When Paul Harbord told friends and colleagues in 2010 he’d be giving up almost three weeks’ annual leave to volunteer as a taxi driver, they thought he was mad. Two years on and fresh from his experience as a London 2012 Gamesmaker, Paul explains how their scepticism has changed to downright envy.
The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games were a triumph for the UK, with athletes, spectators, organisers, volunteers and the general public swept up in a wave of euphoria and civic pride.
Paul Harbord, a Crawford GTS Adjuster, lives just a stone’s throw from the Olympic Park in East London, and he explains that seeing the construction on an almost daily basis inspired him to get involved. “They were advertising for volunteers and I live very close to the site and I thought if people who lived right there didn’t stand up then who would?”
After a fairly lengthy selection process and subsequent training about what it meant to be a Gamesmaker, Paul was eventually chosen as a driver for the organisers’ transport team. “Applicants were invited to input any useful skills that the organisers might appreciate such as first aid or languages. Sadly, loss adjusting wasn’t on the list so in the end I was picked to be part of the transport team; responsible for ferrying the athletes, IOC officials and VIPs from their hotels to the Olympic Park,” he says.
Anyone familiar with driving in the UK’s capital will know it’s not for the faint hearted. However Paul says every advantage was offered to help their journeys run smoothly, including the introduction of designated ‘Olympic Lanes’ on which only authorised vehicles could travel. “I was quite dubious that you could drive from the Olympic Park to Park Lane in 30 minutes but much to the black cab drivers’ dismay, the designated Olympic lanes worked perfectly.” (London’s standard, professional cabs are known by their distinctive shape and black color.)
So was he lucky enough to pick up Usain Bolt? “I drove some good IOC members and a couple of gold medal winning members of the Dutch ladies Hockey team,” says Paul. “The Sports Minister of Jamaica also had the pleasure of my company. However, I was gritting my teeth when I missed the opportunity to take 5000m and 10000m gold medallist Mo Farah and his wife back to their home; one of my colleagues was lucky enough to do that so it was a team effort!”
Ultimately, the experience of being a Gamesmaker has left an indelible mark. “It was more than three weeks and at no point did it feel like work,” remembers Paul. “I was like a proxy tour guide for all of these great people in the back of my car and driving often at night through London is wonderful. We were all volunteers and the feeling of excitement about being involved was fantastic. I’ll never forget it.”