Then a completely wonderful, bizarre, tiring and fantastic experience happened to me. That experience was London 2012 Olympic Games. Now given the state of my health, you would be completely correct to assume that I wasn’t competing in the Games. Not in the slightest believe you me. At the end of 2010, before the meeting with Mr C, I had applied to be a Gamesmaker at the London 2012 Olympic Games. My application was processed and weirdly, all the interviews, training days and other such meetings, all seemed to fit around my treatment and were at times when I was actually feeling quite well.
I then was allocated a team that I would be working in. That team was Protocol and Languages team. I assumed that this was because that I was used to speaking to people who couldn’t speak much English. I would probably be manning some information booth somewhere and be constantly telling people where the toilets were and other vital information. My sister was very sceptical.
“It still could be doing the car parking you know…” Oh boy how wrong she was.
I had lucked out. I had lucked out big time. My role, I found out, would be looking after the Olympic Family. For those of you not versed in Olympic vocab, for Olympic Family read VIP’s. Basically my job would involve providing information to VIP’s and generally make sure that they were having a swell time. What was most exciting was where I would be doing this. On my initial application I had put Wimbledon as my first choice. It was near mum and dad and I thought it was worth a punt, but that I would probably be based at the Olympic Park in Stratford. Oh no. I had been allocated Wimbledon. So let’s rewind a little. I was going to be in the VIP lounge of Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Club throughout the Olympics. Holy moly…
As the time got nearer and nearer, the more nervous I was becoming. I hadn’t told anyone about the cancer and was in a quandary on what to do. People seemed quite divided on it and I dithered and dithered, which is something I’m quite good at. Finally, it was the day before my first shift and I had an induction at Wimbledon to actually see what I would be doing. There was a groups of about twenty of us all waiting on a baking hot day, in a room in Wimbledon HQ.
“Hi everyone I’m Sami and this is Leah and Amy. We will be managing you during the Olympics but before we get onto what your roles will be, we’ll divide you up into three groups and show you around…”
I was in Sami’s group. Sami seemed a nice fella. He had been planning this for four years and had worked in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics. Nothing intimidating there. He led us down a non-descript corridor and up a flight of stairs. The next moment we all realised that we were all standing in the Royal Box at Wimbledon. Sami was explaining the seating arrangements but I don’t think anyone was listening. After about five minutes, one of our crew chimed up.
“Urmm… I don’t suppose you mind if a take a photo?”
“No of course not…” And soon we were all snapping away.
After the Royal Box, Sami led us down some stairs and under the famous Rudyard Kipling quote that adorns the wall under which the players enter Centre Court. My father in law had joked during the previous Wimbledon, that if I saw that staircase, I had to take a picture of it for him. So I did.
We turned a corner and bang, we were on Centre Court itself. Sami said that we might have to come down here to accompany the VIP’s presenting the medals. This was seriously getting ridiculous now.
Sami then took us back up the stairs, down the corridor and across a bridge to what was to be, the Olympic Family Lounge or VIP lounge to you and I. We all sat down on some sofas in the lounge.
“Right I think you have details of you first shift so if there aren’t any questions, I’ll see you tomorrow. I just need to speak to Anna Read but the rest of you can go…”
They all went and I was on the sofa with Sami.
“Now Anna as you are a Team Leader (yes I forgot to tell you, I was a Team Leader too!) you need to come a bit earlier than the other so we can meet up and discuss the arrangements for the day…”
I nodded. Tell him about the cancer!!! My brain was screaming at me. But I couldn’t. I think it was because that cancer had consumed the first six months of that year, I’d be buggered if I let it consume the second six months. If I had told him about our relationship would completely change. He would probably want to change my shifts and be constantly alert as to how I was doing. I didn’t want to be a victim. I wanted to experience something that would never happen again in my lifetime and feel relatively normal while doing it. So, I didn’t tell and just got ready for quite possibly, the best week of my life.
