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Enjoy an Olympic view as The Orbit re-opens to the public

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Climb The Orbit for 360 views of the Olympic Park

Nearly two years after the London Olympics, The Orbit in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is finally set to re-open. Standing at 114.5 metre (376 feet) tall, ArcelorMittal Orbit is Britain’s tallest sculpture. Along with the London Eye and The Shard, The Orbit provides stunning views of London, looking over the capital from the east.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The orbit gives 360 degree views from London

The Orbit was a winning design in a competition in 2009, conceived by Shadow Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell and London Mayor Boris Johnson, who believed the Olympic Park needed an ‘Olympic Tower’. The same year, Britain’s richest man, steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal became interested in the project and offered to contribute funding towards it. In March 2010, Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond’s Orbit design was selected from a shortlist of three. Construction began in November 2010 and was unveiled to the public in May 2012 – two months before the London Olympics.

The structure comprises of two parts – a grey ‘trunk’ containing the stairs, elevators and topped by the observation desk. A lot of the ‘trunk’ is obscured by the twisting red lattice steel winding its way around the structure. It was made using 2000 tons of steel – from Mittal’s ArcelorMittal plants and recycled steel from Luxembourg. It stands tall at 114.5 metre (376 feet), making it the tallest sculpture in the UK. The observation tower is across two levels with a capacity for 150 people.

Public and press reaction to the Orbit has undoubtedly been mixed. It is a very contemporary piece and not to everyone’s taste. However, when it re-opens to the public in April 2014 as part of the regeneration of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, I’m sure there are many who will appreciate the view from the structure while perhaps not liking the design. The Orbit reopens on 5 April and will now include new digital interpretation’ and visitor facilities. Hopefully it will fare better than the Emirates Air Line cable car, which hasn’t been used as much as hoped since the Olympics and Paralympics ended.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The ArcelorMittal Orbit features viewing platforms across two levels

  • The Orbit, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford, E15 2NG. Nearest tube/train: Stratford. Tickets: Adults £15, Children £7 (Local residents of Barking and Dagenham, Greenwich, Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets or Waltham Forest get £2 off). For more information and booking, visit the ArcelorMittal Orbit website.

For Metro Girl’s blog posts on other London lookouts, including The Shard, click here or London Eye, click here.

For further blog posts on the Olympic Park, read London Anniversary Games: An afternoon of nostalgia and triumph over adversity or It’s been a wild ride! Reflecting on my London Olympics experience

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London Anniversary Games: An afternoon of nostalgia and triumph over adversity

From an ad in the paper to biggest TV show in the world | How one woman became a dancer in the Olympics Closing Ceremony

© Lynn Harmer 2012

A lush of Patsys: Wasn’t it just Ab Fab to be a part of such a special event?
© Flynn Harmer 2012

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!).’

© Lynn Harmer 2012

The Orange gang: Flynn and her ‘truckmates’.
© Flynn Harmer 2012

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.

© BBC 2012

Flynn and her co-stars strutting their stuff during West End Girls.
© BBC 2012

‘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!
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

What a stage! The Olympic Stadium

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

It’s been a wild ride! Reflecting on my London Olympics experience

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The rings in the Olympic Park

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Police officer and sprint coach John Powell carrying the torch at Crystal Palace

Today, Londoners woke up with an Olympic hangover. And yes, while plenty may have been nursing an alcohol-related hangover, for most of us it’s a different kind – a sudden end of an emotional rollercoaster of pride, admiration, joy and bittersweet moments that have dominated the past two weeks.

After years of planning, months of warnings about the transport chaos and lots of rumours about the opening and closing ceremonies, it’s hard to believe the Olympics are actually over. It’s only been a day and yet, I already miss them. Unlike a memorable holiday which you could repeat (although its never the same second time round….), this time there will be no second chances. The London Olympics was the once in a lifetime opportunity for most of us.

Today I, like so many other Londoners, are in mourning, but are also relieved. I don’t think I could take much more, I was emotionally and physically tired. As the Olympics coincided with the visits from two close friends from Australia and Jamaica, I felt compelled to take advantage of both the games being in my city and spending as much time as possible with my friends because who knows how long it would be before I saw them again.

