Sunday, 1 September 2013

The Adventures of Gamesmaker Karl

Gamesmaker Karl

This time last year the London 2012 Summer Paralympics were taking place. Shortly before the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, I posted on my Facebook and Twitter profiles to tell people not to think of this ceremony as the end, merely as an intermission. We were only at half-time in London 2012, as we still had the Paralympics to go. I was particularly looking forward to the Paralympics as I was going to be playing a part in them, namely as one of the now famous Gamesmakers!

The whole process of my application started back in 2011, when I filled out the application form online. I knew that there would be more people applying than places available, and so there was no certainty that I would be selected. However, some time after submitting my application, I was delighted to find that I had been selected for an interview.

The interview itself was towards the end of October 2011, down in the Excel Centre. Prior to the interview we were told briefly about the roles we were to be interviewed for, and watched a short video featuring Eddie Izzard with advice on what we should say in the interview. The interview itself went well, and I went away feeling optimistic.

There was then a long wait of several months whilst I waited to find out if I was selected…

…But then I got an e-mail (through my mobile phone at work, just prior to a meeting) telling me that I had been selected to be a Gamesmaker at the Olympic Stadium during the Paralympics!

Orientation training at Wembley Arena

The next step in my Gamesmaker journey was orientation training, which took place at Wembley Arena. It was presented by John Inverdale, and we were told about the sort of things we could expect as a Gamesmaker, and what we would be expected to do.

Gamesmaker training at Hackney

Next up was Role Specific Training, this time over in Hackney. Here we were given more details about our specific roles, and we also got our hands on the radios that would be used during London 2012. (I was a typical boy, in that as soon as I got my hands on the piece of tech I didn’t want to let go of it...)

That was it for training until after the Olympics. But, before the Olympics themselves, there was a treat in store for us Games Makers. I was invited to attend a technical rehearsal for the Opening Ceremony, two days before the real thing! This was the first time that I’d set foot inside the Olympic Park, and I was impressed with what I saw.

Outside the Olympic Stadium
The Orbit
Inside the Olympic Stadium

Being in the stadium is quite different to watching the ceremony on TV, especially when the drummers arrived – you first hear them behind you before they start to walk down beside you. I thought the ceremony itself was fantastic, and I was a good boy – I made sure to #SaveTheSurprise and not give any spoilers away…

The Olympic Rings during the Opening Ceremony Technical Rehearsal

During the Olympics itself I could relax and enjoy the games, both on TV and as a spectator – I had tickets for Hockey and Football, including the Women’s Football Final and the Women’s Hockey Final.

Women's Football Medal Ceremony

Women's Hockey Medal Ceremony

The “happy and glorious” Olympic Games came and went, and what a warm up it was! But now it was time to get the Olympic Park and Stadium ready for the real show, the Paralympics…

My next visit to the park involved Venue Specific Training. Here we gained further details on our roles, and got a tour of the stadium itself. We could see them getting ready for the Paralympics Opening Ceremony, but we were told that there were strictly no photos to be taken, and we couldn’t reveal what we had seen. Needless to say, it looked like the ceremony was going to be good…

I had one more bit of training to do, two days before the Opening Ceremony. My role was in the Event Services (EVS) Staffing Team, and we helped EVS with deploying the team members to their specific roles on any given shift, and giving them their equipment and paperwork, and so we went through all of these specific tasks.

I was now fully trained up for my Gamesmaker role, and eager to start!

My first shift (of eight) was the day of the Opening Ceremony. They had more Gamesmakers at the stadium during the Opening Ceremony then they were going to have during an athletics session. I was assigned to the West side of the stadium – this covered Bridge E, which connects to the hospitality suite. We had managers from other venues helping out on the night, one of whom, from the Riverbank Arena, helped to look after me. The shift itself wasn’t that busy, and I got to see a fair bit of the ceremony.

The cauldron is lit at the Paralympics Opening Ceremony

But, at one point, I found myself helping the managers out on the computer. One of the managers showed genuine delight when she heard that I knew about VLOOKUPs in Excel. In my day job I’m known as an Excel expert – I once took an Excel task that previously took someone two weeks to complete, and got it down to 8 ½ minutes! And so I was able to apply my Excel skills to some of the work that they were doing, which was able to save them a lot of time as well. Upon seeing what I’d done my manager’s response was that the formulas I’d written were (and this is a direct quote), “the best thing ever!” I then earned the nickname “Mr. V.”

