Well done, Britain!
...but now it's almost over, will someone please put the kettle on? The Jubilee, the Olympics – summer 2012 got Britain beaming. A pleasantly exhausted Matt Warren looks back at a (soggy) season to remember
It was surely one of the most memorable images of the summer: The Queen (or at least a stuntman named Gary Connery posing as the Queen) resplendent in a salmon-coloured evening dress, parachuting out of the night sky and into the fanfare of the Olympics opening ceremony. A billion people around the world watched that moment, and every one of them must have let out a little whoop of joy.
But then, if you’re willing to discount the near perpetual drizzle, the weary economy (although welly-boot sales are reportedly up) and complaints that The Archers isn’t as good as it used to be, ‘joy’ has been the unassailable watchword of summer 2012. Britain, it seems, is beaming – we’ve even got excited about canoeing.
What a difference a year makes. Exactly 12 months ago, the capital and many other British cities were in flames, as riots erupted around the country. Five people died, thousands were arrested and many commentators warned that Britain was permanently broken.
This summer, the streets across the country have once again been flooded with people, but this time they are waving flags and shouting with joy. The weather and the economy have done their worst, but they couldn’t poop this party. It was so good, the whole world came along, too.
This most glorious of summers began as it meant to go on – in the rain. But the wettest moment was perhaps also the brightest: the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee River Pageant.
‘Twenty-first century rain doesn’t obey the monarchy any more than the tide did when Canute was king in 1028AD,’ said one commentator. How right he was.
But the crowds weren’t put off, and nor was the Queen. She stood stoic and smiling aboard the Spirit Of Chartwell as it made its way down the Thames escorted by a dazzling flotilla of 1,000 vessels (a Guinness world record), to the cheers of millions and the booming notes of Land Of Hope And Glory.
Yes, there was a little moaning as the crowds queued and jostled in the gloom – but then moaning’s British, too. Either way, a staggering six million joined outdoor Jubilee Big Lunches, including 10,000 at the largest, in Greenwich. Blinking the drizzle from their eyes, the black clouds looming overhead, they talked and sang and tucked into plates of Coronation chicken and Victoria sponge. The thoroughly modern Prime Minister tweeted about his ‘jubilee ice-cream treat’.
Similar lunches were held around the world, in 70 different countries. They even staged an impromptu celebration on the distant Polynesian island of Tuvalu – where it didn’t rain.
It should have been a cliché, a knees-up too twee to be true. But somehow it felt authentic, heartfelt, sincere. Anti-monarchy protesters turned up, with Republic’s Graham Smith saying, ‘The whole country isn’t in love with the monarchy. It’s a minority interest.’ But on the riverside that day, they were by far the quieter voice; a mere thousand among millions.
There were parties and concerts, parades and flybys, shindigs and hooplas and jamborees. Every time you thought we’d run out of ways to celebrate, someone would dream up something new. And then that would get rained on, too.
No matter. The Royals shot up the popularity polls. After years of ambivalence, the country even fell in love with Prince Charles, who smiled, and danced and made a speech about his ‘Mummy’ that brought a tear to the nation’s eye.
Which left the Olympics with rather a tough act to follow. After all, surely there’s only so much cheering and flag-waving and eating of Victoria sponge you can do before you get bored, or tired, or simply too cynical to go on? Well, not this year. Just seven weeks after we’d washed up and dried o after the Jubilee party, it all began again.
The London Olympics had got o to a tragic start. Just 24 hours after London won the bid way back in July 2005, the capital was struck by four devastating suicide bombs: 52 innocent civilians died.
But when the Opening Ceremony began on that chilly Friday night in July, the city, indeed the whole country, had only one thing on its mind: wowing the world. And wow it did. In a gloriously madcap and colourful romp through our island’s history, Danny Boyle’s £27m opener was a spectacle to remember, a whirl of sheep and carthorses, green elds and towering smokestacks, James Bond and the Queen. Indeed, when ‘The Queen’ toppled out of the sky, we announced to the world that we aren’t all pompous pageantry and icy reserve. Britain is often at its best when it is irreverent, witty, surprising… joyful.
But where were the medals? Of course, no sooner had the last rework popped than the media began to fret. Why so many empty seats? Where are the tourists in central London (many attractions were 35 per cent down)? And when, oh when are we going to start winning some medals? The Australian media took particular delight in Britain languishing below Kazakhstan in the rankings.
In the end, it was the ladies who led from the front. Lizzie Armitstead broke the duck with her Silver in the cycling road race, shortly followed by Rebecca Adlington’s Bronze in the 400-metre freestyle. Zara Phillips wasn’t far behind, with a team Silver in the eventing competition.
And then the Gold medals started ooding in: the brilliant Bradley Wiggins (who recently became the first Brit to win the Tour de France) in the cycling time trial, Chris Hoy in the velodrome, Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins in the women’s double sculls, Helen Glover and Heather Stanning in the women’s coxless pairs, Tim Baillie and Etienne Stott in the canoe slalom, and then, of course, the inspiring Jess Ennis in the gruelling heptathlon. Andy Murray even got the Gold at Wimbledon – against his nemesis, Roger Federer. The list went on and on… and the excitement grew with each of them.
And the Paralympics is still to come. So well done, Britain. It has been a glorious, spectacular, joyful summer to remember. But as it nally draws to a contented close, I vote it’s nally time for a nice, relaxing cup of tea.
Victoria sponge, anyone?
Summer 2012 in numbers
6 The number of gold medals won by Team GB on just one day: Saturday 4 August
29.7C The hottest temperature recorded in the UK this summer, in Charlwood, Surrey
40 The percentage increase in sales at Fortnum & Mason over the Jubilee weekend
302 Olympic medal events
2,000 newts were relocated from the Olympic Park to the Waterworks Nature Reserve
2,300 officials will oversee the forthcoming Paralympics
8,000 torch bearers carried the Olympic flame around the UK
10,000 blooms decorated the Royal Barge, the Spirit Of Chartwell, during the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant
10,500 Olympic athletes
46,000 people have worked constructing the Olympic Park
1.2 million lined the Thames to watch the pageant
8.8 million The number of Olympics tickets sold
Britain's golden, silver and bronze girls
2012 was a fabulous year for Britain’s lady athletes. Team GB poster girl Jessica Ennis’s golden victory in the heptathlon generated the most fanfare, but there were heroines aplenty.
In the cycling, Victoria Pendleton conquered the keirin, while Jo Roswell, Laura Trott and Dani King won the cycling team pursuit.
On the water, Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins hit the gold standard in the double sculls, while Katherine Copeland and Sophie Hosking did the same in the lightweight doubles. Helen Glover and Heather Stanning also won Gold in the coxless pairs.
Silver-medal winners included Christine Ohuruogu in the 400-metres, while Laura Robson was runner-up, alongside Andy Murray, in the tennis mixed doubles. Gemma Gibbons scored Silver in judo, and who can forget Britain’s lady eventing champions Tina Cook, Mary King, Nicola Wilson and Zara Phillips. Rebecca Adlington, meanwhile, won two Bronzes in the pool.
Well done, ladies.
Daily tip from the lady archive
“HEAVEN forbid that we should go back to the days when beauty was under suspicion and plain girls were assumed to have angelic natures.”The Lady. With Prejudice. 28th April 1938