Whilst rushing around one day back in Spring 2010, I happened to hear on the BBC Breakfast News ‘If you’re free for 10 days in the summer of 2012 then why not apply to be a volunteer at the Olympic Games in London?’ I thought, ‘I am, so why not?!’
I applied online and in autumn 2010 I was invited down for a formal interview in Glasgow Science Centre. The interview lasted a full hour with a one to one chat about how I fit in as a team member.
It was not until April 2011 that I heard that I had been given the job! Out of 250,000 applicants 100,000 people were interviewed and only 70,000 got the job – I was one of those very lucky people.
I had volunteered to be a driver to the ‘Olympic Family’. This meant driving the VIPs of the International Olympic Committee and various dignitaries from round the world around a city I had only visited as a tourist before and had never driven in; still, how hard could it be!
Nothing happened until the spring of 2012 when I was told I needed to travel to London to get some training, pick up a uniform and pass a driving test. This was all managed over 5 trips to London. I was a volunteer and therefore I had to pay for all travel and accommodation myself. The Olympic committee took no part in helping with this. I enjoyed my trips and much to my amazement passed my test.
My next challenge was to find accommodation in London for the 2 weeks of the games without having to sell the family silver. After looking endlessly on the internet at the ridiculous amount some people were charging for a room in their house and asking every friend and family member if they could help I finally got lucky. I managed to get a room in a colleague’s flat in Tower Bridge. She did charge, but it was at least a 3 figure sum not the 4 or 5 figures others were asking!
So, on the 26th July 2012 – two and a half years after applying I was on my way to London. By this time I had managed to work myself up into a frenzy of excitement and fear. I arrived in London to lovely warm, sunny weather but also I swear I could feel the warmth of the atmosphere even at Heathrow airport.
London was alive; and it had had a make over! The buildings were clean, the Olympic posters were all flapping their bright colours in the wind and the people were on their starting blocks for a fascinating show.
I started my first shift the next day at 6am. I was to work 10-hour shifts every day for 2 weeks with 1 day off in the middle. I put on my uniform and walked to the tube station. To my utter amazement people smiled at me and said good morning – was I still in Abernethy? I arrived on the tube and still I was amazed, other volunteer uniformed people spoke to me as if I was their long lost friend.
This is unheard of in London town normally – people acknowledging other people! This was a great start.
I was based in Park Lane. This is where the main IOC were staying. I was to wait outside the hotels until someone needed a lift to one of the Olympic venues – basically just like a taxi rank. The drivers all had been given BMW 3 series to drive – sadly not to keep, just a loan! We had a fab sat nav to help us negotiate the London streets. A few streets had designated ‘Olympic Lanes’ for us to get our VIP passengers to their destination on time.
I had the time of my life. I love driving and much to my amazement I found the London drivers very courteous. Once I had managed to negotiate the London streets with my first passenger my nerves were calmed a wee bit.
Mostly I was picking up Ministers for Sport from all countries round the world or IOC members. Occasionally I had the odd athlete. Whilst coming out of Earls Court one day my car was engulfed by fans and I had to stop the car to allow them to get their autograph books signed by the Japanese Badminton players in the back. All very surreal.
London put on an amazing show and I’m sure anyone who managed to go down for the event will agree with me that there was a wonderful atmosphere throughout the games. Whilst walking to work one day beside Tower Bridge I could hear over the usual hum from the traffic a loud speaker from the open top sightseeing bus going past – ‘And if you look to your left you will see one of our wonderful volunteers, let’s give her a wave!’ I suddenly realised it was me they were waving at. I had to stand and wave back!
Volunteering at the Olympics was a fantastic experience. I was very lucky to have the opportunity to be involved in such an incredible event and I will remember it for the rest of my life; although despite not being a sports fan I’m a wee bit sad I didn’t actually get to see any of the sport!