Sunday, 31 August 2008

Beijing Olympics – The Finals

I know I am a week late with my final account of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but unfortunately work gets in the way of life sometimes! This would be my last journey to Beijing during the Olympics and I had a packed agenda, as well as some serious ‘star gazing’ to do!

I had made in through the heats, struggled but survived the semis and was now entering the finals. I had managed to be entered in 5 key events; lunch with the Mayor, dinner with the PM; a photo opportunity with a Lord, drinks with a whole plethora of ‘stars’ and finally breakfast with the Mayor. Not very sporting I would admit, but arranging invitations to these events required speed, flexibility, years of training and above all the ability to cease opportunities even if they don’t exist!

Of course I wasn’t doing any of this for self-gratification, this was all duty for company and bosses. I would be accompanying the CEO of MBH John Russell and Geely President, Li ShuFu at the events (OK yes I would be carrying their bags).

The Olympics provided a rare opportunity to gain access to important officials all in one place at the same time, the fact that the place would be Beijing would make access that little bit easier. Even politicians get the ‘being abroad’ feeling, which sometimes allowed them to let their guard down, and the distance from Whitehall during the summer break, meant that the army of aides, advisors, private and public secretary’s would be kept away.

Why was this important? Well the Mayor of London was top of the hit list, not just because I had some admiration the man I used to laugh at during his tenure on “Have I got news for you?” but also because as the head of London, he had significant influence on what is almost 90% of our customer base – the cabbies of London. As the Chairman of the ‘Transport for London’ (TfL) organization he is very influential in the laws that govern the capitals transport policy. A mere acknowledgment of our existence was vital for the long-term future of ‘The London Taxi’ to remain the icon of London and of Great Britain.

All started well with an impromptu meeting with the Mayor at an unplanned event at the ‘London House’ facility set up by the London Development Agency (LDA), one of those grab your chance before it disappears moments, where we were able to hijack Boris for a good 15 minutes before he was whisked off to yet another interview, job done a Gold Medal on the first day – a surprise, as we didn’t even expect a bronze from this event. With one medal in the bag, and despite it being early morning, I took advantage to call on a friend for a favour. Even though this was my 4th visit to Beijing in less than 2 weeks, I still hadn’t had chance to see any of the new stadiums built for the games. So with one phone call, a 20-minute Taxi ride, and a climb up 30 flights of stairs, I was sitting in the crow’s nest of a TV company’s prime position overlooking the Birds Nest – what a fantastic building, and what a great sight to end day one of my Olympic finals.

Day 2, meant that we had a pentathlon of events to compete in, starting with lunch with the Mayor, Sir Martin Sorrell and Madam Zhang (VP of the Bank of China), again no medal expectations here, however a late minute no show by the Chinese contestant, allowed my boss to move to the top table and secure a silver. This was followed by a Photo shoot with Lord Digby Jones and an easy Gold, a private meeting for Li Shufu and the Prime Minister added another success, and finally a garden reception at the ambassadors residence which due to my poor positioning meant a poor bronze and a bit of a disappointment.

The day of the closing ceremony was meant to be a day of rest – however an invitation to the Geely University was not to be missed, a facility built by Li Shufu as a private University housing some 20,000+ students and featuring a mock ‘White House’ as the centre piece and Library, we watched as new interns did their compulsory army training – yes, apparently all new students to ‘all’ Chinese University’s have to go through instruction on how to march, stand in line, salute and have someone spit in your face whilst barking orders. I asked the dean of the University what the purpose was, he informed me that children had become lazy, and disrespectful in this new modern world, and that this would break them into a new regime of strict learning – and they say communism is dead?

The evening promised to be entertaining, unlike the rest of the government agencies we hadn’t managed to get tickets to the closing ceremony itself, but I had secured tickets to the closing ceremony party at the by now infamous ‘London House’. The evening started gently, with most of my time spent trying to avoid Boris’s Brother – trust me a blog all on its own is required there! Then as the evening drew on, I met up with an old buddy from the BBC, and as we stood there chatting, we both had a ‘blonde’ moment when walking towards us was his highness Mr. Beckham, as we struggled to find our cameras I quickly realized that by the time I had worked out witch button turned it on, it powered up the flash and I got him into focus – the moment would be lost. So I opted for the next best thing and thrust out my hand, and with a “Good Evening David – Great kick” (reference to the closing ceremony kick, which wasn’t great – but give me a break this was a nano second thought moment), he looked at me stunned, then turned his head to find that his body guards had dropped back several yards and weren’t there to rescue him, he reached out and shook my hand, uttering just a “Thanks” before rushing past. So as we un-pieced the moment, and how stupid we both were to of A; been excited by it, and B; that we had both missed the moment – the same thing happened again, only this time with a dwarf of a guy who rushed past us like some cartoon character on speed – Jackie Chan, quickly followed by Leona Lewis and Jimmy Paige – all of whom we never got chance to take photos of either!

The next day, would be the finale of our Olympics and started with a breakfast meeting with Boris. This would be a private event to discuss the complications of road traffic in London, and some possible solutions to ensuring that the famous icon of London continues to provide service for the cabbies, the customers and the green party. A successful meeting meant bagging another gold, and all there was left to do was for the Myor of London to launch the “Think London Tour of China”, a tour of 12 great cities of this eastern wonderland, in what else but a London Taxi (Kindly provided by us). This would be an opportunity to get some great shots of Boris with a London Taxi – what I didn’t expect is that he would want to drive the vehicle! He jumped in the drivers seat and I seized the opportunity to be carried as a passenger – there are not many people who can claim to have been driven in a London Taxi by the Mayor of London!

So to conclude we bagged a sack full of gold medals, and I won the admiration of my son and his cousin (meeting David Beckham brings enormous kudos with 9 to 10 year olds!). All in all a very satisfying Olympics – however having spent 12 days in Beijing and never seeing an event does seem rather poor form, oh well there is always London!

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