After the Opening Ceremony, most of my shifts were fairly standard. They consisted of getting equipment boxes ready and checked out to team leaders, and deploying the staff members to the various positions based on their priority, as well as rotating people around the various roles (such as ticketing, directing people to their seats, access control, circulation…). Before the venue could open we had to collect Pre Event Check Forms from the group leaders, and then hand them in to the staffing managers.

During the shifts we would prepare the paperwork to go into the area, group, and team leader clipboards for the next shift, and make sure that the ticket scanners and radios had sufficient batteries. At the end of the shifts we would have to check back in all of the equipment, and put all of the batteries on charge. But throughout the shifts we could occasionally go into the stadium to watch some of the action. I was able to hear the roar of the crowd as David Weir won gold in the 1,500m, and the silence of 80,000 people watching a relay race featuring visually impaired athletes.

But one of my shifts wasn’t like this. For this shift I got to do the shift of an ordinary EVS team member, and got myself assigned to Bridge B, where I scanned in tickets. It was good to do one of these shifts, and to work with the other members of the EVS team (who are all awesome!), as well as to interact directly with members of the public – I knew that the impression that we gave them at the gates would stay with them throughout their time at the venue, and so it was important to get it right. The members of the public that I met were friendly and polite, and keen to enjoy some top sporting action. Towards the end of this shift we stood by to assist as people left the stadium. There were people coming up to us, shaking our hands and giving us high-fives, and thanking us for the work that we had done. The appreciation that we received was fantastic.

The shifts were often quite tiring – they could last for up to 10 hours, and would either start very early in the morning, or finish very late at night. Whilst I was feeling exhausted by the end of it, it was worth it.

Women's Wheelchair Basketball Medal Ceremony

My last shift was on Saturday morning, and was quite a tiring one – not helped by the fact that I had been at the Women's Wheelchair Basketball Bronze and Gold Medal matches the night before as a spectator, and had only had about 30 mins sleep! During this last shift, amongst the usual tasks, I found myself helping out with the buggy stores (far more people had brought buggies with them than had been expected!).

And then my time as a Gamesmaker was over.

However, I was back at the stadium that evening as a spectator, and so it was interesting to see things from the other side. I got there quite early, and got to speak to some of the ordinary EVS team members, including some that I had met back on my shift on Bridge B…

The final Athletics session of the London 2012 Paralympics

After a great night of athletics (where almost every event had a World Record broken!), I went home, got a good (and well deserved!) night’s sleep, and watched the Closing Ceremony on TV. It was great to see the response that the crowd gave when the Gamesmakers were thanked…

Then it was Monday, and back to work. I came to work in my Gamesmaker uniform, and went out to see the athletes’ parade, where it was fantastic to see so many top athletes go past. I also had a few members of the public ask me about what I had done as a Gamesmaker.

At the Athletes Parade

But this wasn’t the end of my Gamesmaker adventures. In December I, along with around 100 other Gamesmakers, was invited to be an audience member at the backstage show of BBC Sport’s Personality of the Year. This was hosted by John Inverdale, and broadcast on Radio Five Live and the Red Button. During the awards ceremony itself things were fairly quiet backstage, but after the ceremony things became hectic, as various athletes came backstage to be interviewed. Amongst others we saw Jessica Ennis, Ellie Simmonds, Beth Tweddle, Bradley Wiggins, and Lord Coe himself. It was all a bit chaotic as we all went up to them to get pictures and autographs, but it was good fun as well.

Gamesmaker Karl at BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2012

The BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2012 Backstage Show

The Gamesmaker Choir perform

Jessica Ennis

Beth Tweddle

Ellie Simmonds

Bradley Wiggins

Lord Coe

I am proud to have played my small part in helping to make the Games the success that they were. The Games may now be in the past, but their spirit lives on. I enjoyed my time during the Paralympics, and in helping to represent Britain on the world stage. I gained a lot from my experience, and made some new friends. It truly was a once in a lifetime experience, and one that I will never forget.

Next Week: Square One Television

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