In a Lib Dem Lords debate today on the long-term legacy for the UK for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, peers from across the House debated what it meant for the future of British sport. Here, in an edited version of her contribution, Baroness Bonham-Carter says we should not forget the cultural impact
UNDERPINNING London’s bid for the 2012 games, and one of the main reasons it won, was “a vision for a Cultural Olympiad – a festival celebrating the diversity and richness of culture in London, the UK and around the world..[that] will leave a lasting cultural legacy”.
And there was more – this Cultural Olympiad would be held across the whole country – not just in the Olympic city – and “encompass thousands of local and regional events as part of our nationwide celebration”.
We Liberal Democrats wholeheartedly supported this idea – I made speeches congratulating the government of the day on their ambition and their vision, but I am afraid I also expressed doubts. Doubts about funding levels, doubts about organisational structures.
Well I am glad to say that I have had to eat those words. The Cultural Olympiad was a triumph. Who can forget that opening ceremony – a beautiful, brilliant spectacular? Complex, self-deprecating in its narrative (although not in its execution) and deeply humorous. Banished forever is Colonel Blimp and his stiff upper lip. Now we have our monarch jumping out of a helicopter. Our pre-eminent conductor Sir Simon Rattle performing with Mr Bean.
As well as a celebration of the entity that is the United Kingdom this was a showcase for our great creative industries. James Bond firstly the product of writer Ian Fleming’s creativity; then of film makers, actors, special effects creators, costume and set designers, and those who make the costumes and sets. And finally in a dazzling tangle of fiction and fact and fiction and ultimate creativity, the fictional spy gets to meet the real Queen and her corgis. fantasy
It celebrated children’s literature; music; television; art – and how art and design can come together in such a wonderful creation as The Cauldron. And centre stage – literally – Tim Berners-Lee creator of the world wide web. The ceremony was shot through with recognition of our creative accomplishments – and was a huge one in its very self.
And it managed to embrace all of us – performed by volunteers from across the nation –watched on television by millions of the nation – together. For the Olympiad was a uniting experience. At twelve minutes past eight, July 27 , almost 3m people across the United Kingdom rang bells to celebrate the first day of the Games. Hand bells, bicycle bells, doorbells, church bells, Big Ben, the bells of the UK Parliaments and of British embassies across the world. Turner prize winning artist Martin Creed got everyone involved – not just as an audience but as an integral part of his creative vision/work.
And the Olympiad was an inclusive experience. The Unlimited Programme was the largest ever series of commissions by disabled and deaf artists across the UK. Sixty disabled people were trained as aerial performers for the Paralympic Opening ceremony, and at the Olympic opening, the Kaos choir for Deaf and Hearing kids sang and signed the National Anthem. There was street art and high art, hip hop and ballet and new audiences were successfully brought to the arts.
We must ensure that the innovative new partnerships that creators forged – online, at local, regional and national levels continue. With the Games gone where and how this happens will need to be examined.
We must ensure that the estimated 10 million people who have been inspired to take part in more cultural activities as a result of the Cultural Olympiad – can and do.
We must ensure that the fact that strongest interest in the Olympiad came from younger audiences and ethnic minorities is not lost but built upon.
Published and promoted by Tim Gordon on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, both at LDHQ, 8-10 Great George Street, London, SW1P 3AE.