Monday IV Home stretch. The Manchester Evening News Arena is ten minutes walk away. I guy a large chunky Kit Kat on the way to fill the gar left by my desertless meal. Then realise I’m so close I have to stand nearby to finish the bar. I’m five minutes away from the beginning of an event to celebrate athletic achievement and I’m chowing down. I try to stay in the shadows in case anyone is paying attention.

People are queuing up by the main arena entrance. I flash my ticket to the elderly volunteer who is checking them. He man behind me doesn’t have a valid pass, just some games flyer and is pointed in the direction of the arena box office. Looking around I’m not surprised to discover a whole range of people of different ages. Some of them even look a bit like me – or the idea of what I think I look like. No is really speaking – we just look pensively at the entrance and the fight for seats within.

Doors open. There is a surge forward. A second row of stewards take the small ticket strips. Following the signs, my seating area is on the other side of the arena. On the way I stop off at a reception bin. They’ve asked for a passport photo and a small piece of cloth with an image on it. Both will become part of a giant tapestry which celebrates the games that will hang in a city building.

I also pass by a stand giving away ‘good’ bags. In this is a folder for storing volunteer literature, a Double Decker and a bar of soap. No one laughs when someone remarks “Are they saying we northerners need a wash?”

My main section entrance is blocked by a photo opportunity. Flag-bearers for all of the competing nations are ringing two men on stilts dressed as cricketers supported by giant bats. I’m a bit worried when they start to sway.

Doors open. This is my third large indoor space of the day and the biggest. I’m expecting it to be cold but the heating system engenders tropical temperatures, presumably to drive up drinks sales during events.

I take my seat. The arena begins to fill up. We’re shuffling around so that a group can sit together. Everyone is good natured, shielding some nervousness. Who the hell are all you people?

The pre-warm up show is being run by two local radio DJs who I think do the breakfast show. They think they’re Mark and Lard from Radio 1. They aren’t.. The general consensus seems to be that hanging would too good for them.

The celebrities – or rather the cast of ‘Coronation Street’ arrive. I’ve never watched the show, but I’m frankly unimpressed. If U2 had arrived, or the cast of ‘As If’, that would have been something. They seem uncomfortable sitting together – like a staff night out which has been organised by the boss.

The warm man is introduced. It’s Ted Robbins. Ted and his sister Kate had a very short lived comedy series in the Eighties. Since then, Ted has carved a warm-up niche for himself, having worked on Wogan and countless game shows. At this moment I think he’s going to be the compere for the evening. My heart sinks. But entertainment-wise I’m high maintenance so I just grit my teeth as Ted captures the hearts of the audience.

After a while, as though their life depended upon it, the three comedians begin a Mexican wave – the first fun moment of the evening. They expect it to go around the stadium once and stop. But this is a human perpetual motion machine and in carries on … and on … and on … and on … and on …

Until the real compere for the evening comes out, to the theme music from ‘Stars in their Eyes’ – it’s Matthew Kelly, his armour of Light Entertainment clattering onto the stage. We’d been forewarned but seeing him the flesh you do wonder about the career trajectory – and if Leslie Crowther had never had that car crash if Kelly would be in the position his is not.

The scene resembles the TV version of ‘The Restaurant at the End of the Universe’. I wonder if we’re going to see judgement day as well. You can’t help but admire Kelly – he’s very professional even when saddled with a script which has been written by the Games people. He knows that some of the thing he’s going to put us through this evening are going to be crap, but he manages to put an ironic spin on it all. Salute.

And now for my first guest … I was rudely awakened when Prince Edward and Sophie thingy walked out. The Prince is in rude health considering recent events – Sophie still looks spookily like Diana and Jill Dando combined. It’s a good, tight, well written speech will lauds us all for showing up. God bless you Mr. Windsor. His co-presenters are introduced. Steve Cramb, Roger Black, Tanni Grey Thompson … and Ted Robbins. It’s that man again. I ponder how the really famous sports people inevitably hover towards television and how the post-Des BBC is happy to have them. Their presenting interviewing practice will come in useful tonight.

This isn’t a linear event. Elements are repeated, almost like themes in music. I can offer only a flavour

A running theme is to try and introduce a feeling of the teem within the crowd. We are asked on several occasions to introduce ourselves to the people sitting either side. After the fifth time of asking we are becoming old friends. I’ve already had team working rammed down my throat at work – so much so that I live for the time out of work when I can be an individual. But it seems important here – although at this stage it’s difficult to envisage how it will be during the games as we haven’t really met who we’ll be working with.

Throughout the show, during scene changes, the sportspeople (and Ted Robbins) interview volunteers throughout the arena. A running theme emerges. No one really seems to know what they’ll be doing beyond their job title. I’ll be working in Media Services at this very arena. I have no idea what that means. I assume I’ll be sending some faxes. Or something. Some of the interviews work, others seem quite stilted. Nervousness again. What my drama teacher used to call the ‘dickhead factor’ – do I want to make an arse of myself in front of all these people?

Video messages also weave through the proceedings. I grit my teeth through Alex Fergurson and wonder why only professional Mancunians have been tapped. Sue Pollard? But then everyone gave their time, and interestingly they take time out to thank particular volunteers. The longest is reserved for Mr. Tony Blair – although if he’d seen the reaction in the hall he might have wondered if it is worth standing again next time.

’The Atkinsons’ is a short play split in two as a faux-Royle Family reveal they’ve become volunteers at the games and what happens on their first day. These are essentially info-dumps but are nicely played, especially by the two youngsters. Nothing to worry Updike, but who else can say they’ve essayed their craft in such a large arena?

Music for the night is supplied by ‘Africa Africa’ one of the guests to the themed music festival which is running concurrently with the games. And inevitably, Heather Small singing that piece iconised during the Sydney Olympics and now part of that car ad. Personally I always preferred ‘Search for the Hero’ but the audience is wrapped.

Special mention, then for the star of the evening, Roger Black. I said earlier that his TV work was good practice. I was possibly understating his public speaking ability – he’d been asked to talk about team work and chose to remind us of the win by the 4x400m team in the 1991 World Championship. He is self deprecating and funny, especially when talking about the sources of his team mates and although I’m sure he probably gives this same piece to businesses, it sounds completely natural. Then the race appears on the large screen. We all know the outcome otherwise we wouldn’t be seeing it, and yet Black has built up to it so well that audience finds itself shout ‘Go Chris’ as Akabussi crosses the line before the American. The hall fills with cheers and applause. That’s public speaking power.

So despite my cynicism, the evening worked. I think you’d find it hard to find someone in that hall who isn’t all fired up for The Games, this no pay gig being the best decision they ever made.

I exit the back entrance of the arena which leads directly onto the platform at Victoria Station. The platform is filled with people and their telltale carrier bags. I ask one girl if she’s enjoyed the evening. She has. I ask what she’s doing – she’ll be dancing in the opening and closing ceremonies. I can believe it.

I share the train ride home with someone I originally met on the pre-volunteer programme. She seems to be doing it because she wants the experience but more than that because she likes meeting new people.

I can’t help but agree with her.

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