Oh to be British. To understand the royal ‘we’, to love to moan, veins full of tea, mixed feelings on the Union Jack, too lazy to vote, hard wired to be downtrodden, Brits. How did we get like this? We are the nation who once controlled 23% of the earth’s land mass – which doesn’t sound like much but in comparison, the Roman Empire only extended to 4.5% of the same. We are a country which has been forced to expend several apologies for lands seized and peoples exploited. We’ve been brought to our knees by our own admissions of guilt. However we are also, to paraphrase Richard Curtis’ incarnation of the Prime Minister: the country of Shakespeare, Churchill, the Beatles, Sean Connery, Harry Potter. David Beckham’s right foot. David Beckham’s left foot, come to that — and of course, the land of the only lawn tennis club worth mentioning.
As we bookend our summer of sport with the faces of our fast and famous, Henman Hill will be just one of many grassy knolls to be populated by soaring spirits and dashed hopes this summer. Like an inexperienced employee, admonished for royally f**king up (sorry, Mum); we are a nation which has lost confidence. Where our Politicians can be convinced to policy U Turns by a barrage of tweets and give up their hard won jobs over insignificant personal controversy.
At these games, 64 years on from the 2nd London Olympics – hosted in 1948, in the bright morning of peacetime Britain – in context, we have nothing to prove. In 1948, with a meagre budget of £660,000 and 2 years to organise, rationing still in place and half of the capital still bomb scarred, we won 23 medals, 3 of them gold even while training with a war on. Growing national pride was the agenda in the hopes of proving that it was worth fighting for our liberty. We may still be feeling like we are suffering under a cloud of austerity but we don’t have a crumbling City. We have a booming population which doesn’t want to be crammed onto its already crowded tube carriages with millions of visiting people. We don’t have malnourished runners who will still, inexplicably, win gold. We have larger than life superhumans who we want to succeed but we can’t quite believe that it is possible, given how much we have lost since past conquests.
This year is a bumper crop of human endurance (and precipitation) with The 2012 Olympic Games tailgating Wimbledon and there is more to focus on than Murray’s will-he-wont-he weeks on the infamous grass courts. We love the drama of sport on our little spit of lush, damp land but within fairly recent memory, mainly quaint brands like Robinsons Squash and Ribena sponsored our national talent – now we have Jess Ennis (athletics), cover star of Marie Claire; Sir Chris Hoy (Cyclist), cover star of Shortlist; Victoria Pendleton (cycling), graced the cover of FHM; Jenna Randall (Synchronised Swimmer), the face of Braun Silk-Epil. We have big brands courting our talent and public worship via the glossies for these superhumans because we are a generation of watchers. We need to know as much about the people we bring into our sympathies as possible. From Big Brother to new society sitcoms like Geordie Shore and TOWIE, we’ve tapped into a way to get the nation behind Team GB: make them individuals. Tell us your hobbies; confess you love Made In Chelsea after your 15 mile training run; remind us you have to eat carbs so we know you’re human, even if your abs are carved from stone!
The pressures which are placed on our 2012 Olympians have come from the need for a face to represent the national pride we cannot articulate. We will never be seen chanting the tea and crumpets equivalent of U! S! A! U! S! A! But give us a tangible personality who we can speculate about the personal habits of, can learn the stats for, comment ignorantly on the improvements in their game/stance/poise year on year, imagine we might be friends with…and we’ll get behind them, so that’s exactly what we’ve got.
To enthuse us about our sporting hopes we must have a celebrity to put on that pedestal which has lain empty for so long – but national pride cannot be fostered by one person – or medal – alone.
So give us the personalities who make up Team GB – and we will know their stats, their highs and their lows, their loves and their hates, as we dare to dream of individual success stories for our favourite sports celebrities. But each of our favourite 328 (and counting) stars of Team GB will become the collective shoulders to cry on, backs to pat, hands to shake as they become a team of individuals, supporting one another through the games. They might be superhuman, self built Brands and in essence, celebrities – but all they want is glory for doing their job. Just like any one of our ancestor across the Empire. This has all gotten very patriotic, for a Scot writing in England, but we can do worse than get behind the games really – when we’ve lost so much else – and this is one conquest they can’t take back once it’s been won.