Having a big bold vision was the key to the success of London 2012. The biggest challenge was at the beginning, creating the vision that everybody could buy into. That is a deep dive. It was a very interesting process.
When I became chair of the London bid, I remember being slightly depressed when our transport team said to me their biggest challenge was to get athletes from Heathrow into the Olympic village quicker than the French can. There has to be a bigger, bolder, more optimistic view of what we are doing.
There are two standard questions you always ask when you're doing a major project like the Olympic and Paralympic Games: one, why are we doing it and, two, how are we doing it? The way these questions are prioritised is extremely important.
In hindsight, the overall vision was most crucial, not when we were bidding, but during the most difficult parts of the delivery phase. This was both at times when things inevitably went wrong and also at the crossroads that all organisations reach about the alignment of budget and creativity. When we hit one of those pinch-points, a siren voice around the table would often ask: what did we say we would do and how does that trace back to the vision? And so often, that vision became the route-map, almost like the North Star.
I think we broke the mould as an Olympic organising committee in the UK. There's always been a theological divide which we have been under: the division between the public and private sectors. I think the only way for the Games to be delivered was for that divide to be loosened.
“There are two standard questions you always ask when you're doing a major project like the Olympic and Paralympic Games: one, why are we doing it and, two, how are we doing it? The way these questions are prioritised is extremely important.”
Companies like Skanska made a seismic contribution to the Games, helping to build the infrastructure for the event. In Skanska's case this included everything from landscaping through to roads and bridges, including much of the mechanical and electrical work in the media centre, which is now such a large part of the legacy story.
I was most proud of the way we showcased ourselves during London 2012, both as a city and as a country. Although the Games were focused on London, it was absolutely crucial we created an atmosphere of attraction and interest throughout the UK. We had to show ourselves as a creative, competent, modern, diverse nation that was proud of its history and very welcoming.
The Paralympic Games were probably the game-changer. In my lifetime, I don't think there's ever been an event that has so changed attitudes towards disability. Everywhere I go abroad, people are most interested in the community engagement work we did in London around inclusion and the accessibility agenda.
London 2012 has also left a great legacy. The story so far has been a good one. It's a positive start, but it's only a start. We have more people playing sport than before. That's a million and a half people since 2005, and on a regular basis. As a result of the Games, there was a contribution of about £11.5 billion to the British economy in the year after they took place. Volunteering was either flat-lining or declining before the Games took place. For the first time in the last 10 years, we saw a 6 per cent increase.
The story of course doesn't finish there, because I always saw the Games as the half-way point of a 20-year journey. The first three years were going around the world to muster enough votes to stage it. Then, seven years of Herculean hard work to get the Games across the line. The final 10 years is really about our ability to capture everything we witnessed in the previous decade.
We haven't finished that part of the journey. But I have no doubt it will be every bit as amazing and positive as the first.