Along with the rest of the staff on The Sun’s editorial floor I was bent over a TV screen waiting for IOC President Jacques Rogge to announce who would be holding the 2012 Olympics. It was Wednesday the sixth of July, 2005 – and as I recall, overcast but warm. “The International Olympic Committee has the honour of announcing”, he said. “That the Games of the 30th Olympiad in 2012 are awarded to the city of … LONDON!”
The British delegates in Singapore leapt up and down in jubilation. Kelly Holmes beat her fists on the table in celebration. At Wapping the tension broke just the same. Well, almost.
Due to the vagaries of the networking system at News International the TVs at the far end of the floor were wired to a receiver a second or two ahead of our technologically challenged loop that covered Online and Features. We heard the cheers from the Sport and News desks before Rogge had finished the word, “city”. No matter it meant a mountain of work for me for the rest of the afternoon (albeit I’d already prepared for much of it) this was London in 2005 and everything was perfect.
My career at The Sun was really beginning to take off as I was given increasing responsibility by my editor. Love was blossoming and I had not long returned from a great holiday on the beautiful island of Sveti Stefan in Montenegro with Jane. Tony Blair was in power and despite my instinctive distrust of the man the housing market was roaring. We all had cash in our pockets and even though his chancellor had declared an end to boom and bust it seemed like boom all the way.
Until, of course everything really did go boom.
And no, I wouldn’t be so callous as to be referring to the events of the very next morning when a tube train I’d been travelling on an hour or so earlier was blasted in two by a religious fanatic from a Leeds chip shop. (Eight people died including the bomber).
Four years later we lived in a post-credit crunch world. I was made redundant and used an amount of my pay-off on psychotherapy to try and understand why. Of course the truth, as Oscar Wilde didn’t say, was simple – as much as I had emotionally engaged with working for a newspaper I loathed they treated me as all corporations do, with complete disregard.
Blair had long since let me down, News International let me down – and the closer we came to the Olympics the more my initial optimism seemed unfounded. And not just because as a West Ham supporter the legacy of the stadium was wrapped in the labyrinthine complexities of finance, law and Tottenham Hotspur.
At least there was still Jane, now paying back my faith in her by proving to me to me just how kindness can be a strength, a notion I’d fought against all my life. Her recognition of the Olympics is important living as she does in east London just three or so miles and three stops on the Central Line from Stratford.
The borough of Newham where the stadium is being built is the third poorest in the country with children growing with a 27 per cent rate of “severe poverty”. Yet the average price of a house in the borough is over £220,000. Jane lives in the relatively affluent Redbridge and works for a legal costs consultants yet cannot afford to buy a ticket to watch the Olympics. Nor can many of the locals despite them all paying for the event via their increased council tax.
The promised “legacy” from the Olympic Village, earmarked to be used as social housing seems to shrink by the day. Just how many of those homes, now owned by the Qatari Royal family do we think will actually serve the community and not scores of incoming businessmen eager to work closer to the financial centre of London?
At least there’s the “regeneration” provided by Westfield – a huge shopping complex to the east of the stadium. Jane and I visited a couple of Sundays ago and I must say we were as delighted as ever by the great food on offer at Busaba Eathai. But something strange was afoot, we left the restaurant to have a browse of the shops – admittedly never my favourite leisure activity – but could barely walk around the concourses for the sheer volume of shoppers.
Only they weren’t shoppers, they were spectators – if we wanted to avoid the crowds it was easy – just walk into a shop, they were invariably close to empty as nobody had any spending cash. So there it is, the Olympics, an event the people closest to it cannot partake in, live in or shop in despite all the lofty claims of “legacy”. All we can do is watch from afar via our TV screens as the tournament plays out to a grateful world.
Actually, I don’t think I’ll bother…