The secret of Swindon's failure to stage the Olympics

`They were desperate not to be nominated, and they asked me to make sure they weren't'

I WAS up in London the other day, arranging for the delivery of my haggis for Burns Night, when who should I bump into but my old friend Adrian Wardour-Street, the doyen of public relations, the man who makes Max Clifford looks like Antonia de Sancha...

"Adrian!" I cried. "How's life on the hard shoulder?" (This is one of Adrian's little fancies. He thinks life in the fast lane is not dangerous enough. He sees himself as driving at top speed along the hard shoulder, overtaking the rest of the world on the inside.)

"Tip top, old boy," said Adrian, dragging me into the nearest coffee establishment and ordering a CLG.

"What's a CLG?" I asked.

He looked at me pityingly, the look of the city mouse regarding the country mouse.

"Caffe Latte Grappa, old boy," he said. "It's the latest fix. Latte with a shot of grappa."

It sounded disgusting. I ordered a coffee in English and asked the old fox what he was up to.

"It's a bit hush-hush," he said, "but I'm busy fixing the next leader of the Liberal Democrats."

"I thought they already had a leader," I said. "Old Paddy Ashdown."

"No, he's resigned," said Adrian. "At least he should be resigning about now."

At that moment the Evening Standard seller in the street outside cried: "Eeening Staaaaard! Ashdown quits! Latest boring news!"

"Very impressive," I said. "And who's going to be the next leader?"

"Do you really want to know?"

"No."

"That's my trouble," said Adrian. "Nobody wants to know. It makes it harder to handle PR for a leadership bid when only the candidates care who wins. Still, there are ways and means."

"Like what?"

"Oh,I'll have it put about that Blair favours one of the candidates. Charles Kennedy, probably. That'll put the cat among the pigeons. If it's not all crowded off the front page by the Olympic news."

"You mean all this stuff about the IOC taking bribes?" I said

"It certainly does seem that the top officials of the sacrosanct Olympic movement have been taking large helpings of the illegal substance known as money in order to enhance their performance," said Adrian drily. "Not that it came as much of a surprise to me. I was mixed up in that once."

"How?"

"I handled an Olympic bid once. Back in the 1980s, when I was first starting out."

"Who were you handling an Olympic bid for?"

"Swindon."

"Swindon?! Swindon was trying to get the Olympics?"

Adrian smiled in that annoyingly superior way that people have when they are superior to you.

"Not at all. Swindon was trying not to get the Olympics."

"I don't quite..."

"Well, I was involved with the M4 lobby at the time. This was a group set up by local businesses to try to get people off the M4, so as to keep it clear for themselves. We used to put out false fatality figures, and stories about haunted stretches of the road near Reading, and wild rumours about people who had gone down the M4 to Wales by mistake and never come back..."

"How horrible," I said, shuddering. "But what has this got to do with Swindon and the Olympics?"

"Well, traffic figures did fall on the M4 and word got around that I was good at this dissuasion job, so Swindon came to me with a proposal to work on the Olympic Games. They were desperate not to be nominated as a candidate for the games, and they asked me to make sure they weren't."

"What on earth made them think they might be nominated?"

"Just what I asked them. Turned out that they had had a visit from a member of the IOC who said they were seriously considering Swindon as a venue. Swindon panicked. Holding the Olympics can bankrupt a place, or at the very least give it a nervous breakdown. They were desperate. Then the member of the IOC committee made them an offer. If Swindon paid him a large sweetener, he said, he would make sure they weren't selected."

"He wanted them to give him a bribe not to choose Swindon as the Olympic venue?"

"That's it. A large bribe, too. They couldn't afford it. That's why they got me in."

"And what did you do?" I asked.

Adrian smiled.

"I advised them to call his bluff. They did. He went off and got the bribe from Reading instead."

He suddenly leant forward and said: "By the way, this is all extremely confidential and sensitive stuff. No mention of it in your column - promise?"

"Promise," I said.

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