The week in review: London 2012 makes Britain… happy?

Tom Daley: Olympic icon and Twitter sotrm
Tom Daley: Olympic icon and Twitter sotrm
Ian Dunt By

There's a strange mood in London. If you didn't know better you'd call it happiness. After months of moaning about the coming Olympics, the Games are turning into something approximating a success.

There were plenty of reasons to think otherwise. The G4S security fiasco raised all sorts of horrible thoughts. Perhaps the entire thing would a catastrophe played out haplessly on the global stage. Perhaps Britain's already tenuous reputation for competence would be crushed in the living rooms of the world.

In the true spirit of the UK press, journalists weighed up the chances of failure. Empty chairs seemed to taunt those stuck at home on the first days. They symbolised many of the gripes about corporate sponsors and the Olympic family's arrogance.

London, far from the jam-packed hell hole joyfully predicted by the mayor in his not-creepy-at-all Orwellian transport broadcasts, seemed calm and empty – ghostly even. The fabled economic recovery of the Olympics seemed woefully optimistic. Instead, West End theatres and restaurants spoke of falls in sales. By the end of the week David Cameron was pleading for tourists and locals to venture back to the centre of the capital.

But Londoners – those who stuck around for the Games anyway – loved the empty streets. Cab drivers boasted of making it to Heathrow in 22 minutes. People wandered down Oxford Street like Cillian Murphy in 28 Days Later, gazing around in disbelief and fighting off the temptation to start looting. The empty seats problem faded into non-existence once the outdoor sports returned to the main stadium, where tens of thousands raised the (non-existent) roof as British athletes broke records.

The opening ceremony, a mischievous, witty and anarchic affair from Trainspotting director Danny Boyle, won rave reviews at home and abroad. Right-winger grumbled about the NHS tribute and the presence of Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti, but everyone you asked had at least one thing they loved about it – an unthinkable accomplishment for such a diverse country. Tory MP Aidan Burley, last made famous by the questionable decision to toast National Socialism with Nazi-uniformed friends in France, tweeted it was "multicultural crap", and earned himself a rather sweary response from the prime minister, who branded him a "tw*t". That star doesn't stand for 'i' by the way. The only person who seemed to really hate it was David Icke, who thought it was a satanic ritual.

The success of the opening ceremony was as effective as Mitt Romney's off-the-cuff critique in boosting Londoners' appetite for the Games. But the biggest winner was surely Boris Johnson, who used the endless publicity the event afforded him to ruthlessly promote himself. He also got stuck up a zipwire and demanded that Russian president Vladimir Putin play judo half naked. Neither appeared to harm his popularity, although Putin left London sounding altogether more liberal, so perhaps it had a moral effect. Cameron, meanwhile, was having an ugly time. Every time he appeared at an event the athlete would lose, prompting hushed rumours of the 'Curse of Cameron'.

Twitter's relationship with the event provided the only significant controversy. A young boy who tweeted abuse at diver Tom Daley was attacked by the athlete's followers and arrested by the police, prompting much soul-searching on the social media site.

The company itself found itself at the centre of an explosive row when it transpired Independent journalist Guy Adams had had his account closed after criticising NBC, the Games' official US network. The crafty capitalists across the pond had decided to show the opening ceremony hours after it took place so they could target a prime time audience with copious advertising. Tellingly, they also set up a sponsored tweet deal with Twitter, which advised them to complain about the Independent hack, who'd been touring radio studios lambasting their good name. Twitter apologised, but people got a peek, for the first time, of the potential pitfalls of the social media company trying to make money out of its product.

Not that anyone cared. The sun was (sometimes) out, Britain was performing well and the whole thing seemed to be going off without any embarrassing gaffes. Londoners, that most cynical and aloof of species, seemed happy.

It feels weird. Presumably things will go back to normal soon.


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