Paul Deighton: 'The date 27 July 2012 is tattooed inside and outside my head'
Delivery man at Coe's right hand still marvels at public's response. Alan Hubbard talks to an Olympian who is thinking far beyond 2012
Sunday 02 July 2006
It is coming up for a year since Jacques Rogge nervously tore at the buff envelope (Lord Coe has since presented him with a paper knife) before revealing London as host city for the 2012 Olympic Games, an announcement that has already indelibly changed the face of sport in this country.
On Thursday there will be an anniversary celebration in Trafalgar Square, featuring the start of a road show which will go around Britain with the sanguine message that these are not just London's Games, but the nation's.
To say quite a lot has happened since 6 July 2005 is an under-statement. Out of the blocks quicker than Asafa Powell, the London team hit the track running and launched into preparations which have earned a glowing first-term report from the IOC watchdogs. Keith Mills and Craig Reedie, two architects of the bid, have been knighted, while the much-lauded Lord Sir Sebastian Coe has more titles to his name than Agatha Christie. Yet one figure who was not on the Singapore platform is now centre stage, with the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that the London production comes in on time, to budget and is a bigger hit in the East End than anything ever seen in the West End.
Step forward Paul Deighton, an affable 50-year-old former chief executive in Europe for Goldman Sachs, and now the chief executive of Locog, the 2012 Games organising committee. As the Olympics enforcer, for the next six years he is the most powerful broker in British sport. Getting him was a bit of a coup, as he took a massive pay cut - though with a personal fortune estimated at £110 million, it is not much of a hardship.
The sports-fan financier has been three months in a role in which he attends to the nuts and bolts while the Games overlordship high-steps his way through the political minefields.
So where was the new Locog- in-the-wheel on the day that London won the Olympics? He remembers it well. "I was in a video conference at my offices in Fleet Street with my colleagues in New York when someone came in and said, 'It's London!' I was actually the first person to announce that to the senior management of Goldman Sachs in New York and they were absolutely gobsmacked - not because they thought New York would win, but because, like many people, they thought Paris was a certainty.
"There were a lot of French flags on our international trading tables and I was in the uninformed majority who thought Paris would win. But since I've been involved I now understand clearly what happened: Seb's presentation was masterful and London had such a great campaign they won on merit.
"I am very clear on what I have to do over the coming months. My first priority is to create a basis for a world-class, high-performing organisation, and that's one of the reasons I was asked to do the job, coming from a background where that's what is expected of people. Then we have to raise the money from sponsorship and other sources [which he admits will not be easy], go out and dial for dollars [the target is £2bn]. And build a team to manage that operation."
He has already made a start, with three major signings: human resources director Jean Tomlin, from Marks & Spencer and latterly the BBC; commercial director Chris Townsend - the man behind the Oyster Card scheme for Transport for London, who will be responsible for all the revenue-raising activities; and, last week, Bill Morris, also from the BBC, where he was in charge of outside events, to head the culture programme. "All are top drawer... superstars - I can't believe my luck."
In the coming weeks he will be hiring a "world-class" lawyer, and a project manager. "Fortunately, London is a top-notch market for labour. This makes a huge difference when you are getting together a team to put on an event of this scale and complexity. I am already working with some great people and Seb and I are terribly excited about the quality and potential we are about to unleash.
"The thing that still continues to overwhelm me is that wherever I go there is a surge of public enthusiasm. People seem to remove that cynical corner of their brain when they talk about the Olympics. It's unmitigated enthusiasm. When I offer someone a job, it's like they want to hug me. It's extraordinary.
He has certainly been infected with Games fever, saying of his own job: "After just a few months I am having such a great time I am almost embarrassed to admit it in case people think I am not suffering enough, given the responsibility of delivering it all. I've spent my whole life in investment banking, which is really quite a narrow and precious bubble - when you are in it you think that is all there is and that you are terribly impor-tant - and now I am associated with something that everybody is interested in and that everybody wants to be a part of.
