Sometime last year whilst browsing online newspapers, Colin Shannon of Bootle Pilgrim Lodge No. 1473 read an article about the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony and how the organisers were looking for volunteers.
Colin’s application was accepted and he was invited to 3 Mills TV studio in London for an audition where he performed various pieces of choreography and other routines.
The following day, he received an email calling him back for a second audition where the choreography was more complex. Six weeks later whilst on holiday in India with his wife Vilma, the email came through confirming he had been successful. It was champagne all around that night.
He was to have 26 rehearsals and due to the timings of them, would mean about 40 nights in London. It was a huge commitment to make and meant he would have to make some adjustments. Fortunately, he did not have to miss too many lodge meetings and, being a once in a life time opportunity, he accepted.
His first rehearsals were at 3 Mills. That was where he first met Danny Boyle as he explained his vision and what he hoped to achieved. Danny was hands on all the time and Colin saw him at most of the rehearsals. He was very approachable and spent a lot of time 'chatting' in general to people. It was whilst he was at 3 Mills that he had his costume fit.
His next rehearsal site was on a piece of ground at the old Ford plant in Dagenham. The area was set up with a big top to have talks, leave bags etc. Outside there were two areas set up each the size of the area of the stadium enabling two segments of the show to be rehearsed at the same time.
Eventually, rehearsals were moved to the stadium itself. Walking into the stadium for the first time and seeing his segment set out in the centre of it brought it home as to what they were doing. Colin says that when he was in the centre, just looking around at all the stands and seats it sent a shiver down him knowing that there would be 80,000 people sitting there watching them in addition to the 1,000,000,000 or so people around the world on TV.
After a few rehearsals there, the time came for his first dress rehearsal in front of an invited audience of 40,000. Lined up in the vomitory waiting the cue to go out, Colin says he could see the stands on the opposite side of the stadium full of people. That, the general music, lighting effects and then the sudden beating of the drums was a sure way of getting the adrenalin flowing. After receiving his cue, they went out fully focused on their roles. Colin said he could not describe the feelings he, and others, had when the audience applauded them.
The following dress rehearsal was even more intense as the participants had been given tickets for their families to attend. That was to an audience of 60,000.
The big day of the opening ceremony came. When they were called to go to the stadium, he recalls it was very impressive to see thousands of people in the various costumes walking to the stadium en mass. His section, which was the industrial revolution, had a thousand people involved all dressed in old style working clothes, then there was the NHS section all dressed in old nurses’ uniforms. Following them was a variety of costumes from the different eras of music.
Before entering the stadium they were held in another area of the Olympic Park. As they walked through the park and approached the stadium, the world’s media was lined up alongside the route filming and photographing them. Some of were stopped for a quick interview. Colin gave a quick interview to an Australian TV company. Closer to the stadium, there were volunteer workers lining the route, applauding and wishing them good luck.
Lined up ready to go on, the atmosphere was electric. As his group reached the end of their segment after performing their choreography, the choreographer Steve Boyd spoke through their in-ear monitors and said how amazing they looked and pointed out that they were the closest people on the entire planet to the Olympic rings. All too soon it was over and after their bow, they left the stage
Colin says “The entire journey from getting invited to the first audition, to final bow has been an incredible experience, it is one I will never forget and one that I felt honoured to have been part of.”
A few weeks later Colin also took part in the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games.