My week at Wimbledon flew past like a blur. So many mad and unbelievable things happened that I don’t think I could recount them all. As a team leader I was to be stationed in one place. That place could either be in the corridor outside the Royal Box in Centre Court, by the VIP section in Number One Court, in the VIP lounge itself or by the VIP section in Number Two Court. The other Gamesmakers rotated position every 20 minutes working their way from the car park right through to position 13, which was in the Royal Box itself. My role was to make sure each rotation would revolve smoothly, cover any posts should a Gamesmaker want to nip to the loo or something and basically deal with any queries and problems should they arise.
Throughout the week I was mostly based in the lounge or at Number One Court. I loved being at Number One Court because you could actually watch some of the tennis which was a bit of a bonus. Plus, as people could only get to their seats during a change of ends, it gave you a bit of thinking time of where on earth you were going to seat a 10 strong crowd of Argentinian IOC members who were all dying to see their player, Juan Martin Del Piotro, when there were only four available seats.
The Lounge was quite fun too. In there were mostly the fixers of the rich and famous who arranged for their clients to float through their time at Wimbledon with as little fuss as possible. On the surface their job looked pretty much like the best job in the world. It looked like they spent most of their time flying in and out of the most exclusive places on the planet securing the best possible service for their client. However as one of my Gamesmaker colleagues was quick to point out that it was quite possibly the worse job in the world. They would have to be at the beck and call of their paymaster and fulfil every whim, no matter how impractical it was. He did have a point there…
Another thing about the Lounge was that both the food and the drink were free flowing. We had quite a funny incident where, due a match over running, a deputy Prime Minister had rather enjoyed a bit too much hospitality and was slumped on the sofa all afternoon. The poor translator had to try and wake him up to the meet the players afterwards which was a tad embarrassing!
It was quite demanding work as we were working shifts with an hour lunch. I had no idea how my body would react to this but luckily it seemed to cope fine. I learnt a hell of a lot about customer service and managing expectations. We were dealing with some of the most privileged people on the planet. However, there are only a set number of seats in the Royal Box. If there was no seat available, they would have to wait. Weirdly I found that the more powerful the person was, the more accepting they were of this situation. It was the hanger on’s that normally had a fit.
Sami was quite possibly, the best manager I have ever had. He seemed so relaxed given on his first day, he was told that Michelle Obama would be popping in. What struck me was that he always had time to listen to us and solve any niggling little query no matter how petty it was. The two things that I took away from the whole experience was the importance of listening and taking your time. If you rush, you’re more likely to make mistakes and not resolve the issue in the first place.
Finally, the whole Gamesmaking experience gave me the confidence to go back to work. I was feeling pretty low before I started my time at Wimbledon and my experience there taught that I did have the energy and the mental capacity to go back to teaching. The final day at Wimbledon was quite possibly the best day of my life. I was down for going to be in the lounge, but I swapped with another team leader to go to Number One Court. This was actually a good move as the Lounge was packed and both the Team Leaders stationed there were struggling to find seats for everyone in Centre Court who wanted to see Andy Murray play Roger Federer in the Men’s Singles Final.
At Number One Court we had the third and fourth place final to see who would win the bronze medal. That was between Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Piotro. It was quite quiet at first but then the Gamesmakers at Centre Court started sending over people to us as they were full and soon it began to get a bit chaotic. Intermittently we would get up dates on the score board informing us that, incredibly, Andy Murray was in the lead. Then suddenly we heard a huge cheer from Henman Hill. Andy Murray had actually won! Everyone started clapping and cheering in Number One Court. Even Djokovic and Del Piotro looked quite chuffed.
Del Piotro won the game and after that match it was the women’s doubles third and fourth match. About half way through the match we heard Henman Hill start singing the national anthem. The players stopped playing and we all joined in on Number One Court, cheering at the end! It was coming to the end of my shift and my replacement arrived. I quickly gave her my walkie talkie and updated her on any pressing issues and quickly made my way back to the lounge.
