As the Paralympics draw towards a close, NORMAN GILLER shares a confession that features arguably our greatest ever wheelchair athlete, Baroness Grey-Thompson, and exposes him at his most stupid
I was reminded of the uncomfortable experience this week when tuned into Radio 5 Live, listening to their excellent coverage of the Paralympics. John Inverdale was, as usual, professional and authoritative, but it was the input of Tanni Grey-Thompson that gave the programme an extra expert edge.
She has 11 Paralympic gold medals – a record equalled this week by Sarah Storey – and is as distinguished and respected as anybody in British sport.
I got to meet Tanni during one of the best gigs of my career, scriptwriter for the annual Laureus Sports Awards ceremonies when they were staged in Monaco.
I scripted words for a range of sporting figures, including John McEnroe, Bobby Charlton, Gary Player, Ian Botham, Ed Moses, Dawn Fraser, Seb Coe and Tanni. Each award was presented by a combination of sports star and show business celebrity, and the likes of Sean Connery. Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, David Hasselhoff and Rod Stewart all read my Autocued words.
For the rehearsal, Rod Stewart came on stage with his soon-to-be-wife Penny Lancaster. Just to complicate matters his previous wife, Rachel Hunter, was also making a presentation, and I was charged by the show producer with keeping the two stunning ladies apart.
With this in mind, I was not giving total concentration when Penny introduced me to her father while the rehearsals were in full swing.
I was quite a sight to behold. On the first day in preparing for the show I had managed to fall through the stage and had damaged my size 8 right foot so badly that I had to borrow a size 13 sports shoe to cover the swelling. I was hobbling around like Quasimodo and got no sympathy whatsoever from Botham, who inspected my wound in front of the gathered Laureus members and announced: “Think it may need an amputation.”
Three days later and still hobbling in my size 13 shoe, I was at Nice Airport ready for the flight home when I spotted the show’s producer/director Paul Kirrage talking to, so I believed, Penny Lancaster’s father.
Now Penny just happens to have the most gorgeous legs that go on and on for ever, and I limped up to the side of Paul and took an exaggerated long view of what I thought was her quite short father. “Well,” I declared like an old-time music hall comedian, “I see she doesn’t get her legs from you.”
Two stony faces turned to me, with no hint of even a smile. I was obviously not welcome and so limped heavily away. I presumed I had interrupted a business conversation.
Five minutes later I was grabbed by Paul Kirrage and pushed into a corner. He never usually swears, but for this occasion dropped his standards. “What the fucking hell were you thinking of, saying that?”
“Saying what?” I asked, innocently.
“About her legs. Who d’you think you were talking to?”
“Penny Lancaster’s dad,” I replied.
“That,” said Paul with one of those sentences that remain etched into your memory for life, “is Tanni Grey-Thompson’s manager.”
What a pillock. I can now never look at Baroness Tanni (or Penny Stewart) without getting a red tide creeping up my face. And I feel a pain in my foot.
Footnote: I sued the hugely wealthy owners of the Laureus concept for my injury, but after lots of side stepping I found myself in a legal showdown with a pair of self-employed British stage builders. I tried to pull out but was told by my legal team that if I did I would have to pay the £14,000 costs accrued to date. I finished up settling out of court for £6,000, with the solicitor’s bill somewhere up around the £25,000 mark.
Next time around, I’m going to be a lawyer – that’s a profession with legs.
FROM LEGS TO LEGACY – the key word as Coldplay prepare to close the greatest sports show on earth at the Olympic Stadium on Sunday after six weeks of stunning action and unforgettable moments.
So far Lord Coe, soon-to-be Lord Deighton and their team have delivered everything as promised, silencing cynics like me who doubted their ability to meet the high expectations.
But now comes the hardest part, keeping the Olympic spirit alive after the flame has been doused and meeting the legacy promises that won the Games for London.
Many will judge the success of the Games not on the medals won but whether the regeneration of the once deprived area of east London is continued and maintained once the cheering stops.
Measured purely on the sporting content, the Olympic and Paralympic Games have exceeded even the most optimistic targets. More than 12 million spectators have been sated with super human achievement, and the Paralympics brought Channel 4 its best viewing audience in a decade and has turned many disabled sportsmen and women into household names. The likes of Ellie Simmonds, Hannah Cockcroft, David Weir, Sarah Storey and Jonnie Peacock are golden heroes who will be as easily recognised and regaled as Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah at Monday’s London parade.
All of us have a duty to see that the promise of 2012 is not an illusion that becomes a delusion.
Legacy tenants have by all accounts been secured for seven of the eight permanent venues, and next month it is hoped that the future of the magnificent main stadium will be settled.
Coe and Co wanted to inspire a generation. Only time will tell whether he and the golden heroes of TeamGB and ParalympicGB have succeeded. But at this stage the verdict has to be that the 2012 London Games have been a roaring success.
Another Olympic victory for Seb Coe.
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