London 2012: Desiree Henry’s role in spectacular opening & a legacy to be defined

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Desiree Henry and her six fellow torchbearers on the night of London 2012's opening ceremony
Henry (far proper) says she “felt like a rock star for the day”

For an hour and a half, they tried to work it out.

Every of the seven youngsters spoke of the same expertise. An invitation, heavy on gravitas, mild on element. A blacked-out taxi pulling up exterior their door. A journey to east London and a freshly-finished Olympic Stadium.

They’d been met by London 2012 officers, who had been pleasant, however not forthcoming. After which they had been left alone.

Down a concrete hall, in a naked room, they talked. Why them? What subsequent?

“No-one had a solution,” remembers Desiree Henry, who on the time was a 16-year-old sprinting hopeful.

“We had been all making an attempt to determine what all of us do, asking every others’ ages, the place we had been from, what we did.

“We weren’t too certain what was happening.”

Henry recognised one other teen – Adelle Tracey – as a well-recognized face from the youth athletics scene.

The tallest of the seven revealed he had received a medal on the junior rowing world championships. One of many group was a nationwide champion sailor. However one other wasn’t an athlete in any respect. He led youth causes and volunteer teams.

What linked them? The reply arrived by way of a balding, spectacled man.

Danny Boyle strode into the room and launched himself because the director of the London 2012 opening ceremony.

“He took the seven of us, linking arms, and actually huddled us up,” says Henry, now 26.

“He mentioned he had an concept that we seven would mild the Olympic cauldron. We had been all astonished. I feel I set free a large gasp. He needed to say it once more: ‘I need you guys to mild the cauldron.’

“We had been all one another; confused, shocked, excited and in whole disbelief.”

Henry and the opposite six had been solely allowed to inform the one mother or father or carer who had accompanied them to that preliminary assembly.

When she travelled again residence to Edmonton in north London later within the night, Henry and her mum stored the afternoon’s occasion and Boyle’s plan from her dad and sisters. They may not have believed it anyway.

The lighting of the Olympic cauldron had at all times been a job reserved for A-listers.

4 years earlier than, Li Ning, a three-time gold-medal-winning gymnast, ignited Beijing 2008.

Cathy Freeman set Sydney ablaze in 2000 earlier than torching her option to a symbolic gold 10 days later. Muhammad Ali, his expression mounted, his arm faltering, had defied Parkinson’s illness to mark the beginning of Atlanta 1996.

Till London, that stark highlight and heavy duty was borne by the shoulders of a single famous person.

Sir Steve Redgrave, Sir Roger Bannister, David Beckham, Bradley Wiggins, and the Queen featured within the pre-Video games betting market. Hypothesis was rife, however none of it was proper. No-one guessed that at London 2012 – whose tagline promised to ‘encourage a era’ – the honour would as an alternative fall to a bunch of unknowns.

A “save the shock” marketing campaign was launched to persuade insiders to maintain the ceremony’s contents below wraps. However, for the self-styled ‘secret seven’ there have been a couple of extra precautions.

“I used to be questioning if this was what it was prefer to be within the CIA!” says Henry.

“It was very undercover. The organisers had been adamant about that. There have been siblings, husbands and wives holding secrets and techniques from one another.

“After Danny advised us his plan there was a complete collection of costume fittings and rehearsals on the stadium, we would have to attend for them to clear it out to ensure we weren’t seen.”

Their cowl was solely meant to be blown in probably the most spectacular model.

London's Olympic stadium on the night of the opening ceremony in 2012
Some 900m viewers world wide tuned in to the London 2012 opening ceremony

There have been 80,000 individuals in London’s Olympic Stadium on the night of 27 July 2012, the air heavy with warmth and expectation. Within the UK, 27m individuals watched on TV. World wide, 900m tuned in.

After the Queen’s ‘skydive’ with James Bond, after Mr Bean tapped out Chariots of Fireplace, after the nurses danced and Dizzee Rascal rapped, it was Henry’s second.

With the home lights down and the soundtrack silenced, Redgrave, wearing all white, jogged below a stand, via a guard of honour and into the world.

Holding the flame aloft, he turned to face all sides of the stadium.

“It’s a very proud second for him,” purred commentator Barry Davies. “And a really proud second for Britain.”

