Here come the 2012 volunteers

Sick of Olympic greed and hype? Then celebrate the ordinary people who have given up their time to help the Games come true

They are the fruit of the biggest volunteer recruitment drive since the World Wars. Tens of thousands of Olympics Games Makers – 20 of whom are interviewed here – have now donned their purple and red uniforms and are gearing up to help host millions of athletes, officials and spectators from around the world.

Some have already begun their duties, which range from checking tickets at Games venues to ferrying around some of the biggest names in sport. Tom Daley needs someone to usher his fans to their seats to see him dive. Usain Bolt needs someone to pass the medals should he be up on the podium taking the gold.

A quarter of a million people applied to have the chance to do it and, after a round of interviews, a total of 70,000 were selected. These are the most dedicated Olympic enthusiasts from around the country (and beyond) and are responsible in the eyes of Seb Coe for the difference between a "good Games and a great Games".

Is this the Big Society in action? When David Cameron voiced his vision in 2010 for a "neighbourhood army" of community organisers who would motivate their local area, he might have imagined scenes like these.

It's a big ask. Volunteers will give up a total of 8 million hours of their time over the course of the summer. Each will work a minimum of 10 shifts, some of which start at 6am. They will carry out 800 different roles. They will operate scoreboards, liaise with press, greet the delegations and even perform in the opening ceremony.

In return, they get a travel card and meal vouchers for the days they work. They can keep the uniform – a purple and red jumper paired with beige trousers (an ensemble which has polarised opinion). But most say that the real reward is simply that "once in a lifetime opportunity".

Joe Mason

18, student, Cambridgeshire

"I'll be in charge of the equipment at the badminton matches. I've have just taken my umpire course, so this gives me a chance to watch what the umpires are doing and learn from that. I live quite far away so whenever I've got a 6am start I'll have to leave my house at 3am to get a 3.30am train. Seems odd for a student, but it's how I get my kicks instead of going out."

Kevin O'Malley

50, BT resource manager, Halifax

"I'm looking after all the equipment at the volleyball. I've been involved with volleyball for 30-odd years, since I was 15 years old. I set up my own club at 16. Now my son is in the GB team. I've managed to move my shifts so I'll be able to watch him. The team isn't set for gold but if they can reach the quarter-finals that'll be a great achievement for them."

Samantha Devlin

35, marketing officer, Melbourne

"I am involved with welcoming and assisting all the photographers from the helpdesk. I flew in from Australia on Friday, completed my venue and role training on Saturday and started my first shift on Sunday. It's been four years since I worked in London and I never had anybody chat to me on the Tube then, yet every time I travel in my uniform, people approach, say hello or smile."

Henrietta Slater

22, recent graduate, Guildford

"I will be greeting the spectators as they enter the park, checking their tickets, guiding them through the queues to the security checks, telling them what they can and can't take in, and helping to ensure that the queues move as quickly as possible. The vibe among the volunteers is amazing. I have met people from all generations and backgrounds."

Darren Young

21, student, Glasgow

"I've been assigned to the Australian delegation, within the Village itself. I have to check all the rooms, to make sure they have the right amount of beds and things like that. I'm on hand to do odd jobs after that. It's been really good fun so far. It's hard work, there's a lot of standing around and running around. You see all the hype but it's quite different to actually be there."

Alice Hardman

22, student, Guildford

"I'll be volunteering for the whole of the Paralympics as part of the security team. Once the games start, my role is essentially to work alongside the paid security teams to ensure that the queues flow smoothly. I will be helping keep people in the queues happy and informed. All the Games Makers seem very excited, although I've heard that a few are jealous of my 7.30am 'late starts'."

Thismelie Helsen

33, university training and development co-ordinator, Peckham

"I decided on 7 July 2005, as soon as we won the bid, that I wanted to be involved. I've taken annual leave and have started working in the village with the Belgian delegation. It's manic: amazing but manic. We had to check the apartments to make sure they were all fine before the delegation arrived."

Alex Mitchell

33, company director, London

"I'm a wheelchair-accessible driver at the Paralympics. I'll be helping athletes and VIPs with disabilities in and out of the vehicles. A friend was a volunteer at the Turin Games in Italy and he said it was a great experience. I also went to Athens to watch the Games there and really enjoyed that, so I was really keen to get a behind-the-scenes feel."

Graham Day

Retired voluntary worker, 58, Haringey

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I wanted to get involved. I do a lot of volunteer work in my community, including at the Haringey Wheelchair society, which I chair. I had a car accident in 1990 and lost the use of both my legs. In my role as a volunteer driver I'm driving a specially adapted vehicle. It's just like driving my own car."

Dave Richardson

Recruiter for Google, 27, London

"I originally applied to be one of the people who hold the medals and flowers at the winner's ceremonies, as I know someone who works for Locog and they said there had been a shortage of male applicants. But now I'm going to be in charge of bringing out the podium before the presentation for the weightlifting medals. It's good fun, a bit of TV time."

Christine Hamilton

51, marketing head, London

"I read an article when the Manchester Commonwealth Games were here about how important the volunteers were and that inspired me to apply. I'm going to be at Wimbledon. I could be checking tickets, getting people to their seats, or standing in a dark corridor saying 'Toilets are this way'. I am excited. We're the happy, smiling faces of the Olympics."

Hina Sharma

42, head of External Communications, London

"London's a vibrant city and I want to add my sparkle to it. I'll be a driver, driving a BMW with a satellite navigation system that's programmed with all the Olympics routes and linked by radio control to the team base. I'm hoping to meet some of the stars myself. One of the drivers has already met the guy from Slumdog Millionaire".

Imy Couch

22, London, graduate

"I'm part of a team of four volunteers who will work with the Guatemalan athletes and officials. So far we've welcomed the delegation to London, helped decorate the Guatemalan office, translated for those who don't speak English, and driven the Chef de Mission to meet dignitaries at Heathrow. Few of the Guatemalan athletes speak English fluently so my long-forgotten A-level Spanish is being tested to the max."

Nikki Gill

36, Worcestershire, law student

"I start in September as a scoring operator at the Paralympics fencing. The Paralympics is very close to my heart because of my daughter, Harminder, who suffers from a heart condition and is one of the torchbearers. I know what she's been through and what she's managed to achieve. Many think we are crazy giving up our time for free; we don't see it like that at all. This is an opportunity to be part of something."

Catherine Peck

63, retired teacher, London

"As I'm retired now I've got a bit of time to volunteer. My role is to facilitate interviews and press conferences during the archery at Lords. I found the first big training session at Wembley quite patronising – all very American and happy-clappy. But it's got a real buzz and a nice feel to it. It'll be an awful shame if it gets washed out."

Steve Evans

47, company director, Cardiff

"I coach for a children's football team and I just wanted to see if I could get involved with the Olympics. I'm really looking forward to it, especially as the first event of the Olympics is being held at Cardiff. I only live five minutes down the road from the stadium as well. The title of the job is Officials Liaison, which basically means looking after the referees and linesmen.

Jessica Dodd

30, care co-ordinator, Stoke-on-Trent

"I'm working as a Wayfinder team member assisting the spectators to the Olympic Park. I'm not due to at my accommodation until the 26th. A lovely lady has opened her home to me and another Maker. As a child, whilst I was involved in athletics, I dreamed of being in the Olympics but I missed out because I gave up the sport due to getting a job."

Jess Owen

21, student, Hampshire

"I'm volunteering at the Copper Box, a venue that hosts handball and the modern pentathlon. It's not something I have done before but I was just pleased to be in the Olympic Park. I'm in charge of making sure people get to their seats. We've got 15 minutes to get 8,000 people out of the venue. It might be tricky to begin with but I'm sure that by the end we'll be a well-oiled machine."

Frances Annets

42, educational consultant, Manchester

"I worked at the Commonwealth Games 2002. I loved that, and knew I would want to be involved with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I'm an events and services manager. It's mainly helping people to their seats, checking tickets and accreditation. It's been exciting to see the Olympic Park for the first time, and to meet the other Games Makers."

Andrew Butler

23, student, Nottinghamshire

"I provide technical support for the synchronised swimming judges. I freaked out a bit when I first heard it was going to be for synchronised swimming, but I went to the test event and really enjoyed it. Basically, if the judges have a problem with their electric keypads I help them out. So, for example, if one of the swimmers is awarded a 9.0 and it comes up as 0.9, I sort it out."

Olympic shorts

Man arrested for spying on swim team

Chinese women swimmers preparing at Leeds University were forced to call security after spotting a man spying on them as they got undressed.

The offender was caught hiding in a cubicle in the women's changing rooms used by the visiting squad, and when challenged by staff he affected a high-pitched voice. When he eventually emerged he was described as being dressed smartly and carrying a bag, although his flies were undone. He later attempted to run off.

The man turned out to be a serial sex offender, Declan Crosbie, 25, who has a history of spying on women for sexual gratification. He admitted trespassing with intent to commit a sexual offence and will be sentenced at Leeds Crown Court next month.

Beaches 'not best of British'

Britain's tourism chief has hit out at people's "utter obsession" with the weather.

VisitBritain's chief executive, Sandie Dawe, said: "Frankly, people do not come here to lie on a beach. That is not our offer. They come for culture, sightseeing, and they come all times of the year."

She added: "Anyway, the sun is going to come out."

Finding the right words

All Olympic athletes, from the Americans to the Zambians, are to receive an English for the Games handbook as part of their welcome pack. Produced by the British Council, the handbook features key English vocabulary for all London 2012 sports.

Additional reporting by Jess Denham, Francis Brian and Henry Rylands

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