It was absolutely packed and I bundled my way through. I looked up briefly at one point and saw Roger Federer on a balcony, proudly showing off his silver medal. Oh my Lord! This balcony was opposite the Lounge so if I got back quickly I could grab my phone and maybe get a photo of Andy Murray and his medal. I tore up the stairs (bumping into Jeremy Hunt of all people!) and finally got to my bag and grabbed my phone. I ran over to the balcony just in time to see the back of Andy Murray’s head as he showed off his medal. I started to take some photos, but they were pretty rubbish. Oh well…and I started chatting to the team leader I had swapped with who had had a nightmare time in the Lounge, trying to placate big egos.
After about 20 minutes, Sami joined us and said that as it was our last shift, we could help ourselves to some of the VIP grub and, providing we had brought a change of top, which we all had, we could go and find a spare seat on Centre Court and watch the mixed doubles final, if we fancied like. Urm… yes please!
So after a delicious meal, a group of about 20 of us trouped up and sat in seats just behind the Royal Box in Centre Court. It was quite quiet as things were beginning to wind down after the excitement of the Men’s Final. We saw the medal presentation for the Women’s Doubles which not surprisedly had gone to Serena and Venus Williams. Behind us were some vocal Americans and I remember one of them saying “This is freaking Olympic tennis at freaking Wimbledon! It doesn’t get better than this!” and I think he had a point there!
We settled down for the Mixed Doubles. Unbelievably this involved Andy Murray again alongside Laura Robson against two players from Belarus. My dad is half Scottish and he gave me a Saltire to take with me “just in case”. So there we were. A bunch of rowdy Gamesmakers who had just finished their last shift, whooping it up, waving a Scottish flag right behind the Royal Box!
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a double gold for Andy as the Belarussian pair beat them, much to the delight of the Belarussian party in front of us, who were giving us a good run for our money in the noise department! After the match had finished we decided to give the players a guard of honour as the came off the court and along the corridor behind the Royal Box to the locker rooms.
As we formed a line down the corridor, one of the Wimbledon staff told us not to expect much. All the players were pretty knackered and might high five us but definitely do not expect any conversation or photos. Fair enough. True to this the Belarussian pair high fived us all the way down the corridor as did Laura Robson as they scuttled their way back to the safety of the locker room. But where was Andy? We waited and waited…
After what felt like an hour, up rocked Andy. He stood right in front of me.
“Urm…I wonder if you could hold this for me for a while? It’s a bit heavy..”
He then handed me a medal. I assumed it was the silver one that he just had been presented with. Then I realised it was gold. What the…I had to keep my cool. Everyone was going bananas next to me.
“Urm… thanks! You’re right. It is heavy…”
I looked up from the medal and I could see he was busy signing autographs for my Gamemaker buddies. Make small talk Anna! Make small talk!
“Urm… I guess you must be a bit tired after today…”
“Nah…” he said while still signing things.
“Would you mind…?” I said passing the medal to another Gamesmaker.
“Och no…do you want me to sign this?” he said pointing to my now redundant accreditation pass.
“Oh yes!” so he signed, got his medal back and slowly made his way to the locker room.
The whole thing took less than three minutes but it was the most unbelievable three minutes of my life. When I told this story to my niece and nephew who were about 6 or 7 at the time, they said that they couldn’t tell anyone at school because they would never believe them. So incredible was that experience that even now, it feels like a dream. We had a Gamesmaker reunion in the December of that year and it felt like a therapy session. This was because we had all been through something that was so magical and wonderful that no one who had been outside that experience would ever really understand what it was like. Even though we only spent a week together, some of us are still firm friends and it’s nice to relive a little bit of it every time one of us is lucky to go to Wimbledon.
However, for me the confidence that I got from Gamesmaking helped to return to work. Life had indeed changed but I was beginning to like my new normal, very much indeed!