How many lawyers does it take to open an Olympic Games? KevinPoulter investigates from a particularly unique vantage point
So the Olympic bandwagon has rolled, sprinted, swam, cycled, rowed, shot-put, javelined and damn well exploded into and all over town. I am presuming that no one was held up by the strikes at the borders, on the trains, buses and tube and that we really are, as Boris proclaimed: “ready”.
The flame has been carried, abseiled and, on more than one occasion, extinguished as it made its way around the land. The country has rallied and united in its mock disdain and, surely, the bunting market has now peaked – at least until Camilla is crowned Queen! This might even be the last time we see quiet lanes on most London roads and the least number of road work, but back to the question: how many lawyers does it take to make the Olympics happen?
I’m not talking about the hoards of Freshfields employees sporting the iconic “London 2012” symbols on their lapels and fighting over corporate hospitality tickets, or the rumoured £10msponsorship deal it paid to be the official provider of legal services to the Games. No, I am talking about the volunteer ‘games makers’, taking time off (with or without the support of their firms and chambers) and people, like me, who have ‘saved the surprise’ of the Olympic ceremonies for the past six months. Who have travelled through rain, hail and snow to far flung locations in rehabilitated East London (even somewhere called Dagenham) and guffawed in the face of the Daily Mail every time it got excited over what it thought it had seen by hanging out of a 737 window when passing over the stadium. We are the unpaid masses who have dedicated our time to making the next few weeks what, hopefully, they will be – a showcase of British talent, business, achievement and, if we are lucky, sportsmen and women.
I am confident that some of you will have been among the billions of people worldwide who stared in amazement at the spectacular opening ceremony on Friday. I hope you will agree that it was fantastic and your amazement wasn’t only confined to the free-range trained geese that featured so prominently in the preceding press. There may even be some of you who were lucky enough to have been in the stands in the stadium last week (alongside the Freshfields partners). But how many of you actually participated? Not many.
There was a good number of lawyers performing, dancing, singing or playing in the ceremony though and of them, I can claim forever more that at about 9.07pm on 27 July 2012, “I was John Lennon” in the show’s psychedelic tribute to The Beatles.
The fact that there were another ten John Lennon’s that night and that I had the most lurid of the Sgt Pepper costumes isn’t important. What is important is that, like so many thousands more, I made the effort and for a brief moment (seven minutes to be precise) I was part of something much bigger than I could comprehend.
I won’t bore you with the details of the rest of the ceremony – you will already have seen it, read about it and dissected it. Nor will I talk about: the confidentiality agreements that were signed in advance and meant I couldn’t tweet about my involvement; the security checks; G4S; the armed guards; or the fact that we didn’t have a dry rehearsal until six days before the show. I won’t even mention how nice a chap the director Danny ‘you are the stars’ Boyle is or whether teams of volunteers are being deployed throughout the Games to make sure no one wears Nike trainers in the Olympic Park (or smuggles in a can of Pepsi). I do want to spend a moment considering why so many lawyers were prepared to give up the little free time they have, take holidays and just do something different.
Over the next month or so, partners will become ticket collectors, law students will become turf movers, barristers will become tap dancers and in-house counsel project managers. I did think it was about ego, the buzz and rush of adrenalin and the power of applause. Maybe it’s because the day job gives us little opportunity for creativity and we need to find another way of expressing ourselves beyond picking out a tie for the office. Maybe it is both of these things and more besides.
One thing I have learned from participating in my own small way in the Olympics is that it takes all sorts of people from many different backgrounds to make something big happen. It doesn’t really make a difference why we do it or how big (or small) our role is. I’m going to try and remember that, even if I can’t again recreate the buzz of that opening night. I think that is the Olympic spirit. That, and a few dinner table anecdotes for the next few years. Not everyone has had an acting masterclass from an Oscar winning director after all.
This article was first published by Solicitors Journal on 30 July 2012, and is reproduced by kind permission