Letter from London

From horror to happiness in just a year

By Tom Aitken in London

London this August has been a strikingly happier, more bubbly place than it was this time last year. Then, there were explosions, looting and blazing buildings.

This year, the Olympic effect has greatly surpassed even what had been hoped for. One or two hiccups–like sponsors not turning up to fill their seats––were dealt with. Predictions that the event would be an over-sized, embarrassing mess were refuted by events.

Sports for evceryone

The most unlikely people found themselves watching sports they’d never heard of, and being moist-eyed about stories of adversities overcome.

One example: individual athletes from countries with no official team were allowed to compete. For them it was truly the case that what mattered was ‘not the winning but the taking part’.

Team Great Britain, as we learned to call it, came third in the medals table. Andy Murray, following his gold medal win over Federer, sang ‘God Save the Queen’ with everybody else, something that Alex Salmond (Scottish National Party leader) may have noted with annoyance and dismay.

Even the transport unions — who had who threatened that, if they felt annoyed at any time, they would bring everything to a standstill — read the runes correctly.

After Olympics No. 1, people asked, ‘Why can’t the Government do as well as the Olympic Committee?’

Sad-sacks, ending their vows of seclusion, wrote plaintively to the papers saying ‘Is it really over? Can I come out now?’ (I’m not making this up.)

Paralympics in full sail

Paralympics athletes


And now the Paralympics are in full sail. (Matt, national treasure cartoonist for the Daily Telegraph, showed a signpost ‘Paralympic Sailing’, with Long John Silver, parrot on shoulder, stomping determinedly past.)

The opening ceremony, last night, was the second effort by a British director to amaze the world with its spectacular resourcefulness (and organization) allied with a sense of mischievous fun. (The closing ceremony for the first Olympics, was considered, like the curate’s egg, to be ‘very good in parts’.)

How did we get by between Olympics and Paralympic ?

For some, the interval was entertainingly filled by Prince Harry. Others of course, welcomed the opportunity to deplore a young man who ‘ought to know better’, wasting our money by going to Las Vegas (pursed lips, nose-wrinkling, tutt-tutting territory, this) and ‘cavorting’ naked in his private suite with a ragtag and bobtail of wealthy young persons, some armed with mobile phone cameras––which they promptly used to become wealthier.

Reactions have varied. Prince Charles, reportedly, summoned Harry to his side for ‘talks’.

Rupert Murdoch, it seems, instructed The Sun to print the photographs. This, it is likely, was a rag waved under the nose of Lord Leveson, in advance of publication of his Report on press standards.

Rupert apparently feels that his action puts him on a pedestal next to John Wilkes, the eighteenth century campaigner for press freedom, also deemed a scurrilous rogue by those he upset.

My favourite response, however, comes from The Independent’s cod court correspondent, Talbot Church. Church pointed out that, historically, Harry has to be seen as the latest holder of the title ‘Royal Romper’. He is, Church argues, the most notable Romper since Princess Margaret and a welcome change after the lacklustre performance of his uncle, Prince Andrew.

Other praised him with faint damns by comparing him and his rakehell great-great-grandfather, Edward VII.

Harry, although reportedly sexually active, has not yet, and is unlikely in future, to come anywhere near Edward’s string of mistresses. Edward never had a proper job and he certainly never appeared on a field of battle alongside other British soldiers of every rank and class.

Meanwhile, London’s performing arts are, despite the fears of Lord Lloyd Webber, doing pretty well.

Convinced that the Olympics would wreck his balance sheet, he announced a fortnight’s closure of his West End Theatres. Fortunately for him, he changed his mind.

Proms attracting huge audiences

The thousands of visitors did not come here only for the Olympics. The Prom Concerts are playing to huge audiences in the Royal Albert Hall. Last night we were there for Herbert Howells’ Hymnus Paradisi, written in commemorations of a tragically deceased young son, and kept in adrawer for years.

The BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and the Philharmonic Chorus gave a very moving performance of this and, with most choristers staying on to listen, of Elgar’s First Symphony, conducted, as it happens, by Martyn Brabbins, with whom I used to play in London Collegiate Brass.

As for theatre, three engrossing events I have reviewed recently (on another website), are the National Theatre’s modern-dress take on Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens, with the incomparable Simon Russell Beale.

Then there was Terry Johnson’s farce with tragic overtones, Hysteria, constructed around a fictional meeting between Sigmund Freud, Salvador Dali and the angry daughter of one of Freud’s patients — and a double bill of the short operas Bastien and Bastienne (Mozart, aged 12) and Susanna’s Secret (Wolf-Ferrari), in the Arcola Tent in the East End. (Their main theatre is being renovated.)