It seems like a lifetime ago, but it was only last October that I was stood alongside hundreds of other Olympics wannabees in a studio in East London auditioning for a coveted role in the London 2012 Opening Ceremony.
It all went well, a bit of clapping in time, rhythmic walking and some freestyle action, but what were they looking for? I must have done something right and got a call back to another audition six weeks later. This time, around 60 of us danced, acted and ‘traveled’ around the room to the delight and manifest amusement of Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle, the man on whose shoulders the success of the show rested. We still didn’t know what he was looking for.
Looking back, I’m not convinced that Danny or the casting team really knew what skills, looks or likenesses they wanted. We were a mishmash of ages, color, ability and – dare I say – talent. Then the email arrived. I had been selected for the Opening Ceremony. What I was to be doing, though, remained a magical mystery.
Not until May did I hear anything further. Then, at the first orientation back in the East London studio, Danny met me and my youthful male co-stars and announced the news: we would be the Beatles! Ok, so I have the floppy fringe and that might count for something, but I was also one of the oldest there (just into my 30s).
What was so essential that we needed youth and a perceived agility on our side? All became clear over the next few rehearsals as we practiced, recreated (and all too occasionally messed up) the famous HELP album cover, Abbey Road walk, guitar playing microphone sharing stance and trademark head shake. Of those, only one made the cut and the day after the first full rehearsal I could shake my head no more.
By now you will have seen the show, you might even have spotted me and I hope you were impressed, amazed and awed. The experience of the show has reached much further than the 10 minutes of worldwide fame we had on the TV. There has been a real bond between the 46 ‘Beatles’ involved.
We have seen Suffragettes wiped out by flying walls in Dagenham, heard a thousand drummers banging bins, whistled along with 2,000 other performers, shared a dressing room for longer than was really necessary (and sometimes – though not all at once – shared a bed). Some of us have even been told off for tweeting too much! But we’ve done it all together. When we first started out, we were told we should move as one body, as one person around the stadium. I think after all the time we had together – in spite of the rehearsal schedule – we achieved that.
Did I mention that it seems almost half the Beatles were gay? Add this into the mix and you will see why we broke down in laughter whenever we were told to ‘face the raising ring’ or go to the ‘bell end’, smirked when another group were instructed to ‘Stop and slowly lower your packages’ were relieved when Danny declared ‘the good news is, the baby’s head has not been cut’ and were concerned by the choreographer (Toby Sedgwick’s) direction to ‘do the smell of the cow’ or ‘the horror’ and ‘keep the delicate walk, it tells a very clear story: a little prissy walk’ (not to us, I should add).
I won’t talk about the ‘giant anaconda of turf’, the fact that counties E, F and G might come across faecal matter or that our choreographer Paul likes it ‘the tighter the better, gentlemen’, but these memories and the experience of the Olympics in London will remain for many years to come.
This isn’t just something for the CV or an anecdote for the dinner table. This has been the start of many new friendships and a proof that Britain is Great – eccentric, quirky, surreal at times, but also proud, diverse, and we sure know how to have a party.
I might not have been Mary Poppins, but I did meet Tom Daley (sorry boys); I was aglow in the dark John Lennon; and I shook my head for billions. Not even the real John can say that!