread and thinning hair. If this is what they’re after, I thought, I’m a sure winner.
The audition lasted about an hour. There was a fabulous spirit, communality, that thing you rarely get with strangers connecting freely. I caught the tube home, back to London, and was glad to have played an infinitesimally tiny part in the forthcoming monster that was London 2012.
Much to my astonishment and mirth, later that very night I received an email recalling me for a second audition. OK, I thought, they really do want hopeless men with chins and bellies. Bring it on.
Second time around was much tougher. There were far fewer candidates – which made sense – and we had to learn a routine involving extracts of Our House, Parklife, Common People and a short salsa number. This seemed depressingly clichéd and not the sort of innovative approach I’d expected of Danny Boyle. Maybe this was just to put the hounds off the scent – we’d been briefed over and over that we must not leak information about even this element of preparations for the Ceremony – but I felt my spirits sag as I prepared to mime (in ensemble) waking up, tooth brushing, getting dressed and scanning my imaginary Oyster Card. It was all over quickly and we were informed that we’d hear something within about three weeks.
Perhaps two months passed. I received one holding email, but no call for the actual Opening Ceremony which was fast approaching, so I put it out of my mind. Then late, late on I did receive a message to say I had been selected for the Opening and Closing… of the Paralympics.
In the meantime my circumstances had changed radically: no longer employed by Tate, but self-employed as a consultant with my own business. My time was my own – but I also had to pay all the bills whether I was working or not, and I needed to be working to get the business going. The other factor which led me to decline the invitation was that it was not the actual Olympics, but the second event. That is not to pass any judgement, but it just didn’t have the same appeal. So, no.
Like so many others, once it finally arrived I was completely absorbed by the Games, despite having being hugely disillusioned with many aspects in the years and months leading up to 27 July 2012. In the final run-up, it had become apparent that the Ceremony, liberally sprinkled with British pop and rock music classics, had no room for T.Rex. I took considerable umbrage, as is my wont. I launched an on-line petition to appeal to Danny’s finer judgement, but despite many hundred signatures, it seemed to be in vain.
The Ceremony was spectacular and I loved almost all of it. I could have done without Mr Bean, and the NHS segment went on far too long, and of course Macca should have pressed the auto-tune button, but these are minor gripes. It was astonishing in its ambition and delivery. But, despite being Hackney’s most famous son, there was no Marc Bolan – or so I thought.
Only in the days afterwards did I learn that there had been 10 Marc Bolan figures, alongside 10 of David Bowie and 10 of Freddie Mercury, in the Tim Berners Lee/1970s sequence. The Sunday Times magazine published a photograph snapped at the rehearsals – and there they all were. It was little surprise that in the maelstrom that was the Opening Ceremony, the cameras had missed this. Emma confirmed that she’d seen the heads, all piled up in amongst thousands of other props.
The only thing to do now was to try to procure one. I put out various feelers but made no progress. Then, more recently, my diligent partner found that three had become available for sale on the 2012 auction site – one of which I bought for about a hundred quid.
Today, just in time for seasonal festivities, Marc came home to Pimlico. You can follow his journey here. It was an unusual exercise, taking him on the Victoria Line, but now he’s happily settling in alongside Oscar Wilde, Mandeville and me. His black lips are velvet and glitter, he has snakes in his hair, and his hat sparkles with sequins and stars. He’s going to watch over me, just as I have tried to watch over him.
Happy New Year to you all.