Waking up after last night’s spectacular closing Olympic ceremony, I feel proud to be a Londonder. The opener two weeks ago showcased Britain, and our industrial heritage, while yesterday’s show was all about celebrating our amazing capital, reinforcing it as the greatest city in the world.
From the Spice Girls jumping out of black cabs to top models re-creating scenes from London Fashion Week, it was a fitting finale.
London has been a great host for the Olympic Games, with the IOC president Jacques Rogge declaring the city the ‘beating heart of the world.’ Sports fans from all over the world have, by all accounts, been impressed with everything from the new Olympic Park to the friendliness of Londoners.
But just over two weeks ago ago, as all the papers were splashing with positive headlines such as ‘Let the Games begin’, I am now ashamed to say I had a very negative opinion of London 2012. On my Facebook page, I was furiously posting updates like ‘I can’t wait for the Games to end.’
I was at the time worried that London would become overrun and, perhaps from a selfish point of point of view, we’d face transport gridlock. That, of course, didn’t happen – I got to work ok on the Tube (sometimes even getting a seat!), I got to squash (even when it was the other side of town!) and had no problem of being on time to meet up with friends.
Seeing a city alive and at the centre of the world, I had, quite literally, caught the ‘Olympic bug’.
That hadn’t though involved me spending hours in front of BBC One watching one sport after another. No, it was seeing happy faces all around the capital. Seeing people of all nationalities laughing and joking together rubbed off on everyone.
Now that the Games are over people will, naturally, start to count the cost. They’ll recall the £9.3bn investment (and the massive overspend that went with it). Some will also talk of the succession of countries that have gone into recession after hosting an Olympics.
But we need to move beyond the economics and look at what it has done for our society and British culture as a whole. Because the Olympics have brought us together as a nation. People who’ve never really been that excited by sport have got obsessed with heats like dressage and beach volleyball.
David Cameron vowed last week to ‘bottle’ the Olympic spirit by inviting the 80,000 volunteers that helped to make the Games a success join a charity supporting sports clubs and other groups. Some see this as a cynical attempt to re-launch the Big Society project, but after all the praise for the purple-shirted people who could blame him for being quick on the act – here we have motivated individuals willing to can give time and energy to make a difference.
The Games however go much further than changing Britain – they have been a great advert for London to the world, with stunning backdrops like Royal Greenwich, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace hitting global TV screens. If powerful images like that are not enough to whet foreigners’ appetites to visit London and invest in London, then I don’t know what will.
So I firmly believe that, in time, London will see the economic benefits. We’ll get more visitors in our capital, staying in our hotels, dining at our restaurants, spending money in our shops and visiting our best visitor attractions.
Beyond tourism, I’m sure there will be other benefits to the UK economy. It is positive, for example, to note that there has been an increase in enquiries about making films in London. All people living in London know we have great locations, but the Games have given us the abity to show the world this.
All Londoners have done their capital proud over the past two weeks. We now need to capture this happy Olympic spirit and use it to sell London to the world. The next exciting chapter in the story of the world’s greatest city has begun.
Categories: Changing London
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