From an ad in the paper to biggest TV show in the world: How one woman became a dancer in the Olympics Closing Ceremony
On Sunday 12 August, London – like it had been for the past two weeks – was the centre of the world. After over two weeks of sport, it was time to say farewell to the London Olympics. An estimated 750 million people around the world tuned in to watch the three and a half hour spectacular… and boy, what a show it was!
Called a Symphony of British Music, the show was a celebration of the country’s biggest artists and our unique culture. Like most people I know, I was not lucky enough to be one of the 80,000 people seated in the Olympic Stadium that night, however I knew someone who was… And they weren’t just seated in the audience watching the best show of their life… they were actually in the show!
Step forward my step-godmother Flynn Harmer, who in January 2012 answered an advertisement in the Thames News. It read; ‘Wanted: Male volunteers to perform in the Olympic Ceremonies’. Despite being female, Flynn had loved dancing for years and regularly partook in dance classes so applied anyway. Two weeks later, it turned out they were looking for women too and Flynn was auditioning alongside hundreds of others for the chance to perform at either the Opening or Closing Ceremonies. The gruelling auditions consisted of two non-stop three-hour sessions, before an agonising six-week wait to find out if you were through or not.
After finally getting the yes, the hard work began. A cast of 200 dancers – who were giving their time for free – were given parts. Flynn told me: ‘Our parts were designed to use our ‘dance personality’ to the best advantage… so began my three-month indulgence as Patsy… how Ab Fab was that! (and more worryingly… how easy!).’
Flynn, like all the dancers, was sworn to secrecy about the show – the music, the acts, the costumes, everything. All her family and friends knew was the commitment and energy she was giving it, travelling from South London to East London and Essex for the long and tiring rehearsals. For six weeks over the summer, Flynn and her fellow dancers were put through their paces as they learned the routine at the Three Mills Studios. The brief was to create a street party – something we Brits do very well – with Flynn playing the part of the iconic drunken sidekick of Eddie in Absolutely Fabulous.
Then six weeks before the big night, the action moved further out of London to the old Ford plant in Dagenham for the large-scale rehearsals outside. Reflecting on this, Flynn wrote: ‘In true Brit Grit style, optimistically donning condom-like ponchos, we rehearsed through hurricanes, stair-rod rain and burning sunshine and emerged shrivelled, soggy and burnt for the two-hour journey home… but it really was all worth it.’
Three days before the Closing Ceremony, Flynn and her castmembers received their costumes. For Flynn and the fellow Patsys – one of every colour on the different trucks – she was given a dog-tooth skirt suit, pussy bow blouse, 4 inch heels and a blonde, backcombed wig. Every prop and person from each group was in the colour of their truck.
On the actual day, I hand over to Flynn’s words, as only she can convey the real excitement of the experience: ‘On the day of the closing ceremony we had to be at the Stadium 12 hours before the show and unlike the Opening Ceremony, the Closing had to be mobile – wheeled in during the few hours between the last race and the show starting, so there were hours of hanging around whilst the technical teams practised the intricate timings of music and machines. Gradually we transformed ourselves into our characters and were happily entertained by countless celebrities walking past (Russell Brand was very user-friendly!). Then we got the 15 minute call before “curtain up” and were hidden from the crowd on the trucks wrapped in newspaper.
‘We rolled into the stadium to the sounds of Emile Sande singing Read All About It. As Del Boy and Rodney emerged from the exploding Robin Reliant, the sides of our truck fell away and literally the crowd roared!! For the next 12 minutes and to the live performances by Madness, the Grenadier Guards, Pet Shop Boys and One Direction… we did our thing… and it was AWESOME!!!’
I must admit trying to spot my normally brunette godmother on TV amongst a sea of dancers while wearing a blonde wig was quite tricky – but I finally spotted her during Pet Shop Boys’ 80s classic West End Girls (and thank goodness it wasn’t during One Direction as I will probably always associate that song with Flynn’s dancing now!).
So after the euphoria of performing to an estimated million worldwide, what will Flynn remember about the whole experience? I hand back to her: ‘Exceptional , talented, motivational, ever patient casting staff, show directors, dance captains who said (and we believed them ) that we were “fierce”… Rehearsing routines in my head on long tube journeys to Essex borders and nonchalantly wearing my Olympic ID that said ‘cast’… Knowing I was part of a “once in a lifetime” and for some, life-changing experience and absorbing the electric energy of performing for 80,000 people.
‘What have I taken away? Apart from the great memories and new friends, a renewed optimism in people and myself and what we can achieve… and the fact I can put ‘cast of Closing Ceremony’ on my CV… it may come in useful!’
- Photos are copyright of Flynn Harmer unless stated otherwise. Many thanks to Flynn for sharing her Olympic story with MOAMG. We’re so proud of you!
For other ‘Lympics posts and photos of last summer, read It’s been a wild ride! Reflecting on my London Olympics experience or Follow the Wenlocks: Olympic discovery trails around London or Olympic Torch Relay comes to Crystal Palace or They put the Great into Great Britain: Team GB’s victory parade