It’s impossible to have been a Londoner in 2012 without the Olympics completely changing the way we experienced the city. Whether it was the overnight appearance of brightly-coloured branding, the constant reminders to stay ahead of the traffic, the innumerable free cultural events or simply the fact that everyone and their dog had tickets to the sport and wouldn’t stop talking about it (bitter, me?) the summer felt like it was given over completely to the games.
And despite early scepticism it didn’t feel like the city was overrun. The increased military and police presence barely registered, there were no catastrophic delays to public transport or gridlock on the roads and, you know what, we actually started to like that Wolff Olins logo as it popped up on nearly every surface across the city.
That’s not to say there weren’t negative sides to hosting the Olympics (the politicians’ smugness definitely started to grate after a while) it’s just that the good completely outweighed the bad and as the games progressed we forgot how miserly we’d been at the start and just focussed on having a good time. With that in mind we’re going to self-indulgently look at some of the best bits of the 2012 games, because who the hell wants to think about the rubbish stuff at this time of year.
So let’s start at the very beginning. The first clue that the Olympics was going to be a belter was the opening ceremony. English poster-boy director Danny Boyle was holed up in Barking for three months prior to the event with a crack team of dancers, drummers, actors, set-builders and about 50 per cent of the NHS preparing what was essentially the greatest pantomime on earth. It didn’t have the ruthless efficiency of Beijing’s efforts four years previously but made up for that with its whimsical charm. Aside from Kenneth Branagh looking completely lost every now and again the whole thing went off largely without a hitch, and even those of us who find musical theatre and variety performances abhorrent had to concede that Mr Boyle had done a terrific job.
Rounding off such an epic spectacle was a pretty tall order. How exactly do you crown a ceremony that featured flying bikes, a skydiving monarch, One Direction and enough fireworks to raze the city to the ground? The answer came in the form of two stunning pieces of design from BarberOsgerby and Thomas Heatherwick respectively. BarberOsgerby had already been in the limelight prior to the opening ceremony, with their beautifully designed torch accompanying athletes and members of the public in the epic relay from Athens to London.
Although we’d appreciated it during that time, the torch only reached its full potential when paired with Heatherwick’s cauldron; two incredible British-designed objects coming together in a fiery blaze. The cauldron was arguably the showstopper of the opening ceremony and elevated Heatherwick’s profile from well-respected architect to international hero.
Speaking of elevated profiles, artist Jeremy Deller was another British creative whose name became household during the course of the games. As part of the Cultural Olympiad, Deller created a giant inflatable model of Stone Henge that toured all across the country, stopping in 25 locations for children of all ages to come and bounce across its antiquated face. As one of over 100 cultural events organised to celebrate the games this might not have been the most high-profile, but it was definitely the most fun.
In spite of all the inspirational creativity, athleticism and showmanship on display during the games, there was one project that resonated with all of us in the studio as being the stand-out product of London 2012. It came from a completely unexpected source and made us stop and think more than we usually like to while watching the telly. It was, of course, Channel 4’s Meet The Superhumans campaign, one of the most arresting and provocative adverts we’ve ever seen on television.
Taking us through intense action sequences of Paralympic sport interspersed with some of the harrowing back-stories of competing athletes it was utterly gripping from start to finish, both for its cinematic and narrative flair and the pitch-perfect soundtrack of Public Enemy’s Harder Than You Think. If there’s one thing that defined the Games for us it was those few minutes of impeccable advertising.
So there you have it; The Olympics in a nut shell as told from the front line. There’s probably stuff we’ve missed, and things you might not have enjoyed quite as much as we did, but hey, this is our Review of The Year and we’re running the show. Roll on Rio 2016!