Men's Cycle Race © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Men’s Cycle Race at Constitution Hill

Reflecting on the past 18 days, I laugh at how I’ve transformed into a non-sport watcher to an Olympic obsessive (at least that’s what some of my friends have called me… and I concede, they’re right!). Exactly a year to the day I went to the Olympic Park, I found out I had won tickets to the games through my bank Lloyds TSB. I was excited for sure, but at that point it was more the fact I had actually won something. I said to friends, ‘Oh, I’m not really into sports, but it’ll be good to soak up the atmosphere.’ Now having experienced the games, I am humoured by my former attitude.

It was only a few months before the games, I found out I had won tickets to the men’s hockey. I was pleased, but as I had no knowledge of hockey, I wasn’t quite full of excitement. In the months running up to the Olympics, myself and my friends and colleagues frequently discussed our fears of getting to work after hearing warnings of the special Olympic lanes and congested tubes. Two weeks before the games, I had an email from TFL warning me it could take up to 30 minutes to get on a tube at Victoria – a station I use everyday.

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Men’s Hockey at the Riverbank Arena in the Olympic Park

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Patriotic: Some Team GB fans

However, when it came to it, the warnings appeared to have scared everyone off. My first morning commuting to work, I actually found it quieter than normal. I knew a lot of people had escaped London over their fears over the Olympic chaos. Of course, stations like Stratford and Wembley were incredibly busy, but thanks to the TFL and games volunteers, the transport system ran smoothly. In fact, TFL, if you’re listening, the whole running the tube until 2am… I’d quite like that to continue!

A few days before the opening ceremony, my first flicker of Olympic fever happened when I went to Crystal Palace Park in south London to watch the torch relay. I watched four different men, including Olympian Marlon Devonish and London Youth Games chairman Anthony Kendall, carrying the torch. Being in the summer holidays, there were a lot of families around, but the giddy excitement of the kids rubbed off on you.

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Winning: GB fans go mad after we win the hockey

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Watching the action on the big screen in the Olympic Park

The show kicked off with a stunning spectacle of an opening ceremony by Danny Boyle. As I was not there and only watched it on TV, I won’t linger on it too long, but it made me swell with pride of being British, but most importantly a Londoner. During the day I had been out and about in the capital – by the River Thames and in Covent Garden and buzz and excitement was everywhere. After the show ended, I was suddenly hooked, drawn into the compelling lure of those five rings and knew I had to see as much as possible. Although I worked full-time, doing at least 45 hours a week, I used every moment possible of my spare time to soak up the Olympics (and my visiting friends’ company). I was in my flat only to sleep, getting by on 4 or 5 hours sleep a night and getting through the day with Red Bull.

First thing on the Saturday morning – despite an impending 9 hour night shift later that day, my mother and I headed down to Constitution Hill to watch the Men’s Cycle Race. Just 1km from the finish line at The Mall, we stood with hundreds of people from countries all around the world. Unlike some other sporting events I have seen on TV, there was no rivalry here. Everyone was cheering everyone, regardless of their country and whatever our political history with it. I loved seeing the normally traffic-filled, polluted roads of Hyde Park Corner awash with pedestrians, not cars and trucks, with the drab grey tarmac replaced by the colours of the world’s flags. Ahead of the bikes passing, people hammered on the sidelines with excitement and we did a few Mexican waves. When the cyclists finally arrived, they whizzed past in seconds. The leader was out of our sight in moments, but the crowd showed just as much appreciation for the athletes at the back. The true spirit of the games is to cheer everyone on – the sentiment being most of the spectators and myself could never dream of attempting what they have, so good on them for trying anyway. First isn’t everything.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

The Olympic Stadium all lit up

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

The orbit – which has received a mixed reponse from the public

However, by the Monday, I was ill and had to take two days off work. It was only then, I truly got sucked in! With daytime TV generally being known as bad, I fortunately had the BBC’s excellent coverage to keep me entertained. I particularly enjoyed the men’s synchronised diving and men’s team gymnastics – 10 minutes of edge of your seat tension when 4th place Japan argued over some points and we were were dramatically knocked down from silver to bronze. Every time Team GB won a gold, I was incredibly moved, and am not ashamed to admit I cried a little when Jessica Ennis, Victoria Pendleton and Chris Hoy won gold.

