Athens had history; Beijing had mind-boggling scale. What will London’s unique selling point be?
Worryingly, recent years have not been good for the capital. In the latest Country Brand Index (CBI) by consultancy firm FutureBrand , the UK fell out of the top 10 country brands for the first time since 2005 – falling behind nations such as Italy, Finland, New Zealand and, at No.1, Canada. And despite tourism representing nearly 10% of the UK’s GDP – second only to chemicals and financial services in terms of export earnings – the country has one of its weakest scores in the Tourism sector, particularly in areas like Value for Money. The Games, and all its highly-commercialised facets, will be unlikely to change that.
Instead, organisers hope the Cultural Olympiad – and the higher-profile London 2012 Festival – will be their means of selling the world a smaller, more intimate and more Britain-centric version of the Games. The Queen’s Jubilee, being celebrated throughout 2012, pays tribute to Great Britain’s history. But for LOCOG, the focus has been looking forward, pushing London’s status as a thriving, evolving melting pot – referencing, in their words “every area of culture, be it fashion, high art or comedy.”
This was evident in the much-vilified “punk” logo, the choice of typeface, and the hi-tech one-eyed mascots Wenlock and Mandeville (only the GB team itself gets “Pride”, a more traditional lion mascot). The choice of fashion designer Stella McCartney to create the Olympic collection wasn’t by chance either: you don’t get more London-cool than the daughter of a Beatle. And Mayor Boris Johnson referenced the forthcoming opening of the £350m Shard – Europe’s tallest building – when he declared that 2012 will be a “year-long celebration of all things London”.
Contrasting that is a wider celebration of Britain as a whole. The historic Globe theatre announced performances of all 37 Shakespeare plays in languages from Lithuanian to Korean. The BBC’s 2012 Festival, meanwhile, also included a season of Shakespeare programmes, as well as films about UK artists David Hockney and Lucian Freud, a new free music festival (Radio 1′s Hackney Weekend) and a theme song by band Elbow. There’s even a nascent “buy British” campaign, currently being pushed by retailers such as John Lewis, to remind consumers that the UK is the sixth largest manufacturer in the world by output.
Both themes, organisers hope, will crystallise in the Games’ opening and closing ceremonies. With their budgets recently – and controversially – doubled to £81m by Prime Minister David Cameron, over 20,000 performers are set to take part in the four events, all designed by Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle under the theme “Isles Of Wonder” (a line from Shakespeare’s The Tempest). Stephen Daldry, creative director for all the Games ceremonies, said the opening show would project “a journey which will celebrate who we are, who we were and who we wish to be.” The title “allows us to celebrate the rich heritage, diversity, energy, inventiveness, wit and creativity that truly defines the British Isles.”
British acts such as Underworld, Sir Paul McCartney and Take That will be watched by an estimated audience of one billion – 15% of the world’s population. Some industry experts suggest the equivalent advertising value that will deliver for the UK could be up to £5 billion.
- Will the broad and multi-note rebranding of Great Britain find a resonance around the world – either for tourists or investors?
- Against a background of worldwide social unrest, and economic stagnation, will such staging seem lightweight and irrelevant?
- Is there space for a 2012 equivalent of, say, the emergence of the LA restaurant scene in 1984? Or even the “Jesse Owens” moment, where social upheaval elsewhere is inspired?