The myth that you can see the Great Wall of China from space is just that ... a myth. But on Sunday night, thanks to a Chinese invention – fireworks – I'm pretty sure that you could see Beijing from up there.
For 15 minutes, as Boris Johnson was awkwardly waving the Olympic flag, the city came to a total standstill as it was lit up by the most extraordinary firework display in history. I was in a taxi and all the traffic just stopped and everybody got out of their cars and gazed upwards as though some huge comet was headed towards earth.
I left my Chinese cabbie and walked the rest of the way – I was heading towards London House, a private members' club in the popular Hou-Hai district where the Beijing handover party was taking place. It was a real "B" List event: Boris, Beckham and Brown were expected and security was tight. Inside champagne was flowing and miniature bowls of fish and chips were being circulated by slightly puzzled looking local waitresses.
I bumped into an old acquaintance – the editor of Beijing Time Out. He told me that the original plans for the handover were far more grandiose. Boris had frozen plans that included flying Gordon Ramsey and a fleet of chefs out and had pulled the rug out from everybody's plans. We were originally going to have a big "Brit Zone" in the popular Ritan Park but this was turned into one of the so-called "approved protest zones" by the Chinese authorities. An original guest list of two and a half thousand had to be rapidly culled to six hundred and many embarrassing phone calls had to be made rescinding invites. Subsequently the local expat community were not, it would be fair to say, huge Boris fans.
His jingoistic speech however, treading all over diplomatic niceties and having a pop at the French as well as claiming pretty much all of sport as British, got a drunken ovation from the audience and mild applause from a slightly embarrassed-looking Gordon Brown. It was a very humid night and the garden was really heating up. I suddenly found myself live on Sky News, being interviewed alongside a rather gorgeous and still ridiculously shy Leona Lewis.
To my right I could see Jimmy Page and ... Jackie Chan and to my left was David Beckham, talking live on the BBC – this was all very surreal. I secretly thanked the Lord that, for once, there had been no sign of the inevitable Elton John or Paul McCartney anywhere in the proceedings – surely a first? At least, with the inclusion of Page, they'd chosen someone a little different in the musical arena.
The competing groups of security and press officers were going mental as they tried to protect their protégés from over-excitable revellers. Beckham had a huge security man with him whereas the Prime Minister's security detail looked far less threatening, but they all did that talking-into-your-sleeve thing that the American Secret Service always do when hustling Bush about. I said hello to Beckham and asked him whether he was enjoying Beijing.
"Yeah ... it's great," he replied.
Possibly the most uninspired question-and-answer session of these whole Olympics ... what can I say? I'm new at all this.
Suddenly, my contact within the Prime Minister's entourage asks me whether I want my picture taken with "the Boss".
I briefly wonder whether Bruce Springsteen is here as well – it wouldn't have surprised me. I agree to this curious photo-op and Gordon Brown suddenly appears in front of me.
"Hello, Dom, how are you enjoying Beijing?"
This is clearly the question "du soir" so I follow Beckham's lead and say: "Yeah ... it's great."
Brown looks around for someone to take the photo – he points out Mark Byford, the deputy head of the BBC and the person in charge of all its journalism. "He'll know what he's doing," laughs Brown and I hand my camera over. Byford takes two photos and hands it back – they're totally out of focus. Sarah Brown has a look and laughs: "That's the problem when everyone's drunk. Give the camera to me." She grabs her husband, places him next to me again and takes a great picture. Thank God for sober First Ladies.
I've got to get back to my hotel and pack. It's two in the morning and I'm flying home tomorrow. I'm in economy as, apparently, is Boris Johnson. I hope we don't sit together – it'll be a bit of a squeeze. Especially if he brings that flag...Reuse content