Vannessa Mae Vannessa Mae Not

The protesters are chanting from the audience,  the singers flank  left and right  of the open air stage, hundreds of them. Their necks are craning towards the stage.   It’s filled with dancers. On  the inner circle of the dancers, the artists, including myself. Twenty of us on stage with hundreds of singers on each side. It is the end of the performance and  we  are waiting to the powerful sounds of the Asian drumming troupe,  for The Olympic Torch.  The police in yellow dayglo  jackets pour onto the stage and then the Chinese bodyguards in blue running tracksuits.  

Just a few hours ago and all was peaceful. Snow.  It was  feathery and light. I think it’s  the
first breaths of all the worlds new born. Snowing. Today. My front door opens to the the  park which looks like a pillow of cloud  has burst. It’s beautiful. All is quiet.  As I scoot out on my bike I can hear children on the street laughing. The acoustics have changed and it’s warm. It’s  because of the clouds.  I cycle along the canal, and race two Canadian geese  swooping  inches above the water and upwards and away .  Off the canal and into Farringdon  past the rows of police vans  in Holborn,  until I’m at The South Bank, in my office. It’s 9.45am. 

Security guards are flapping their arms to keep warm.  The Southbank centre is a beautiful place. The stage is built outside the royal festival hall and techies are walking around,  walky talkies buzz and crackle. Red cordons and crash barriers are in place. I check in at the artists entrance, dive  to my dressing room.  Clothes are ready.  The backstage word, never to be trusted but always to be listened to,  is that The Olympic Torch event is being cancelled due to either  bad weather or good protesting. 

By ten thirty all the performers, circus acts, and hundreds of singers from around the
country are sat in the Queen Elizabeth Hall rehearsing.  On stage is composer and musician  Laka D.   I hear the  song.  “In the name of the torch” sung by hundreds
and it’s gorgeous.I know that many people in this audience have studied the words of this
song. They have asked themselves, does this song actively ignore the humanitarian
issues that are here today. 
If it did,  they would not be here, so I am proud.

Jude Kelly walks upon the rehearsal  stage and faces the seated singers. Jude asks us to wait for the thirty late comers to be seated then begins “ Hi My name is Jude Kelly I am artistic Director of The Southbank centre which includes the Royal festival hall,  The Purcell rooms, The queen Elizabeth Hall and The Hayward Gallery and I want to thank you for taking part, for being here”   then Jude explains  the show will go on.  The  performers  erupt into spontaneous applause.  They have travelled long and travelled far to be here. The age range of the singers is from ten  to sixty.    They have learned their lines. They’ve been practicing for weeks, months, attending workshops in late cold evenings at  community centres and halls, booking baby sitters, spinning plates. That simple  thankyou  from the artistic director meant a lot to them.

A couple of hours later on the stage outside of the Royal Festival Hall The drumming stops dramatically. Pah Pah Da Dah Pah!  The police partand the torch comes through in the hands of the minute Vanessa mae. It’s so close I could touch it. Just as I have that thought one of the chinese securioty guards spies me.   “The torch is slightly bigger than she is ” said one drummer to another. The crowds cheered and the protesters protested and Vanessa waves and it’s off on the rest of its run.  Our forty minute section, it won’t be on the television.  It was not the end of the London Torch journey and it was not the beginning;  nobody threw themselves at the torch, the protesters protested and the
singers sung. 

Was the event a success? In the face of  the weather and the protest, yes it was a success: a triumph over adversity. Did the protest over shadow the work of the people of  the artists,  not at the time. But in the media the  entire Olympic torch relay was measured  in terms of the protest and therefore clearly the protest worked.  But I’ll look back on the lyrics to see if they still stand by the singers, the south bank,  and myself.

“The light inside of we can not be shut out/the might inside of we can not be cut out/the fire inside of we can not be put out/p p p p p p p p Play”

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