David Walliams outside the Town Hall
Published: 27 July, 2012
by ANDREW JOHNSON
THOUSANDS of people thronged Islington’s streets yesterday (Thursday) for a “once in a lifetime” glimpse of the Olympic torch as it made its way through the borough.
Huge crowds provided a party atmosphere outside the Town Hall, where the star attraction – Little Britain actor and Britain’s Got Talent judge David Walliams – was handed the torch for his 300-metre leg along Upper Street.
Entire families had come together, and many people joined in the party spirit by turning up in Union Jack-themed outfits.
The children’s choir of the London Symphony Orchestra entertained the crowd before Walliams appeared to huge cheers.
“It’s a real honour to be here,” he said. “Some real legends have carried this torch, including Jedward. We’ll be starting at 8.22 precisely and if you excuse me now I have to go off and have a poo.”
Crowds had started gathering at the Town Hall at around 6am. Jean Gill, who came with 14 members of her family, who all live in Holloway and Essex Road, said they arrived at 6.30 in order to secure a ringside view.
“I’m not going to see it again in my lifetime,” she said. “I came as well for my son and grandson. We’re not going to see it again.”
Anita Calnan, who lived in Essex Road until she was 14, was visiting from Ireland with her husband Denis and children Kate, eight, Tom, six, and Ava, three.
“We were here at about 10 past six,” Mr Calnan said. “We’re on holiday visiting family. For the kids it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
The torch had arrived in Islington at the Canal Museum in Wharfedale Road at about 8am before making its way up Caledonian Road past hundreds of flag-waving and cheering onlookers. Cafe owners had opened early to serve breakfast and coffees. It then turned up Offord Street, to continue its journey to Upper Street via Highbury Station Road and Highbury Corner.
As it pulled up at the Town Hall, children from Islington’s school who had designed their own torches formed a guard of honour with their creations leading up to the building’s steps. Performers from the Archway-based theatre company Scarabeus abseiled down the side of the building on silk sheets.
Walliams set off with the torch from the Town Hall steps – after being handed it from Rhyania Blackett-Codrington, a youth worker from Dalston. He half-walked, half-jogged his stint before handing it over to Phil Packer, a former soldier severely injured in Iraq. He was told he would never walk again, but nevertheless spent two weeks completing the London Marathon in 2009.
Walliams then returned to the Town Hall where he was mobbed by excited fans, and spent half an hour posing for pictures and signing autographs.
He said he had found the experience very “moving”.
“There’s something so special about the Olympics,” he said. “I hate running. I’m not a natural runner. People think I’m sporty because I swim but I started off walking and then thought ‘I've got to start jogging’. Then I started running the last bit and it was all over. I don’t live in Islington – I’ve visited – but [Upper Street] is a long straight road, so you can’t get lost. The people are very nice.”
He added: “To be asked was a real honour. I’ve been looking forward to it for ages. It feels very special to be part of such a big thing.”
Geokcen Karakaya had followed the torch up from Caledonian Road, where she lives. “It’s just an amazing atmosphere,” she said. “Everyone feels really happy. It’s such a great opportunity.”
After Islington the torch made its way through the City and Westminster, before ending up in Hyde Park for a special concert.
Today (Friday) it will light the Olympic Flame in Stratford for the opening ceremony of the games.
Meanwhile, many parents took their children up the road to Highbury Fields where the council had laid on a fun day of activities based around Olympic sports.
by WILLIAM McLENNAN
THE crowds gathered in a slow trickle to witness the Olympic torch as it was carried along Caledonian Road on Thursday morning – that was until 7.45am when somebody turned the tap to full and hundreds of people flooded in to line the streets and watch the carnival procession of corporate sponsors.
The Prince pub and landlady Eileen Christie were the focal point of the fun. Opening at 6am, the pub was giving out free tea and bacon sandwiches – with a discretionary donation to help four-year-old Jason Ferrara-Campbell, a Cally Road local who is fighting cancer.
It was 21-year-old King’s College London student, Laura Arowolo, who carried the flame 300 metres past the Prince, but she wasn’t the only one to raise a cheer, and the advance party of cycling paramedics were greeted by a great whoop and holler.
Nor was she the only person to be carrying a torch as the staff of Scope, whose offices are on Market Road, off Caledonian Road, brought their own home-made beacons to the party.
There were whispers of dissent among the excited crowds and some felt the choice of torchbeares didn’t match Cally Road’s infamous community spirit.
Ms Christie said: “Everyone round here thinks the bloke who should have ran this was Emmanuel (Poilus) from the chemist, because he knows everyone in the community and he’s always helping people out. So many people have come in to say Emmanuel should have done it.”
TRIBUNE reporter PAVAN AMARA, who travelled on the official Olympic Torch bus as it passed through Islington, reflects on a thrilling morning:
I was lucky enough to take a prized place on the open-back media bus, travelling in the thick of it, along the route as people hung out of their windows in their pyjamas snapping away with mobile phones.
Children told me they were jumping out of bed at the crack of dawn this morning, and the Union flags were out and being waved or being worn. It seemed like Islingtonians were suddenly so smily they were waving at any old passer-by. You can’t buy that.
As we turned into Highbury Corner police and stewards struggled to contain the excitement, as many a resident darted out in front of the torch just for a risky snap, only to be chased back into the crowd by officers.
If the atmosphere wasn’t so good it could have been mayhem.
The real treat came as we arrived at into Upper Street and went past the Town Hall where actor David Walliams passed the torch to Phillip Packer amid whoops and shouts, melodies blaring, and confetti streaming down the side of the Town Hall.
Farringdon Road and Clerkenwell saw builders stop work to climb structures to wave at the crowds and office workers crammed into a single window to see the sight.
Running into the City and out of the borough, the scene was somewhat different. Suits lined the streets, still managing some excitement, but compared to Islington, it all seemed just a little tame.
FORMER Lib Dem mayor Barbara Smith will be swapping the fighting in the council chamber for the boxing ring during the Olympics as one of the official “Game Makers”.
Ms Smith, who was a Lib Dem councillor for 12 years, is one of 70,000 volunteers chosen from 250,000 applicants. She has been assigned to the Boxing Arena at the Excel Centre where she will look after Olympic dignitaries and members of the International Amateur Boxing Association.
Michele Nicole Hyron