What a difference six years makes …

We were on a family holiday in Spain for the London 2012 opening ceremony on 27th July. I’d never been a fan of such ‘spectaculars’ in the past, but we watched this one, gathered round a small TV in the sticky heat of a Spanish summer evening, and right there, right then, I was bitten by the London 2012 bug which ignited the most beautiful two weeks I can remember.

Not only was the sport breathtaking, the organisation fantastic, the drama unending, but much more than that was the feel-good factor that permeated the entire fabric of Great Britain.

There were the volunteers of course, the games makers, who were heroic. Visitors (guests) were welcomed at airports and guided across London, nay, across the whole country, to their sporting event of choice. Cultures mixed, laughed and cried together.

It might have only been two weeks but it felt like an entire summer. TeamGB exceeded all expectations, but the real heroes were the men and women who made it all possible, the Great British public and the millions of overseas visitors. During those two weeks Britain was a truly magical place to be. People smiled, helped, supported, cared, cried and celebrated together. We were a truly united nation and pride dripped from our shores.

Six years on from that opening ceremony and look at Britain now – a broken, dispirited nation divided and fractured by Brexit. Politicians on all sides placing personal interests before their country, and all sense of community, one-nation pulling together, has evaporated in the dry, oppressive heat of the summer of 2018.

Chris Hoy, Mo Farah, Bradley Wiggins and Jessica Ennis-Hill have been replaced in the headlines by Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Theresa May and a disappointingly recalcitrant Jeremy Corbyn.

Community seems to have been replaced by disunity, pride by shame. Hatred is the new currency.

Bar-room talk these days isn’t of success and gold-medals, but about stockpiling medicines and food, of mile long queues at Dover, and instead of reaching out to visitors, welcoming them, helping them, our 2018 games makers are closing our doors not opening them. Visitors are no longer welcome and they’re beginning to understand – ‘they’ being the rest of the world, bar Donald Trump.

I want the spirit of 2012 back. Perhaps football didn’t manage to come home this summer, but maybe the pride in our nation can. Not the ugly pride of fascism, but rather pride borne from openness and collaboration.

The European Union is a coming together of countries which share common interests – a continent first and foremost, but also a union that strives to work together, to solve problems collaboratively, not to create more of them.

Six years on and I want my country back. I want to feel like this again.

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What have you done today to make you feel proud?

In July 2004, London was sitting in 4th place out of the 5 contenders to host the 2012 Olympic games, but just a year later, on 6th July, 2005, the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2012 Olympics to London.  I know exactly where I was at that moment. My eldest son was off school sick, he was tucked up in bed watching TV and I was in the room when a live news bulletin interrupted our viewing to announce the 2012 Olympics decision …

The London 2012 bid team had played an absolute blinder, and set in motion a series of events lasting more than seven years, culminating in one of the greatest Olympics ever held. It didn’t end with the campaigning, it was also in the planning, the preparation and the execution. Historically, olympic projects have always been beset with financial problems and delays, but somehow London 2012 was delivered on time (if not quite to budget), regenerating a part of London long forgotten to many, even those that lived in the UK and even those of us that worked in London.

And as if that wasn’t enough, the Team GB athletes delivered the greatest athletic performance the country has ever seen.  For GB (~60 million population) to finish third in the medal table behind USA (>300 million) and China (>1.3 billion) was just staggering. It was as if the momentum of the successful bid and the enthusiasm the nation wore like an overcoat, somehow fuelled the athletes to also overachieve.

We had government funding and we had a willing public, not just the fans that filled every nook and cranny at every event, but also the army of volunteers who helped, supported and advised, from Heathrow in the west, all the way across town to Salford in the east.

Being British, national pride has often been tinged with guilt for me, as it often brings out an ugliness that seems to have its roots in our imperialistic past when Britannia was arrogant enough to believe she truly ruled the waves. The Union Jack has long been associated with extremism and thuggery, yet somehow at London 2012, the flag was reclaimed as simply the colours of a very proud nation.

London 2012 was a great example of humanity at its best and Britons at their finest. It wasn’t just about the medals, it was also about collaboration, about community, about belief and passion, about friendships, and most importantly about pride.

Fast forward four and a half years to 2016, the same people, but now divided, tangled up in a messy divorce from the EU. Much of that national pride has turned to anger and discord, and politics once again feels dirty and corrupt, no longer a lottery funded cause for the greater good. And unlike 2012, where we opened our borders and outstretched our arms to the world, post-Brexit, we seem to be once again pulling up the drawbridges and closing our doors, not just to outsiders, but to our neighbours too.

We seem to consume our daily news these days through gritted teeth and half closed eyes, wondering what on earth will happen next. We have a government which appears incompetent and ill prepared for Brexit and the challenges that lay ahead. Brexit seems to have beaten us down and created a disharmony that feels a world away from London 2012, and our 2012 passion seems lost in a difficult and uncertain 2016.

But it needn’t be this way.  National pride can, and should, be a force for good, free from any strain of politics, government or economic circumstance. And pride should never be about superiority. French people should be just as proud to be French, Americans to be American, Germans to be German, as I am to be British. London 2012 just reminded us British that we have a lot to be proud of, in the same way other nations should rightly be proud of their own achievements – achievements that should be openly shared and celebrated across a unified world, not envied in a divisive one.

Whatever happens in the coming months, post-Brexit, I’d like to think we in the UK can all regain our own sense of national pride, in whatever way seems fitting for us. Pride can be misplaced and misinterpreted, but it can also be a good thing when kept in context.

The following video encapsulates perfectly what pride meant around London 2012. It’s as funny and quirky as it is beautiful, and it’s joyously optimistic too. It portrays a better time perhaps, but one that can be reclaimed, even in today’s turbulent times.

And we don’t need our governments to do that for us, we can start doing that for ourselves, in whatever way feels right for us.

What have you done to make yourself proud today?