London woke up on Monday morning reeling after a rollercoaster of an Olympic ride. Those 16 days in London saw a surge in patriotism – the Union Jack wafted from balconies, adults and children alike wore “Team GB” paraphernalia and normally inscrutable Londoners spoke to each other on the Tube. The famous British stiff upper lip has definitely gone soft. Will it last? Having visited London some half-dozen times in the last few years, I hope it does – and London’s mayor look like the man who will carry that torch. By ANITA POWELL.
It’s hardly surprising that the first figure to appear at the Olympics closing ceremony was one of Britain’s greatest leaders, and one of its flag bearers of stoicism, Winston Churchill.
But it’s also telling of the new Britain that the very next morning, London’s ebullient mayor did the Mobot in front of a room full of journalists, as a mortified Lord Coe looked on.
The Games have changed London, that’s for sure. But so has the city’s mayor, Boris Johnson.
If the press conference were a drinking game and superlatives and antics warranted vodka shots, the entire crowd would have been three sheets to the wind after just three minutes of listening to Boris.
(In light of this new surge of craziness, it was perhaps a wise move for the undisputed champion of British stoicness to skip the closing ceremony and send her more expressive grandson, Prince Harry, in her place.)
Boris – it just feels too formal to call a man who got stuck hanging over east London on a zip wire by his surname - on Monday refuted rumours that he aspires to be much more than the first world’s zaniest mayor.
As he told the BBC recently when asked if he would become prime minister: “How on earth could you elect that guy? How could anybody elect a prat who gets stuck in a zip wire?”
And perhaps it’s in this department that South Africa can teach Britain a thing or two. South African leaders have no problem looking silly. Desmond Tutu lost no points, after all, for his World Cup dance performance. And the father of the nation is a pioneer at what is being termed in London as “dad dancing”.
But on Monday morning, the British press pilloried Boris and Prime Minister David Cameron for what their hilariously awkward dancing during the Spice Girls’ performance. (For the record: Madiba looked way cooler than they ever did.)
On Monday morning, Secretary of State for Culture Jeremy Hunt even suggested that Rio consider some new sports in light of this: “Bell ringing, zip lining and dad dancing.”
But little was said about the final bill. An investigation found that the tally for the Games topped $19 billion - or about 154 billion rand - and that’s with the help of some 70,000 volunteers. Officials reported rises in every sector of the economy - from employment to restaurants to nightclubs.
Officials rebuffed questions about the downside of the Games, at one point chastising a journalist for “carrying the torch of Olympo-skepticism.”
There was much talk about legacy on Monday morning, with journalists exhorting officials to spend more to develop sports, as a shockingly upbeat Boris spent 10 minutes vigorously thanking anyone he could think of and then went into his feelings on the Games ending.
“I did feel a momentary mad desire last night not to give Jacques Rogge that flag,” he said. “I almost yanked it back. But I suppose there are two emotions: one is, obviously sadness that it is over, because I think it has been a most amazing experience, but also a great deal of relief because there’s no doubt it’s been a prodigious effort by London and by Londoners and I think we did about as well as people could have possibly expected us to do.”
Britain did have something that South Africa didn’t get to experience at the World Cup: winning. And they realised, in the words of Hunt, that “we rather liked it.” They really should have asked their American cousins - we could have told them this. Also, as we showed perhaps too clearly, we really, really hate losing.
It’s hard to say whether our own World Cup has left a lasting legacy. The goodwill dissolved fairly quickly afterwards. But hey, South Africa never stopped dancing.
If that’s the best thing, the only thing, that Britain gets out of this Games, I’ll still consider it a victory. London is too multicultural and vibrant a place to be oppressed by silly notions of propriety and reserve.
So dance on, Boris. DM
Photo: Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, speaks during his visit to the 2012 Olympic Park and Olympic Village in London July 12, 2012. REUTERS/Scott Heavey