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 an identical expertise. An invitation, heavy on gravitas, mild on element. A blacked-out taxi pulling up outdoors 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 positive what was happening.”

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

The tallest of the seven revealed he had gained 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 stated he had an concept that we seven would mild the Olympic cauldron. We had been all astonished. I believe I set free an enormous gasp. He needed to say it once more: ‘I would like you guys to mild the cauldron.’

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

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

When she travelled again dwelling 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 won’t have believed it anyway.

The lighting of the Olympic cauldron had all the time 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 method 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 accountability 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 a substitute fall to a gaggle of unknowns.

A “save the shock” marketing campaign was launched to persuade insiders to maintain the ceremony’s contents beneath 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 wish 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 protecting secrets and techniques from one another.

“After Danny advised us his plan there was an entire collection of gown fittings and rehearsals on the stadium, we might 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 all over the world 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. All over the world, 900m tuned in.

After the Queen’s ‘skydive’ with James Bond, after Mr Bean tapped out Chariots of Hearth, 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 beneath a stand, by a guard of honour and into the sector.

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 move 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 at last, collectively they lit the cauldron.

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

“In case you watch it again, you possibly can see the focus in my face ensuring the fuel is open and my torch lights.”

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

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

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

“I’m from Edmonton. Not lots of large issues occur right here, however for me to be concerned in one of many greatest issues ever stuffed everybody with a way of unity and delight. It meant loads to see one in all their very own on the massive 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 digicam 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 group.

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 little one 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 rejoice profitable bronze within the 4x100m relay

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

“There may be going to be a younger child in that crowd considering to themselves: ‘I need 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 by a display. They will stay and breathe the environment in particular person.”

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

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

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

Stories earlier this 12 months recommended UK Athletics can be provided a pay-off – value about £15m – to give up their rights to London Stadium.

The transfer would usher in funds however promote out a legacy, leaving the capital and not using 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 unimaginable to think about London and not using 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 may be a lot historical past within the stadium. It will be such a disgrace to be pushed apart and thought of as simply one thing for the file books.”

Short presentational grey line

The seven kids who lit the flame are all nonetheless in touch, sharing a gaggle chat. Some are nonetheless in sport. Tracey is about to compete within the Commonwealths for Jamaica, having switched allegiances this 12 months. However most will not be. They’ve opted as a substitute to pursue careers elsewhere.

Regardless of their divergent paths, they share a unifying expertise. One they are going to take pleasure in once more at a reunion hosted by the British Olympic Affiliation on Wednesday as they mark the tenth anniversary of London 2012.

“This can be 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 all the time keep in touch.

“There is no such thing as a manner that any of them will handle to stay life with out me in it.”

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