Dom Joly: London's warmth beats sweltering in Beijing


Click to follow
The Independent Online

Danny Boyle's Olympic opening ceremony took me straight back to this time four years ago when I covered the Beijing games for The Independent. I had no idea what to expect. I just knew that, since watching the Montreal Games on a fuzzy television somewhere in Tuscany in 1976, I had always wanted to go to the Olympics. Now I was there, in the Bird's Nest stadium waiting for the opening ceremony to begin.

I'd nearly not made it. I was staying right in the heart of the Olympic Park and had taken to foraging for food off other reporters because I didn't have a Visa card and it was impossible to withdraw money or pay for something with anything else. Getting in and out of the park and trying to find a working cashpoint that took evil, non-Olympic approved cards was a good three-hour round trip. On the day of the opening ceremony I had found a forgotten £20 note in one of my pockets and had managed to exchange it for yuan with a man who claimed to be a Serbian triple-jumper. I had my first good meal since I'd entered the park and headed off early towards the Bird's Nest to get ready for the opening festivities. It was hot – staggeringly, oppressively, frighteningly hot. After about a minute outside the air-conditioned sanctuary of the media centre I was soaking wet.

By the time I got into the stadium, I was a mess. The ceremony was impressive but I remember very little because I thought I was going to die of heat stroke. I dimly remember stripping down to my underwear and sitting in a pool of my own sweat next to a man who had actually passed out. I fervently hoped that the TV cameras wouldn't zoom in on me and display my shame to the world.

It was, therefore, in far more comfortable circumstances that I watched the London 2012 opening ceremony. I was horizontal on my sofa, in normal weather conditions and rather loving the fact that I felt no urge to have to be there in person. My kids were excited: this was going to be their first Olympic experience. Sadly, someone in the Groucho Club drunkenly told me about the "Daniel Craig meets the Queen" episode, which was really annoying as it ruined the surprise, but the kids loved it.

One hour in, however, and my seven-year-old crumpled. The NHS bit sent him off to sleep and he was carried to bed. I'd been warned by seasoned hands in Beijing not to hang around for the athletes' entrance because it takes ages. They weren't joking. The rest of my family lasted until Hungary and then gave up.

I was determined to get to the finish line and stuck it out to see the GB team march in. I wanted to see who was going to light the flame. I had no inside knowledge from the drunken Groucho connections but my guess was Roger Bannister. In the end, it was a slightly curious cop-out but I loved the Olympic flame/flower thing. All was going well until Paul McCartney was wheeled out on oxygen to sing "Hey Jude". It seems to be the law that Macca has to sing "Hey Jude" at the end of all these types of events but at least Annie Lennox was seen only briefly on video.