Simon Calder: How Britain blunted its Olympic edge

The Man Who Pays His Way

Such was the deluge of contradictory percentages raining down on the world of travel and tourism this week, that by Thursday I was 100 per cent convinced that I needed a holiday.

On Tuesday, for example, we learned that rail tickets would be 6.2 per cent more expensive next year – but by Wednesday FirstGroup was promising to cut fares by 15 per cent on its new West Coast Mainline franchise, despite an obligation to pay the Treasury £13 every second until Easter 2026.

The skittish statistics started around elevenses on Sunday. Initially, the likely size of Britain's tourism dividend from the Olympics rose by a good few per cent as the marathon men orbited between Westminster and the City, on a route carefully devised to deliver one enticing London backdrop after another.

By the time Ray Davies had sung "Waterloo Sunset" in the first half-hour of the Closing Ceremony, millions of people were swarming like flies around the worldwide web for the chance to visit the Kinks' singer's personal paradise in London SE1.

But within two hours – as X-Factor losers followed partied-out has-beens and Nineties nonentities on to the world's screens – 99 per cent of the prospective visitors thought better of the idea, not least to eliminate the risk of encountering a politician dancing (in the loosest sense of the word).

In tourism terms, the Closing Ceremony comprised the longest suicide note in history.

Smoke and ire

Always look on the bright side of life, though – and if you can't do that, then look at Twitter. Only 10 per cent of posts about Sunday's cultural debacle were printable, of which one was "Highlight of the Olympic Closing Ceremony: watching the North Korean athletes shift nervously while George Michael sang 'Freedom'."

After witnessing this squandered opportunity to showcase Britain, some overseas visitors could not get away fast enough. I called in at Heathrow Terminal 4 at 4.30am on Monday morning to find several hundred people already queuing for departing transatlantic flights – over four hours before the first departure.

Or perhaps they had heeded a warning by the airport's owner, BAA, that 13 August would be the "Busiest day in Heathrow's history".

Whatever the people who devised the dismal Closing Ceremony were smoking, they presumably shared it with the BAA officials who made the most absurd assertion of the entire Olympics: that 100 per cent of the seats on every flight leaving Heathrow the day after the closing would be full, with 138,000 departing passengers. This prediction overshot reality by almost 20 per cent.

It was a normal August day at Heathrow, though some of the passengers had abnormal luggage – which is where the temporary Games Terminal came in. Each athlete was expected to be travelling with four or more bags, many of which were classed as "out of gauge". The cunning plan was to keep them separate from normal people, by channelling them through a shed that was basically a security search area leading to a bus station.

Decked out with plastic grass, the Games Terminal felt like a garden centre on the last day of a sale, only with more interesting customers. The athletes were bussed to the appropriate permanent terminal for take off – though some were still clutching cabin baggage in the kind of quantities that could trigger a lifetime ban from Ryanair.

The weary competitors who I met were uniformly complimentary about the logistics of London 2012, and the role played by the Games Makers – including the airport's own volunteers, the "Heathroses". Esther Lofgren, a rower who helped the USA to its 46 gold medals, said: "I can't believe you guys have so many friendly volunteers so early in the morning." Before the Games she had heard "horror stories" about the Tube, but concluded: "It's all been great."

Jet bet debt met

You may recall my view in these pages that the probability of the 100 per cent "load factor" happening was zero, as well as my scepticism about Heathrow's other Olympic projections. I also proposed a bet with BAA bosses: if any day before or after the Games broke the record for passenger numbers I would pay £100 to charity, if they agreed to make the donation if no record was set.

The airport's owners never formally accepted the wager. But sportingly BAA tells me it has paid £1,000 to Whizz Kidz, the charity for disabled children. In the spirit of the times, I have added the £100 I had set aside to settle the bet, increasing the charity's winnings by 10 per cent.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice