The worst bit about performing in Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony is apparently the poor standard of sandwiches at lunch. The best bits are a longer story.
Russ, who is 19 and studying at St. Mary’s College in London, was told that male drummers were needed and went along to an audition. Last Friday, you watched him make the rumble of the Industrial Revolution as one of the 1,000 drummers pounding at a graffitied bin as the dark satanic mills bulged from England’s green and pleasant land. He gets to keep the drum, along with the costumes – on the day of the opening ceremony he posted a Facebook status complaining that a bit of it had just been sucked up by the hoover and now, a week later, the costumes are being sold on eBay for up to £5000. He also grabbed a couple of Olympic badges for his parents and girlfriend and asked me not to ‘tell Danny’.
Causing Pandemonium takes more rehearsal than you’d think. Hundreds of hours went into organising the very British chaos. The percussion was not the lightning drums of Beijing, flashing a countdown over the instruments and using people to make patterns. London 2012 was trying to use people as people, the drumming was more about the ups on faces than the zoomed out lens. And the noise – Milton invented the word Pandemonium for the uproar of Hell in Paradise Lost and the grimy worker demons made a thunder so loud that the BBC commentary told every viewer at home to turn the volume up a few notches if they wanted a real sense of the stadium.
When asked about the noise Russ said ‘ask someone who isn’t partially deaf but it sounded amazing’. Evelyn Glennie, the first full-time solo percussionist of 20th century and the leader of the the drum performance, has been profoundly deaf since age eleven and is part of the reason that Russ was recommended for the ceremony. He says she is ‘damn good on the drums’ and that you really could ‘feel the rumble’, cliché as it sounds. Few in the stadium that night would disagree with Glennie’s argument that you can teach yourself to hear with parts of her body – most could feel it in their bones.
Grinning in all the screen shots you can see of him, Russ privately thought the Czech Republic’s outfits of wellies and umbrellas were the worst of the night – especially as the rain is no joke to volunteers who had spent four hour rehearsals in the downpour. He had ‘a boogie’ with the athletes afterwards although he is not very sporty and couldn’t name many, and got to meet Danny Boyle himself. Boyle briefed the cast and his ideas met with Russ’s approval ‘but when he first told us I thought they were going to make a cast iron ring on stage – alas it was only LEDs.’ The Queen parachuting in, the fastest man on Earth walking past and performing to the world was so surreal that casting gigantic iron rings didn’t seem impossible.
He says it was an honour to welcome people who have devoted their lives to something in the way that Olympic athletes do, and that the very best thing was the happiness in the stadium. The conclusion of this volunteer? It all felt about ‘as crazy as a hamster running on the outside of its wheel’. Fairly crazy then.