Then Redgrave turned to go on the flame for the ultimate time.

Cameron MacRitchie, a younger rower chosen by Redgrave, took the torch and the seven began jogging across the stadium as a choir of schoolchildren sang.

Every of the seven took the flame for a part of the lap. Then they every lit a torch of their very own. And eventually, collectively they lit the cauldron.

“The one factor I used to be anxious about was igniting the gasoline canister in my torch,” remembers Henry. “In rehearsals, I stored messing it up.

“When you watch it again, you may see the focus in my face ensuring the gasoline is open and my torch lights.”

Again residence within the Henry household residence in north London, issues had been much less composed.

“My dad and sisters had been in shock!” remembered Henry. “They had been extraordinarily pleased and proud for me, however however they might not imagine I had hidden such a giant secret. I needed to say it wasn’t my determination!

“My complete college, everybody round my space, they had been all so shocked.

“I’m from Edmonton. Not numerous large issues occur right here, however for me to be concerned in one of many greatest issues ever crammed everybody with a way of unity and pleasure. It meant quite a bit to see one among their very own on the large display doing one thing so large.

“I keep in mind looking into the stadium and making an attempt to embrace it. There was simply darkness and a great deal of flashing lights from individuals’s digital camera telephones. I felt like a rock star for the day.”

Henry’s fame has lasted longer than that.

4 years later, aged 20, she reached the 100m semi-finals at Rio 2016, and claimed an Olympic bronze as a part of the 4x100m workforce.

One other 12 months on, she was again in entrance of a packed London Stadium for the World Championships of 2017, the place she would win silver within the 4x100m relay.

“I used to be within the first warmth of the ladies’s 100m and after they introduced my title the entire stadium erupted,” she says.

“These guys remembered me! It was just like the individuals’s baby had grown up, however continues to be doing athletics and is doing her greatest!”

Henry and her Rio 2016 team-mates celebrate winning bronze in the 4x100m relay
Henry and her Rio 2016 team-mates have a good time successful bronze within the 4x100m relay

New steps in the direction of inspiring one other subsequent era may very well be made on Thursday, when Birmingham’s refurbished and expanded Alexander Stadium hosts the Commonwealth Video games’ opening ceremony.

“There’s going to be a younger child in that crowd considering to themselves: ‘I wish to be there on the monitor,'” predicts Henry.

“Moments like that assist make a future Olympian or Commonwealth medallist, particularly when it’s proper there, not one thing they’re witnessing on-line or via a display. They’ll dwell and breathe the ambiance in individual.”

Actuality, although, has a behavior of pinching in on legacy.

After the 2012 Olympics, UK Athletics signed a 50-year deal giving them the suitable to host occasions at London Stadium for one month annually.

In concept, a 67-year-old Henry might take her grandchildren alongside in 2063. In observe, her personal athletics profession may outlive the association.

Experiences earlier this yr steered UK Athletics could be provided a pay-off – price about £15m – to surrender their rights to London Stadium.

The transfer would herald funds however promote out a legacy, leaving the capital with out a top-class facility to host athletics occasions.

Jessica Ennis-Hill, Dina Asher-Smith and Olympic champion-turned-World Athletics president Lord Coe have all expressed concern over any such transfer.

So has Henry.

“For me, it’s not possible to think about London with out a top-class athletics stadium given the historical past of the London Olympics,” she says.

“These Video games had been unbelievable, it unified so many various cultures and sports activities collectively.

“There’s a lot historical past within the stadium. It could be such a disgrace to be pushed apart and considered as simply one thing for the document books.”

Short presentational grey line

The seven kids who lit the flame are all nonetheless involved, sharing a bunch chat. Some are nonetheless in sport. Tracey is ready to compete within the Commonwealths for Jamaica, having switched allegiances this yr. However most are usually not. They’ve opted as an alternative to pursue careers elsewhere.

Regardless of their divergent paths, they share a unifying expertise. One they’ll get pleasure from once more at a reunion hosted by the British Olympic Affiliation on Wednesday as they mark the tenth anniversary of London 2012.

“It is a bond that no one else can ever perceive or clarify,” Henry says.

“So many people are doing so many various issues, however we’ll at all times keep involved.

“There isn’t a means that any of them will handle to dwell life with out me in it.”

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