Monday, 27 August 2012

Friday 24th August - The biggest of big days (pt 1)

While reading the blog of Thursday's activity, Loup reminded me that I'd missed off the fact that as we headed down the platform to catch the train, she'd been met by Katherine from Radio Leeds who had (in the nicest possible way) thrust a microphone in front of her and they had done a live interview as we got onto the train. It's an indication of how things went over those few days that something which, in itself, would have been something to talk about was lost in the melee.

As we had to meet up at 6:30, this meant another 5:30 start - a very quick breakfast, although I was so nervous I could hardly eat anything - although the kids seemed somewhat unphased, well aside from Sam who, not being such an early bird, was recovering from being (literally) wrenched from his bed.

We'd walked from the hotel to Trafalgar Square the day before so knew the route and made our way through Leicester Square which at this time of day was inhabited only by road sweepers rather than the throng of tourists we had seen the day before. We'd seen another flame ambassador (Leicestershire?) in the hotel and as we made our way onto Trafalgar Square we walked with and alongside a number of others clearly heading the same direction.

The meeting point for all 33 ambassadors was the offices of the Department for Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) and as we hung around Jeremy Hunt (Secretary for State) wandered past (this being his department) and then Lynda came up to me, looking somewhat bemused, and said "The Prime Minister wants to meet Evan and have his photograph taken with him !". Regardless of political persuasion or opinion that you might have, when the Prime Minister asks to meet your son, that's a landmark day.

David Cameron had sadly lost his own son who was severely disabled with Cerebral Palsy in 2009 - he's a Dad and, on another day, that might have been me. We never stop forgetting, even with the challenges that Evan faces, that we are very lucky to have him...

We left Loup and Ev in the safe hands of Tom for the briefing and myself, Amy, Maya and Sam headed over to Trafalgar Square. The media were there and we spotted Tina and Charlie at one end of the barriers at the front and Katherine and Joe at the other. However, they then united to form a little Yorkshire media enclave fighting for space and position. We did a bit of celebrity spotting - we could see a few presenters in front of us (I even got asked if I'd let Gethin Jones interview me for ITV, but I thought i'd let someone else be on telly as well....) and on stage we spotted Mandeville (the mascot) followed by Seb Coe, David Cameron and Boris Johnson - the latter clearly a very popular guy as there was a noticeable "look, look, there's Boris.... " from all around us.

Then, as the clock reached 8am (it felt like midday), the ceremony started. The Master of Ceremonies was Chris Holmes, renowned Paralympic athlete who was also Director of Paralympic Integration. Speeches followed from Seb Coe, David Cameron and then the wonderfully erudite and bonkers Boris Johnson with a speech combining a latin lesson, Lady Gaga, Shakin' Stevens and a reference to the Olympics as antipasto. (Boris Johnson speech).

Then the flame was lit and the splitting ceremony commenced. Loup had also mentioned that they wanted Evan to be first up - he was the youngest of the participants - which was good as we wouldnt have long to wait - and worry... but when the first name was called it wasn't Evan. Nor was the second. Panic set in - he had been nervous and I could imagine him clinging onto Loup saying he couldnt do it, but then I heard the assistant to Chris Holmes (who is blind so had to be prompted for the list of names) whisper "Yorkshire" to him- audible over the mic.

Showtime !!!

I could see Ev enter stage left and he set off slowly. After the initial round of applause died down it was just Ev walking to the flame. He was doing it. I could see him doing the combination of walking, concentrating, balancing - so much effort for him to do this. I put my hands to my face - I was so, so, proud and have to admit to a few tears.

The crowd fell silent - willing him on, as I do so often - trying to will his feet to lift themselves. After about 25 steps, and 30 seconds, Chris Holmes shouted "Come on let's hear you" and the crowd clapped some more. Which had the effect of spurring him on but he seemed to lose concentration and after three more steps he slipped. Loup caught him and steadied him. I hoped it wouldn't dent his confidence but feared it might. It didn't. He carried on and 22 steps later he was there to collect his lantern. The crowd, as much as it could (there weren't as many people there as you might expect) went wild and Ev beamed his widest of grins. He had done it.

50 steps in a minute an a half. The most amazing 50 steps. The most unbelievable 50 steps. He'd done it - he'd bloody done it.

(Later on I found out that someone had recorded it and put in online - so you can see it for yourself here Evan walking to collect the flame)

I turned to Amy and simply said "thanks!". She had helped make this possible. Given Evan a platform to achieve something truly wonderful. He had been inspired and he had done it.

The remaining thirty ambassadors collected their flames but I wasn't able to pay much attention - totally overwhelmed. Tina and Charlie, Katherine and Joe came over to record our reaction and they all clearly had a similar response. Charlie admitted to not being able to hold the camera steady at one point. It didn't feel like they were just there for the story - we had only known them for a day or so but it just felt like they were friends, sharing the experience.

Once the ceremony had finished we were able to go "backstage" and meet up with Ev and Loup. One obstacle - I had to get in line as he was already signing an autograph for someone ! Katherine did a piece with him live to air and I couldn't believe how calm he was. He just keeps going and constantly pulls it out of the bag. I don't know where it comes from - but the power that pulled him through on his first day still clearly burns strong.

Evan had chance to meet Chris Holmes and his guide-dog who he and Sam renamed from "Lotty" to "Licky" . He was a lovely guy and they spent quite a few minutes together.

There were then a few opportunities to take some photos and record some other bits on camera and then Joe beckoned us over. Do you want your photo taking with Boris ? Too true we did. He asked where we were from - Yorkshire. Where's the sign, where's the sign ?? (each flame had a sign with the name on) and he rushed off - all whirling dervish - to get it for us. Loads of photos later he was whisked off somewhere and we were just about done.

We had a flame to deliver - and so we headed back to the DCMS offices.

Proud - so, so, proud.

1 comment:

  1. awwww Andy, this is a wonderful post. I have to confess that the tears from Friday are here again after reading this! Your son was an absolute inspiration and it was an honour to have been there to watch him and the others collect their little bit of the flame. What an amazing day. I am so thrilled that you discovered the youtube clip :) It will always be there now for him to look at in time to come. It was truly an amazing day and how fab for you all to have met David C and I had a real giggle at your description of Boris J...he is so funny, I could listen to him all day!!
    Amazing time, I suspect this is just the start for your little star...I forsee him competing at one of the paralympic games in the future....I hope to be there to cheer him on! bravo Evan, you are truly an inspiration.