Friday, 27 July 2012

Olympic spirit

July 27th 2012 - a date that the nation has been anticipating for past seven years or so. Finally, after all of the speculation and build up, we have the start of the London 2012 games. Even if you usually detest sport, I think it will have been hard to remain completely unstirred by the excitement that has gripped so many of us. Following on from the Jubilee, union flags hang proudly in streets up and down the nation, creating a truly lovely feeling of unity and harmony that is all too rarely felt (at least that is how I have perceived it).

A major contribution to this coming together is, I believe, the Olympic torch relay. Pretty much wherever you are based in the country, you will have had the chance to see this amazing procession and possibly even get involved with it directly. Even though the chance to see the games unfold in a live arena is a privilege reserved for relatively few, everyone who has seen and been moved by that eternal flame will feel like a part of us is represented in the fiery cauldron that will burn throughout the duration of games.

This leads me into today's picture: a portrait of rapper Wretch 32 (which by the way, just in case you're not yet cool enough to know it, is pronounced 'Wretch three two' and certainly never 'Wretch thirty two' unless you're being all clever and ironic).

Wretch 32 was performing at a number of venues up and down the country during the Olympic torch relay. I was thrilled when I discovered that he would be in my home town (and just a stones throw from my house at that). I excitedly told people all about this, only to be greeted with a blank look and a question regarding who this man was. The only people who already knew of his music was my younger sister (who is very up to date and cool) and one of my best friends (who I forced to dance to his big hit of last year at the Christmas party). It made me wonder how a usually pretty uncool man of my age could have been so familiar with his work, but then I have always adored rap music and know more about it that many of today's 'kidz'.

Seeing as he would be performing so close to my house, I decided to go home via the venue when I left work to see how things were coming along (this was mainly motivated by the fact they were running a free shuttle-bus service that saved me a cool £2). There was no way I expected to see any of the performers at that time (it was about 2pm) but I thought there would be some good picture opportunities on a bright sunny day with a carnival atmosphere.

After getting off the shuttle-bus, I stumbled my way to what would usually be the main entrance to the field where the mini festival was being held, only to find a sign saying 'no public access'. There were a couple of security guards directing unauthorised cars and people away to the proper entrance further down the road. For some reason they just ignored me. I guess having arrived from work wearing smart clothes, a tie, company security pass and with a big camera dangling from my neck, I must have looked somewhat official.

I stepped over the solitary traffic cone that was blocking my admission and then hovered on the other side of the threshold. I was waiting for a gruff challenge to come my way, probably accompanied by a yank at my collar, but there was only silence. So, I continued on my merry way. It was only after a few more steps that I realised I was headed backstage through some kind of media area. I snapped away and got nothing more than a casual glance from people who were genuinely allowed to be in this area.

I decided to brazen it out, act confidently and headed towards a group of ball gown clad ladies who were the Salisbury Plain Military Wives Choir. With their nicely coiffed hair and flowing gowns, there were plenty of interesting pictures to be taken, so I snapped away, all the while hopping that I wouldn't be challenged.

A large Mercedes then pulled up along side me and in the passenger seat was the man I'd only previously seen on the sleeve of my iTunes albums and YouTube clips. I brought my camera up to my eye and snapped away furiously, like some kind of paparazzi waiting outside a nightclub. Inside I felt this amazing euphoric rush that I had seen one of my heroes in the flesh and had some pictures of him.

His driver went and parked the car and, with loud vocal encouragement from the Military Wives, he headed over towards us. I was the first person he would walk past, so thrust out my hand and, not really knowing the whole street-cool greeting etiquette, just said, 'Welcome to Salisbury'. He was a very friendly and patient man, happily posing for photographs with the Wives (which I took with shaky hands such was the surreal feel to the experience).

I probably took a coupe of hundred pics of him in total. This was by far my favourite one:

I love the intensity in his expression. A seriousness that lay hidden beneath the friendly outward public persona. Had I caught a glimpse beneath Wretch's mask? Who can say, but it's a picture I would have been pleased with if it had just been him and me in a studio shoot, let alone in a large field surrounded by over-excited and maybe even a little rowdy, military wives in posh frocks.


  1. WOW lovely tale Toby. You just need to nick a Press badge now and sneak into venues all round the country. Was worth it, good shot.