Volunteering for the greatest show on earth Jump to main content

Volunteering for the greatest show on earth

If you saw the Olympic Opening Ceremony on Friday 27 July, and you have a very keen eye you may have seen me! I was one of the thousand ‘Pandemonium’ drummers in the spectacular Industrial Revolution scene which turned England's green and pleasant land into a dark 'satanic' landscape. I was also a marshal in the Parade of Nations when the athletes from the 204 countries and territories marched around the stadium in both the opening and closing ceremonies.

My story started in September 2011 when I read on a BBC news website that volunteers were needed for the opening ceremony of the Olympics. In my role at ISM as Local Group Manager I am always looking for ways to connect with our volunteers on the ground and find ways of improving our work together. So I thought, what better way to understand how a volunteer’s mind works than to become one?

My first audition took place on Saturday 5 November 2011 at Three Mills Studios in Bromley-By-Bow. It was a generic audition filled with hopeful dancers, actors and musicians would be thrust together competing for various places. It was clear by the volume of applicants that not everyone would be successful and I didn't know whether I would be asked to put my musical skills in action or my two left feet!

I was relieved to learn weeks later that I was to be called back for a role specific audition as a drummer and marshal. The drumming audition involved a series of different rooms, listening to click tracks and banging buckets or using our mouths to create varying sounds and beats with the click track being dropped out of audio for moments which was designed to see if we could keep time.

Approximately 190 hours of rehearsals began on 24 May 2012. 90% of them being held in the harrowing wind and rain that only the UK could summon during our summer months! Danny Boyle was always present at rehearsals, with words of wisdom, guidance, and general tom-foolery he really helped lift our spirits! We were lead musically by Rick Smith from Underworld, whose tireless devotion and willing to listen to our suggestions warmed him to our hearts. We were given to our 'drums' which were a range of plastic or metal buckets and larger black bins, which I’m sure, could be found in every local DIY or hardware store!

Initially no one thought that these would be our actual instruments, but as time moved on we slowly realised they were. The buckets were the only way that the desired low rumbling sound could be achieved with the Stadium’s acoustics and so many performers. One thousand snare drums for instance really would be deafening for the audience and although they weren’t quite what we had imagined, I grew quite attached to my little drum!

There was a lot of hanging around whilst sections of the ceremony were tweaked and adjusted, but spirits were kept high as I knew what an amazing experience this was and of course we had the pleasure of sitting in the middle of the magnificent stadium. Support for the other performers, dancers and actors was incredible, everyone helped each other and you could improve more than you thought possible. We cheered each other through the rehearsals and onto the big nights.

More than 80,000 people were at the stadium whilst it was beamed around the globe to a world-wide audience of more than a billion. An estimated 84% of UK residents watched live from their homes.

Having everyone love the show was just such an incredible feeling of accomplishment and pride. The many hours that I spent rehearsing, getting home at 2.30am and then back to the ISM the next morning ready for action at 9.30am, giving up entire weekends and learning how to drum for the first time was all worth it in the end!

The self-belief, accomplishment and pride I have felt will always remain with me. My only hope now is that I can give back to our ISM volunteers all the support, encouragement and enthusiasm that was shared amongst us during the Games.

Laura Hollands
Office & Local Group Manager