I volunteered to become a London Ambassador at London 2012 as long ago as December 2010. The scheme is run by the Mayor of London (ie Boris), and its aim was to appoint Londoners, and people who love London, to meet and greet visitors during the Olympic Games. Apparently the idea started at the Sydney Olympics. Each ambassador would be on duty for a six-day period.
As part of the application process, we had to fill in a short questionnaire, and we were invited to choose our desired location, from a list of 40 or so transport hubs, Games locations and tourist hotspots in central London. I chose Heathrow, both because it is relatively near to where I live and because I thought it would not be a popular spot, and so it would increase my chances of being selected.
Apparently 22,000 people applied, of whom 16,000 were shortlisted and invited for an hour-long interview (including some team-building games). From those people, approximately 8,300 people were chosen, of whom I was one.
It was made abundantly clear to us from the outset that we could expect no reward for acting as ambassador beyond a uniform and some badges. In the end, the uniform turned out to be frighteningly pink, but there turned out to be two unexpected rewards – a ticket to the first dress rehearsal of the opening ceremony, and a fantastic view of the Athletes’ Parade in The Mall on 10 September.
Between autumn 2011 and spring 2012 we attended three training days. The first was primarily a team-building exercise and outline of the management structure and what our role would be (just helping visitors). The second included some information about London and also some customer service hints, based on John Lewis staff training videos. The third was a half-day at our venues – Heathrow T3 in my case. We were let loose with a quiz sheet, to become familiar with what would become our home territory.
Eventually, after many months of anticipation, my six-day stint arrived. I had chosen the second period, which started on Friday 27 July, the first day of the Games. I presented myself for duty at T3 at lunchtime, with seven other newbies (with whom I would work each day). We were looked after by a manager. They are working for the whole summer, 4 days on and 4 days off. We were allocated to stand either in the arrivals hall in T3 or in the passageway beneath T3 that leads to the Tube and Heathrow Express. We handed out maps and guides and checked that people knew where they were going. Most did, but many did not.
We helped plenty of people to find their hotels, other terminals at Heathrow, taxis, buses, coaches, tubes and trains. People wanted directions to central London, the Olympic venues, other London airports and places all over Britain as far apart as Newquay, Swansea, Liverpool and Norfolk. We smiled a lot, and received a lot of smiles back in return. We also received a lot of thanks, for putting in time as volunteers in our extremely pink uniform. Did I mention the trilby with the pink trim ? The uniform also included a pink baseball cap but I managed to mislay it remarkably quickly.
In theory there was the opportunity to see athletes arriving for the Games. In practice nearly all had arrived by the time my duty started. Apparently the Chelsea football team passed through, but I missed them and didn't really mind. Many people hurried past us without catching our eyes - thinking perhaps we were timeshare salespeople, or charity muggers.
Shortly after the end of my first shift, we watched the Opening Ceremony on the television at home. How many Olympic hosts can boast their queen abseiling into the stadium? What a great evening. It was good to know I was playing a small part in helping London to play host to the Games - for what is likely to be the last time this century, and certainly in my lifetime.
The five subsequent afternoons on duty came and went remarkably quickly. It was astonishing how much information we acquired in a short time for the purpose of performing our role, some being provided for us (such as times of the first and last tubes) and some by asking questions of permanent staff or acquired by observation. Six days was not long, or long enough. The team then split up, after exchanging e-mail addresses, and I had to go back to work.
We have been told that we will have the chance each to plant a tree in a new wood in the autumn, so we are looking forward to getting back together for that. We are left with our memories, a few blurred photographs and a couple of very pink polo shirts.
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