On Friday 3rd August, I finally got into the Olympic Park. Many friends and colleagues were jealous and I acknowledged how lucky I was to get inside it. Other friends who had bought tickets at non-Olympic venues expressed their disappointment they couldn’t get inside the park. My day started with a lovely reception by Lloyds TSB, where my sister and I were presented with our tickets and some souvenirs. We even got to hold a torch – one of the many things which made my day. Heeding warnings from TFL, we opted to go to West Ham. Despite a blissfully sunny morning, the heavens opened with heavy rain when we got there and we got a bit wet. However, by the time we walked the 25 minutes to the entrance of the Olympic Park, it was back to glorious sunshine, which remained for the rest of the day.

Inside the park, I wasn’t quite prepared for the sheer scale. The roar from just outside the Olympic Stadium as we ate our lunch was immense… and infectious. After realising it was a 20 minute walk to the Riverside Arena, we had to do a bit of power walking to get there in time for the hockey match. Once inside, we settled down with bottles of cider to watch Germany play India. We decided to support Germany as we had some relatives there, but both teams were getting equal support. For the second match, we were lucky enough to see our own boys – Team GB play Pakistan. Although we were cheering on GB – of course – I felt sorry for Pakistan supporters being so outnumbered. Whether it was the team’s skills or our rousing support, GB won 4-1, prompting a enthusiastic response from all of us.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

The cycling part of the Women’s Triathlon in Hyde Park

After our game ended, we were then free to stay in the Olympic Park. Our attempts to get tickets for an evening session weren’t fruitful, so we settled with watching the swimming and cycling on the big screen by the Velodrome. With the warm sunshine, amazing atmosphere and bottles of cider on sale nearby, it was the perfect day. It sounds a cliché, but I will remember that day so fondly for the rest of my life.

Despite my long day at the Olympic Park – which involved a lot of walking and cheering – which lets face it, takes a lot out of you, I was up bright and early the next morning for the Women’s Triathlon at Hyde Park. Although we just missed the swimming due to the logistics of meeting a big group of friends, we got good viewpoints to cheer on the athletes on the cycling laps, before settling down to watch the running on the big screen in the park. A lot of my friends with me didn’t have tickets to the games, but said they were loving the atmosphere and were so glad they were robbed of their Saturday morning sleep-in.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Team GB fans cheer on Bradley Wiggins as he appears at BT London Live Hyde Park

Potters Field Park © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

The big screen at Potters Field Park by Tower Bridge

Afterwards, we moved into BT London Live in Hyde Park – a free festival-like event with big screens, live music, food and drinks and appearances by Olympians. We watched some gymnastics and cycling in the hot sun, again while sipping cider, before going on to wave our flags when gold medallist Bradley Wiggins appeared on stage. Later that day, I went to a BBQ which ended with eating strawberries and cream while watching Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah win golds in the stadium – amazing TV viewing.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Inspirational: Gold medallist Jessica Ennis at the adidasunderground party

Back at work the following week, we had the Olympics on all day, proving a distraction from our job at hand. After working early mornings and long days, every night I was out again – watching Olympics in a pub or on a big screen. I managed to watch events at both Potters Field Park and Blackheath, which made the viewing all the more special, sharing the euphoria with others when Team GB secured another gold. On Monday 6th August, I was lucky enough to be invited to adidasunderground’s party in Shoreditch. There were tons of celebrities inside, but the main attraction were the gold medallists in the building, including a newly-minted Jessica Ennis, Bradley Wiggins, Tim Baillie and Etienne Scott. The glow of ‘I finally did it’ could be read on their faces and it was very special to be in the same room of them so soon after they had won gold. I briefly spoke to Jessica and congratulated her on her win and she was very friendly and gracious in reply. I ended up only having about 3 hours sleep before work, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave. The room just oozed brilliance and I hoped it would rub off on me.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Shooting some hoops: Women’s basketball semi-final Australia V USA

