In case you’re wondering if I have done any more volunteering since the Princess Diana Dinner/Dance Ball on October 31, 1996, the answer is yes! And as the countdown to the London Olympics moves swiftly towards the Opening Ceremony I thought I would share with you my Sydney Olympics experience.
One fine day, just a few months before the Opening Ceremony Carl and I, having no tickets to any of the many events, were asked if we’d like to volunteer as Placard Bearers.
‘As what?’ I asked.
‘Placard bearers’, she said, ‘You know, where you carry the country’s name on the end of a long stick and you lead the country into the stadium and stand with them on the Field of Play’. Carl and I hadn’t managed to secure tickets to the Opening Ceremony in the ballot and couldn’t afford them even if we did, so being on the Field of Play during the Ceremony sounded like the next best thing. I didn’t want to admit I’d never previously taken any notice of the placard bearers and their mighty role so hid my ignorance and gave an enthusiastic and confident affirmation that we would love to volunteer.
We were sent to a meeting at Olympic Park that was almost two hours away from where we lived and after a lot of waiting around Carl found out he would be leading Bahrain into the stadium and I was told I would be leading Bangladesh. After this first meeting there were many rehearsals we had to endure that were all on cold winter’s nights and we wouldn’t be back home until around midnight.
Finally it was the night of the dress rehearsal. We hadn’t at this stage seen much of what would take place at the Opening Ceremony because it was so top secret but on this night we were given a privileged glimpse into what would occur. After the Placard Bearers had led all the athletes (pretend athletes) onto the Field of Play we then had to join hands and create a human wall that effectively kept the athletes within an area and made pathways through the Field of Play.
I was standing on the ground absolutely frozen with the cold night’s air and my hands were almost numb and I was dressed in the uniform that was unisex and looked good only from a distance. By sheer surprise John Farnham and Olivia Newton-John came on stage to rehearse the song they would sing, Dare to Dream. At a certain point in the song they came down off the stage and onto the Field of Play and walked across the brown flooring that had been installed for the opening ceremony. They were walking separately and John Farnham came over to me and out of a sea of people, grabbed my hands. His hands were nice and warm, (he must have been waiting backstage in a Green Room), and I think he was shocked that mine were so cold. Olivia was wearing high heels and just after John had grabbed my hands she tripped and fell to the ground and as John said, ‘She was wearing pretty much a hanky’. John rushed away to help her to her feet and both of them just kept singing like nothing untoward had occurred. At the performance at the Opening Ceremony John took Olivia by the hand and led her down the stairs and across the Field of Play.
I watched this video for the first time today and couldn’t believe it because at 2.54 seconds I’m on the video broadly grinning (because I can’t believe I’m actually at the Opening Ceremony), as John Farnham walks by me. I’m on the left of the screen wearing red.
Now, there were lots of rules to being a Placard Bearer. One was that we weren’t allowed a camera and I abided by this rule but as you can see from the video no one else did and we weren’t allowed to approach certain well-known athletes and ask to be photographed with them etc.
At the closing ceremony the rules hadn’t changed but the atmosphere was a lot more relaxed so I took a camera that I hid down the front of my uniform (they were purpose made without pockets), and managed to sneak a few images. I’m sorry the images are so atrocious but the only camera I could hide was an instant camera and as you know, the quality of the images is appalling.
It was such an honour and a thrill to be involved in the Sydney Olympics and I if London wanted me I would do it all again. What a privilege to be amongst the world’s very best athletes.
I can’t wait for the London Olympics but this time, I’ll be watching the events from my lounge room on TV – great, but not exactly the same.
Where were you for the Sydney Olympics?
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