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'Tremendous Honor': Dancing For The World At Olympics Opener

Jul 27, 2012
Originally published on July 27, 2012 11:44 am

The London Summer Olympics officially begin today with the opening ceremony. Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle of Slumdog Millionaire has put together the latest Olympic kickoff spectacle. As NPR's Philip Reeves reported yesterday, a preview video has been released.

The ceremony is a wide-ranging ode to British history and culture called "Isles of Wonder," which features music, dancing, live farm animals and 10,000 volunteers. One of those volunteers is a Londoner who still can't believe she's about to perform on the world's biggest stage.

'Rubbish' Olympics

For radio producer Sasha Feachem, it's been a year of significant change. It started with Feachem embracing what she now admits was a snooty attitude shared by others in the Olympic host city.

"I actually thought it was a bit of a rubbish idea that the Olympics were coming to London," she says. "All I was really thinking about was the mess to the transport system, and whether I could get out of the country [at the time of the games]."

Part of her dismissiveness was due to an aversion to sports. She was, she says, the least sporty person on the planet.

"I was the fat child at the back of every gym class, sobbing," she says, "because they were trying to make me do something on some bars somewhere or climb a rope, and I never even got off the ground."

But here she is on the day of the opening ceremony, one of 1,400 proud performers doing an urban street dance. She calls it the most complicated segment of the night's event, which is expected to last three hours. And she's performing in front of the world.

"I think it's a tremendous honor," Feachem says. "It hasn't really hit me until the last couple of weeks, when we've been rehearsing at the [Olympic] Stadium. And I'm also a huge megalomaniac, so the thought of 3 billion watching obviously has been a massive plus for me."

Actually, the world TV audience is expected to be around 1 billion. But who's counting? And who would've thought a 39-year-old BBC radio science producer would audition for the event as a bet with a friend — then make the first cut and show up for a second audition surrounded by 200 18- to 20-year-olds? All of them, Feachem says, clearly were dancers.

"They had leg warmers on," Feachem says. "They had these huge headphones on, and they were grooving out as they waited. It was something out of Fame. And I said to myself, 'Dear Lord, what am I doing here?' "

Despite her rough early days in sport, Feachem says she was a keen dancer as a child. Evidently, keen enough at that second audition to make the cut.

Loose Lips Sink Opening Ceremony

The thousands of opening ceremony performers paraded by the Olympic Stadium this week on the way to one of their final dress rehearsals. It was quite the sight. There were costumes that looked like David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust. There were odd wigs and makeup that conjured memories of that strange Star Wars cantina scene.

Feachem was there with face paint, ribbons, black bell-bottoms and a blue top, looking like, in her words, "Madonna, circa 1982."

The British organizers on site were polite and friendly, but it was clear reporters weren't particularly welcome. It has been a mission by all those involved in the opening ceremony to keep secret as many of the event's details as possible.

It's been tough, with the traditionally nosy British media already unearthing bits of information — according to "sources" — such as: an epic Mary Poppins vs. Voldemort smackdown; a segment honoring Britain's National Health Service, featuring a cast of nurses and children performing a "bed dance"; and the rumored grand finale of Paul McCartney singing "Hey Jude."

For the most part, Feachem, a self-admitted "blabbermouth," has stuck by the code of silence. For the most part.

"I can tell you I'm facing the queen [tonight], facing the important box [of guests]," she says.

When asked if, as a result, she'll be smiling during her performance, Feachem says no.

"What do you think an urban street dance expression is? I think you're supposed to be a bit mean and moody," she says. "I haven't quite mastered it yet."

She'd better hurry. There are only hours to go before the big event.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

The opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics is just hours away now. Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle of "Slumdog Millionaire" has put together the official kickoff spectacle. It's a wide-ranging tribute to British history and culture called "Isles of Wonder," with music and dancing, also farm animals and 10,000 volunteers.

NPR's Tom Goldman introduces us to one of those volunteers, a Londoner who still can't believe she's about to perform on the world's biggest stage.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Let's start with your name and title, please.

SASHA FEACHEM: You want me to be Sasha or Alexandra?

GOLDMAN: Be who you want to be.

FEACHEM: OK. So, my name is Alexandra. No, I don't know. Do I want to be Alexandra? Hold on a second. I can't decide.

GOLDMAN: Let's give Sasha Feachem a pass, OK? By the way, she finally did decide to use the diminutive of her given name, Alexandra. We're not going to ride Sasha for fumbling the easiest part of an interview, because she's been through a nerve-jangling year, from snooty Londoner...

FEACHEM: I actually thought it was a bit of a rubbish idea that the Olympics were coming to London.

GOLDMAN: ...and self-described least-sporty person on the planet...

FEACHEM: I was always the fat child at the back of every gym class sobbing because they were trying to make me to do something on some bars somewhere or climb a rope, and I never even got off the ground.

GOLDMAN: ...to one of 1,400 proud performers doing an urban street dance in what Feachem calls the most complicated segment of tonight's opening ceremony, in front of the world.

FEACHEM: I think it's a tremendous honor. It hasn't really hit me until the last couple of weeks when we've been rehearsing at the stadium. And I'm also a huge megalomaniac. So the thought of three billion watching, obviously, has been a massive plus for me.

GOLDMAN: Actually, the world TV audience is estimated at around a billion, but who's counting? And who would have thought a 39-year-old BBC radio science producer would audition for the event as a bet with a friend, make the first cut, then show up for a second audition surrounded by scads of 18 to 20-year-olds, all of them, Feachem says, clearly dancers.

FEACHEM: I mean, they had, like, leg warmers on. They had these huge headphones on. They were, like, grooving out as they waited. I mean, it was like something out of "Fame." Like, oh, dear Lord, what am I doing here?

GOLDMAN: We forgot to mention: Feachem says she was a keen dancer as a child, and evidently keen enough at the second audition. She made the cut.

(APPLAUSE)

GOLDMAN: Outside the Olympic Stadium this week, the thousands of opening ceremony performers paraded by on the way to one of their final dress rehearsals. It was a sight. There were costumes that looked like David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust, odd wigs and makeup that conjured up memories of that freaky "Star Wars" cantina scene. And there was Feachem.

FEACHEM: How are you?

GOLDMAN: I was hoping I'd see you.

FEACHEM: I have to keep up with my bum.

GOLDMAN: You look great.

FEACHEM: Thank you.

GOLDMAN: I have no words to describe you.

(LAUGHTER)

FEACHEM: Pink hair - I look like Madonna, circa 1982, right?

GOLDMAN: Feachem moved on to rejoin her urban street dance buddies as an Olympics volunteer hurried over to the scene of our brief chat.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You're not allowed to do any interviewing, by the way, mate. Just to let you know.

GOLDMAN: A stark reminder that amidst the fun, I was not particularly welcome there. It has been a mission of organizers and volunteers to keep secret as many as the ceremony's details as possible. It's been tough, with that nosy British press already unearthing morsels, according to their sources, such as the epic Mary Poppins vs. Voldemort smackdown, the nurses and children performing a bed dance in honor of Britain's National Health Service, the rumored finale of Paul McCartney singing "Hey Jude." For the most part, Sasha Feachem, a self-admitted blabbermouth, has stuck by the code of silence - for the most part.

FEACHEM: I can tell you I'm facing the queen on the night, facing the important box.

GOLDMAN: You best not have a bland look on your face, then. Are you prepared to smile?

FEACHEM: No, that's a worry. What do you think an urban street dance expression is? I think you're supposed to be a bit mean and moody. I haven't quite mastered it yet.

GOLDMAN: Best hurry, Sasha Feachem - only hours to go. Tom Goldman, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.