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The rings at the O2 Arena, aka North Greenwich Arena

After playing the ticket ‘game’ (going through the motions on the official tickets website to find they are unavailable or way too expensive) every day, that so many of us did, I finally got lucky and bought some tickets to the Women’s Semi-Final Basketball. I had made plans with a friend, but I told her we would have to change them and go and watch some basketball instead… unsurprisingly, she jumped at the chance. Although it wasn’t Team GB playing, it was USA V Australia – two places I have lived and worked in in the past. However, I decided to opt for Australia, having lived there for longer, and chose some yellow and green clothes to show my support. Although I was wondering if the Olympic Park spirit spread to the North Greenwich Arena (or O2 Arena to us Londoners), my fears were unfounded. Aussie and Americans are known for being pretty vocal and enthusiastic sports fans so it was great atmosphere as we cheered them on. Although Australia started well, Team USA took control halfway through and ended up winning 86-73.

Afterwards, we took advantage of the early finish to take the Emirates Airline cable car across to ExCel – where the boxing was on. Although a little bumpier than I anticipated and over very quickly, the views were amazing. As you travel over the river, you look over the roof of the O2 Arena and beyond to Canary Wharf and Westminster. I would particularly recommend going near sunset and take your Oyster card – then you don’t need to queue for tickets. Walking to the DLR near the ExCel, we ran into excited Irish fans, having just watched Katie Taylor secure the country’s first gold. After getting the DLR, we then crossed over Tower Bridge – which was adorned with the five Olympic rings. The sunset last Thursday was particularly stunning. As I stood surrounded by tourists from all over the world, I thought, I am so damn lucky to live here. As the sun went down, the Thames came to life like never before with all the bridges lit up to mark the games. Old Billingsgate Market was a beacon of red, white and blue light as the French’s Hospitality House during the games.

Tower Bridge Olympic rings © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Our favourite bridge – Tower Bridge all lit up

So that brings me to my final Olympic experience on the day of the closing ceremony. Despite a hangover and not much sleep (bit of a pattern here with the no sleeping), I dragged myself out of bed to watch the Men’s Marathon. Some friends and I ended up finding a good spot by Monument tube station on Cannon Street. Unlike our London Marathon in April, this one involved three laps, with us being just 3 kilometres from the finish line at The Mall by the final lap. Every single runner was cheered on, but again, our most rapturous applause was saved for our Team GB runners Lee Merrion and Scott Overall. Unfortunately, one runner felt incredibly ill on the final lap and dropped out just beside us. It was quite distressing to see the mix of pain he was in and the disappointment on his face. When he stood up assisted by paramedics to head off for more medical treatment, all of us applauded him for being so brave and inspirational to enter in the first place.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Lee Merrien on the final lap of the Men’s Marathon on Closing Ceremony Day

So, last night, I watched the closing ceremony alone on TV as was due to get up for work at 5.30am. I’m very proud to say my godmother was dancing in it and I briefly saw her during the brilliant Pet Shops Boys’ performance. With music being so subjective, I found people divided on Twitter and Facebook. I personally didn’t enjoy the Spice Girls (but never was a fan) and found Liam Gallagher a bit too nasally, but loved George Michael, Ray Davies and The Who.

So waking up today, there’s no rush to flick on the Beeb and catch-up on who is where in the medals table. It’s all over. As we handed over to Rio De Janeiro yesterday, I thought ‘you’ve got a hell of a job on your hands to top this’. And while I am contemplating going back to Rio for the 2016 Games (I visited in 2003 and it is one of my favourite cities in the world), it’ll never be the London Olympics. While I’m a new convert to the excitement and joy of the Olympics, part of my passion for the games was down to being a Londoner. Many doubted us, but the past two weeks was a giant ‘up yours’ to those doubters! Good luck Rio!