My Olympics: BBC man's Wenlock-minding at London 2012
- 13 August 2012
- From the section Wales
In the first in a series of reports about people's experiences as Olympic Games volunteers, BBC Wales parliamentary correspondent David Cornock was assigned to help Wenlock, the London 2012 mascot, perform its duties.
It was a scene that could have come straight from the BBC TV satire Twenty Twelve.
"We're on strike," announced the official Olympics mascot, or, more precisely, the artist formally known as Wenlock. "We won't go on until it's sorted out."
The industrial dispute was sparked by problems with the changing facilities available to Wenlock, whose duties included meeting and greeting spectators. Fortunately, the dispute was swiftly resolved, and spectators were denied the sight of an unusual picket line.
The mascot schedule, part of a wider programme to entertain visitors to the Olympic Park, had got off to an unfortunate start.
The first appearance was cancelled after a mix-up involving Wenlock's head and [Paralympic mascot] Mandeville's body: or possibly the other way around.
My job, as a volunteer "games maker", was to help Wenlock perform its (Wenlock has no gender) duties, chaperoning to photo-opportunities and helping manage the crowds.
So how did I end up escorting a giant mascot around the Olympic Games? I would have preferred to run in the Games but I'm too old and way too slow - at my pace, it really is the taking part that counts and I wanted to be part of London 2012.
Volunteers - 70,000 were chosen from 240,000 applications - were allocated roles after interviews on the basis of the skills we offered. McDonald's was London 2012's "presenting partner" and oversaw the recruitment process.
I had no previous experience in the field of mascot-minding, but it sounded like fun, helping to ensure visitors to the Olympic Park had the best possible time. The smiles on the faces of those, young and old, who queued up to be photographed with Wenlock suggest we succeeded.
Some didn't have to queue for photographs. Wenlock was there, waiting, when Mo Farah crossed the finish line in the 10,000 metres. Wenlock broke the mascot world record chasing Usain Bolt so they could stage the sprinter's famous pose for the photographers. The loudest cheers came from the professional team behind the mascot programme, elated by the pictures that emerged.
Friends, curious about my role and uniform, had a number of questions, initially along the lines of "can I have a double burger with fries to go?" This was followed by - "are you Wenlock?"
Daft question: there is only one Wenlock, created from one of the last bits of steel left after the construction of the Olympic Stadium.
Olympic visitors had more questions. Were we volunteers? Yes, I took leave from my job to work 10 eight-hour shifts during the Games. We were given free travel to and from Stratford, one free meal a day and a ticket to the opening ceremony dress rehearsal. No, we didn't get tickets to any events.
Those who turned up for shifts were rewarded with games maker badges in varying colours. McDonald's is offering us a "nationally recognised qualification that will enhance your CV".
Initially, Wenlock appeared at the bandstand and other fixed points around the park but eventually, the Wenlock Wagon made its debut, sometimes behind a marching band, at other times with the mascot song On A Rainbow blaring out from the onboard amplifier.
We mascot team members were required to position ourselves around the mascot mobile as it toured the park, keeping over-enthusiastic children out of harm's way.
We did our best to join in the mascot dance but my talents were somehow overlooked for the closing ceremony.
It was indeed great, great fun. I like to think the spectators were laughing with us, not at us.
We are allowed to keep our uniform, although I suspect I won't be wearing the distinctive purple and poppy red combination anytime soon. It did get you recognised. I got off a bus at 5am one day to be hailed by a passing cyclist "make us proud".
Lord Moynihan, the chairman of the British Olympic Association, generously suggested the volunteers should win the team prize at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards. Would it be premature to rehearse the acceptance speech? "This is not for me, but for Wenlock. I'd like to thank my mascot, without whom….."
On Tuesday, Cardiff's Millennium Stadium manager Gerry Toms gives his personal experiences of London 2012.