"The early stages of the project have moved ahead very quickly. I am particularly pleased with our relationship with the ODA [Olympic Development Authority], who are responsible for the building aspect. We have already announced the specifics of the Olympic Park and it is incredible that these should be in place six years ahead of the Games. Ninety per cent of the land is already under our control. Now we can get on with the design of the venues and infrastructure, and when we are talking about the venues and the Olympic Park we are as focused on the legacy as we are on the Games themselves. We are really building with a long-term vision in mind."
So how can he can he allay escalating concerns that the nine-venue Olympic Park might go on to suffer the same agony and acrimony as Wembley, riven with costly delays and litigious disagreements?
Coe has made the point that they were arguing about what Wembley should be when he left Parliament in 1997, and Deighton adds: "There is none of the confusion which for all sorts of reasons might have surrounded Wembley. We are absolutely clear in our objective of where the venues are going to be, what they are for, and we have planning permission in place. I prefer to point to the parallels of Ashburton Grove [where as an Ars-enal fan he plans to watch the opening League game in August]. There was no fuss; one day it was announced and the next we heard it was virtually ready. The way we are focused is entirely consistent with successful examples in construction."
The Olympic investment will create 38,000 jobs in London (over 3,000 of them with Locog) and boost the economy by £6bn, with transport improvement, new homes and the largest urban park in Europe for a century.
That's the upside. What's the downside? Deighton insists there isn't one. "London's Olympic and Paralympic Games will be spectacular. But if we only achieve that I will be a bit disappointed, because the key to extraordinary success is really making sure that the potential legacy benefits, both in terms of how facilities are used and how the Games inspire people to think about sports participation, are realised."
Olympic city CEOs have not had the happiest of experiences in recent Games, coming and going like Sven's substitutes. Sydney had four and Athens lost count. Is Deighton confident he will last the course?
"I have 27 July 2012 tattooed inside and outside my head. I am absolutely focused on the opening ceremony, and with our team and stakeholders intend to deliver the most stunningly sucessful Olympic Games ever. You can count on it."
Road to 2012: Milestones on London odyssey
July: London selected as host city for 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. Aug: First major tender goes out for laying of underground powerlines. Sept: Olympic Lottery launched. Oct: Locog formally established. Nov: Jack Lemley made chairman of Olympic Delivery Authority. Dec: David Higgins appointed chief executive of ODA. Paul Deighton appointed chief executive of London organising committee.
Jan: London 2012/ODA move to new offices in Canary Wharf. Feb: First Locog meeting. March: London Olympic Games Bill becomes law in record time. April: Chancellor announces package of £600m for athlete preparations. IOC Coordination Commission praise London's project as "ambitious and visionary". Deighton takes up post. May: Shortlist for Olympic Delivery Partner announced. June: Masterplan of Olympic Park venues finalised. July: Launch of roadshow at Trafalgar Square anniversary celebrations.
Main construction work.
Beijing closing ceremony handover to London.
Main work to provide goods and services for the Games.
London 2012 official volunteer programme begins.
Tickets go on sale, test events at competition venues.
27 July Olympic Games opening ceremony. 29 Aug Paralympic Games opening ceremony.
Life & Times: Carshalton to the East End
NAME: Paul Deighton.
BORN: 18 January 1956, Carshalton, Surrey.
EDUCATION: Carshalton High School, Trinity College, Cambridge (BA 1978).
FAMILY: Married, two sons.
CAREER: Joined London offices of investment bankers Goldman Sachs 1983, specialising in aerospace and aviation finance. Transferred to New York 1984. Returned 1996, made partner. CEO in charge of European operations 2000. Appointed chief executive, Locog, April 2006. Ranked 458 in 2005 UK rich list.
INTERESTS: All-round sports lover. Played rugby, cricket and football for school. Arsenal supporter. Keep-fit enthusiast.
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