Rosemary Walton

London 2012: Thoughts from a volunteer

So after about 18 months of online applications; forms galore; a 90 minute interview one cold November Sunday at 8.30am in the morning, when I had to ‘sell myself’ ; security and DVLA checks; training days and online and real driving tests, the day of my first shift as a Gamesmaker finally arrived. I had been chosen to be a volunteer driver, based in central London  and driving Olympic officials around to wherever they wanted to go – a glorified taxi service in reality.

At 4.30am on a Sunday morning in mid July I proudly, I sleepily donned my volunteer uniform for the first time and checked in for my first shift at the Marriot Hotel ballroom off Grosvenor Square, which was to be my base for the next month.

As I stumbled down Oxford Street I amazed at the way John Lewis had wrapped their flagship store in a huge Olympic banner and all the windows of all the stores had entered into the spirit in one way or another. It was interesting to note the inventive ways many of them had tried to overcome the restrictions around Olympics advertising, but they all looked fantastic.

London had been transformed into a sea of pink with signs and people to help wherever you looked. The London I knew of people who rush about their daily business never talking to anyone had gone and become a place where everyone smiled all the time and people chatted to each other on the tube and in the street. I felt like I had been transported to another planet.

I was also amazed when I walked into the Marriot ballroom as it had been transformed into a ‘games hub’ to make us feel included and welcome.

Rosemary Walton as Olympic DriverOver the next few weeks I was to find that my uniform had turned me into a walking advert for the games and a sort of celebrity. It gave people licence to come up and start a conversation – on the street, on the tube, everywhere I went at any time of the day or night. I never felt alone or worried as everyone wanted to talk to a Gamesmaker. In the early days it was to ask what was I doing and was I enjoying it, but as the games went on it was to say well done and tell me how proud they were of us Gamesmakers.

Mt first shift was spent down at Heathrow and this was to become the pattern of my shifts before the games started. Bringing Olympic officials into London to the Olympic Village, or the Olympic Family hotels. After their Meeter and Greeter and the Transport Team Member they were handed over to us. The drivers were probably their 3rd point of contact in this country, so it was vital we made them feel welcome. Some were friendlier and chattier that others. When an Austrian official who had just flown in from Vienna told me I had just given him the perfect journey I glowed for hours afterwards. I also glowed as I drove my passengers back into central London. Our capital city looked so green and lush (a good by product of our wet summer) and London had ‘scrubbed up’ really well. Everywhere you looked there were great examples of outdoor media from the sponsors advertising the games.

4,000 Olympic branded BMW cars whizzing around London were a great advert as well and there was a (unsubstantiated) rumour that the built in Sat Navs had been programmed to send us on different routes to our destinations so that BMW would get their cars seen all over London, not just on the official Olympic routes! I couldn’t possibly comment.

And pin badges – nobody told me about the Olympic art of pin badge trading. When I took the lovely head of the British Paralympics Association and his Guide dog to the Olympic Village and he gave me a pin to thank me I didn’t understand its significance and accidentally left it in my car when I finished my shift. But as the games went on I realised how collectable they are and how people put them on their lanyards proudly as a badge of honour almost. During the games new pins are produced every day and they are hotly traded. I started to become a bit hooked myself by the end!

Two and a half weeks in after a long shift I was lucky enough to go to the rehearsal of the opening ceremony and suddenly it all fell into place and I got it. The ‘Save the Secret’ hash tag idea was brilliant and I was suddenly bursting with pride and excitement at what I knew lie ahead. And when I stood on the banks of the Thames early the next morning to watch the Olympic flame sail by on the Gloriana it topped off a wonderful few days, I put all my scepticisms aside and couldn’t wait for the games to begin.

And now it is all over how do I feel?

Well, despite all the frustrating equipment failures, long and exhausting shifts and sometimes demanding passengers, I feel so proud to have played a part in any small way in the success of the games and so proud of my country. My fellow Gamesmakers have been incredible. I have met some wonderful people and have felt very much part of a family.
It’s very addictive this Gamesmaker lark. Many of my fellow drivers are already talking about doing the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 – I am not sure about that but am seriously considering the Rugby World Cup in 2015.

The games have been a great advert for Britain and given the country a real lift, reminding us of what is good about our country. The British weather even played its part and the sun shone most of the time.

And for me, it truly has been a once in a lifetime experience and as I a sadly pack away my uniform, my pins and my thank you gifts for safe keeping for my Grandson, I am glad that I will always be able to say ‘Olympics; London; Summer 2012 – I was there.