For Whom The Bell Tells… Issue 21
Standing on the edge of the stage and watching such a command performance, I realised it just doesn't get any bigger than this...
but it turns out it did. That was in May in Mexico City as Paul rocked out to over 300,000 people. Then within weeks I found myself standing in front of Buckingham Palace watching fireworks overhead as Paul raced through 'Live and Let Die' with even the Royal family up on their feet dancing. That night as I tried to go to sleep still high on the excitement, I told myself all over again that it simply couldn’t get any bigger than this now. Once more, I was seriously proved wrong just days ago when I found myself in an unbelievable position within the Olympic Stadium watching Paul bring the epic opening ceremony to a thrilling close. As I sang my heart out to ‘Hey Jude’ with the rest of the world, I could feel the hair standing up on the back of my neck. Even though I'd been exposed to a lifetime of exciting moments in the last few months, this took it to an entirely new level. Even now just thinking about it seems totally surreal. The opening ceremony was a triumph in every way. From start to finish, it was magical and exhilarating and showcased the very best of British with Paul - as much of the press coverage – providing the perfect ending to a perfect night.
Within minutes of Paul coming off stage, our digital stats department was going crazy. Paul added a cool 35,000+ extra Twitter followers (as you do!) and received over 400,000 Facebook likes to the photos Paul tweeted. He was also trending worldwide under four different tags at one point and it became impossible to keep track of the international Google News Alerts as once again, I lost another good Blackberry to the massive incoming volume of news alerts, tweets, Facebook messages and good old fashioned text messages from friends in the media full of praise for what they had seen. The following day, TV viewing figures revealed the highest audience figures in the UK in over 15 years. 27 million plus people tuned in to watch the memorable night, and this doesn’t take into account the audiences gathered in public parks across the country or the amount of people who recorded the ceremony to watch it later.
As the night continued, so did the messages. All over the country, friends and Paul’s fans watching the event in parks, at parties, in bars and pubs and all relayed stories to me of amazing ‘Hey Jude’ sing-a-longs wherever they were.
Mainline stations in London looked like the T-Mobile flash-mob ads as thousands made their way home from the Olympic village. The travellers joined together for ‘Hey Jude’ as they milled about in the concourses wanting to re-live the incredible moment. The editor of the Daily Mirror, Peter Willis, even got in touch to tell us that he thought ‘Hey Jude’ had helped avoid rioting scenes and kept the spirits up as crowds had to endure long waits to get their trains home!
The build up to the big day had been equally as exciting with Paul and the guys visiting the stadium twice for rehearsals. I can only describe the stadium and village as totally mega - it was literally buzzing. From the moment you could see the outline of the Olympic village in the distance, it was like being in a film. Already you could get the sense of just what a massive spectacle it was all going to be. Looking around the venue you could see all kinds of props suspended from the roof. Paul’s stage area was actually situated underneath (here comes the fact of the day) the fourth largest bell in the world, which you will have noticed on TV.
On the day of Paul’s first rehearsal in the sweltering heat, he treated stadium staff to a private gig. Venue workers couldn’t believe it as they formed an impromptu mosh-pit in front of Paul for the stadium’s first ever rock concert. It was quite a sight to behold as line managers and security staff did their best to get workers back to their posts while Paul rocked through classics including ‘1985’, ‘Let Me Roll It’, ‘Drive My Car’ and ‘My Valentine’. Eventually the line managers gave up and joined in too. I was watching while chatting to some producers from the US network NBC. They told me they felt like they could go home happy now after watching this and that they were getting goose bumps just from the jam session. I also spent a lot of time clearing excited unofficial photographers from rehearsals who had somehow managed to get in. I suppose given that there were more than 500 officially accredited photographers for the opening spectacular, the odd few were bound to slip through the net.
In the week leading up to the event, Paul appeared on the cover of the UK’s prestigious Shortlist magazine for their Olympic special issue. Given all the Olympic icons out there, the editorial team was adamant that Paul should be their cover star. The magazine was set to get their biggest ever circulation as the world arrived in the UK ahead of the games.
As the day of the opening ceremony arrived, Paul’s team arrived on site in the afternoon to get themselves ready for their own epic evening ahead of them. Paul’s green room area was situated a good 30 minute walk from the stadium itself so we spent a lot of the day on our feet, getting a lot of exercise moving between meetings within the stadium and back to our green room base. An hour or so before the ceremony officially started and before our main man arrived, a busload of Paul’s friends and family arrived at the green room area, all onsite to show their support for a very special and unique moment in a career that has seen an impossible number of impressive accolades and events. Just moments later, Paul and Nancy arrived.
At 8:45pm, Paul – full of jokes and friendliness - jumped on the bus with everyone to be taken to their seats for the opening ceremony. It felt like a school trip with a mischievous McCartney who was showing no sign of nerves even though he was about to perform to billions around the globe!
When the bus pulled up to the stadium, Paul got off with his friends and joined the masses as they all made their way to their seats. As Paul made his way through the crowds, people were double taking, not quite sure if they believed what they had just seen. ‘I think that was Macca,’ I overheard a young woman say to the man she was with. ‘Don’t be silly,’ came the reply, ‘he’s hardly going to be taking a seat in the stadium, let alone walking through the crowds to get there.’ But she was right, it was Macca. Paul and the guys kept moving just fast enough to avoid any chance of him being totally mobbed but there was still time for a lot of people to be left open-mouthed and very confused.
At 9PM, the ceremony got under way and just after 10PM, Paul and the band left their seats in the stadium to return to the green room to get ready. They had a makeshift rehearsal room set up, similar to the Mexico City Hotel pre-gig jam. Just before midnight, Paul made his way back to the stadium once again but this time as a performer and not a spectator. Paul was in high spirits, posing for some pictures for Twitter and drinking in the incredible atmosphere along with the rest of the crew. Then before we knew it, it was time for Paul to take to his piano stool and start up with ‘The End’ before leading the stadium (and viewers everywhere) in a massive sing-a-long. It was incredible. Being stood by the side of stage, it was incredible hearing all those voices coming from the audience. What a rush!
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As soon as Paul had finished, he was whisked away. Security had to get him out of the stadium before the public started leaving. They had a tiny window to do this and if Paul had been delayed in any way, it would have been almost impossible for him to leave. The plan worked and Paul got away from the stadium in time, returning to the green room for some well-deserved aftershow celebrations with his friends and family. The atmosphere in the green room was electric. Everyone was on such a high after such an experience. In our makeshift press office we were astounded at the massive reaction. It never ceases to amaze me how fast things spread across the Internet. It really is incredible. Yet I remember when Paul performed into Space (yes Space!) nearly ten years ago around the time Google Alerts were becoming very popular. Hard though it is to believe now, I was amazed that news of that was picked up by China just eight hours after the event. Now it takes a mere matter of seconds!
Back to the celebrations, Paul started to say his goodbyes to everyone after about an hour. We all proudly waved him off and started to pack up our things, all talking about what an amazing day we’d had and how great it was to be part of Team Macca.
The opening ceremony certainly seemed to set the tone for all the amazing achievements and successes of Team GB that have followed too. Paul’s Olympic journey didn’t end after the opening ceremony either, as he was spotted at various events over the course of the first week cheering on the heroic athletes as well as leading the crowd in song as the drama unfolded at the Velodrome.
It certainly has been a brilliant few months to be British and it’s been great to be so close to the action as part of Paul’s crew. This will be a summer that I know I will never forget. A lifetime of memories in a matter of months. From South America to Buckingham Palace to the Olympics. How can this ever be topped? Well if I’ve learnt anything this year, it’s that Paul will find a way.