This morning, I was a Baton Bearer for the Commonwealth Games Queen’s Baton Relay. This was a great honour and came as unexpected news several weeks ago when I received an email from Southampton City Council’s Event Manager, Craig Lintott, to let me know that I’d been shortlisted.
The Queen’s Baton Relay is similar to the Olympic Torch Relay in that it’s a relay of a Baton around the world. The baton itself will be traveling 190,000km before it reaches its final destination at the Commonwealth Games on the 23rd July 2014.
I was nominated as a Baton Bearer by Active Nation, Sport Solent and Southampton City Council for the voluntary work I’ve done as part of setting up both Southampton parkrun and Southampton junior parkrun as well as founding and help found other local parkrun events over the last 3-4 years. In that time, with the 5 or 6 events I’ve been involved with either as Event Director or helping to set up, over 15,000 runners of all ages and abilities have run almost 440,000km! In Southampton alone with the 5km and junior 2k events, we’ve had 6092 runners completing almost 184,000km!
Within a few days of receiving Craig’s email, I received official notification from the Queen’s Baton Relay (QBR) team to say that I’d been chosen as a Baton Bearer! I was a little shell-shocked and very proud. As any regular reader of my blog will know, I love parkrun and am really proud to be part of the local events and to have helped bring parkruns to several local communities. We have some great event teams and enthusiastic volunteer teams that bring these events to their participants each week and each would be very deserving of such recognition but, unfortunately, there were only 5 Baton Bearers chosen in Southampton so the best I could do was hold it on behalf of everyone that’s helped make parkrun a success locally.
Anyway, back to today!! I set my alarm for 5:20am. This meant a 40-minute lie-in as normally my alarm is set for 4:40am on a Wednesday for the STC swim session at Fleming Park. Having had breakfast and showered, I drove to Dock Gate 10 where the Queen Elizabeth Cruise Liner was berthed.
Just after I’d paid the £4 for parking (first school boy error as those involved in the event didn’t need to pay!), Iwan Thomas arrived in the car park. We had a brief discussion about whether we had to pay and then walked to the ‘destination’ lounge. I’ve met Iwan several times at Netley Abbey parkrun as well as at Eastleigh 10K so it was good to chat with him. He’s really down to earth and easy to talk to. Our conversation covered his workload – crazy busy, the Commonwealth Games, his following it for the One Show, parkrun, his training (or lack of!), Granny (you have to follow Iwan on Twitter to understand that but I’d recommend you don’t google it if easily offended!) and what we’d be doing with the Baton!
Getting onto the ship involved airport-style security and once we’d been issued passes and surrendered our passports (we clearly weren’t going to be able to leave shore on the ship – I’m refraining from calling a boat for fear that I might upset Cunard!), we headed up to the foyer and found some comfy seating to relax in while we waited for the Queen’s Baton Relay (QBR) and the Southampton City Council teams to arrive.
As we chatted, a reporter from BBC news arrived and soon we were surrounded by people from QBR, SCC, Cunard and various media organisations.
I was briefed about the baton, its journey, what it was made of, how it was made, the parchment message from the Queen inside it that won’t be opened until the opening ceremony, the gems that are unlocked by ‘solving puzzles’ and a little too much information to remember should I be asked by anyone pointing a camera or microphone at me to explain any or all of the above! At the same time, I was told that when I was holding the Baton that I should always hold it with 2 hands and not hand it to anyone. More on that later!
While we were waiting, I spotted a face I recognised. It was none other than Steve Way who had been a 16-stone smoker and then had taken up running, participated in ultra-marathons and had recently qualified for the Commonwealth Games. Read more about Steve’s story in The Guardian.
Before long, it was our turn to step into the spotlight and take our place whilst gripping tightly to the Baton!
Iwan had several photos taken at the front of the ship – the bow as we were reminded – and was to then walk onto the ship (not a boat remember!) via the gangway (not a gangplank!) with the Baton, have the media take pictures and video footage of him, meet the crew, shake a few hands and then pass the Baton to me on (a rather slippery) deck before I walked it up to the Bridge – yes, the actual bridge of the boa.. ship! 😉 where we’d meet the Captain and then be interviewed by the assembled media; lots of media. All sounded simple enough.
However, when you have the one, and only, Baton in your hands (when asked if there were spares, we were told that there weren’t but whether that’s true or not, I don’t know!), the pressure starts to mount a little. As does the weight of the Baton. And the sweat on your palms. And the desire to deal with your itchy nose.
Once Iwan had done his thing, including spending some time in front of a picture of everyone’s favourite Granny for photos – not that one Iwan – it was time for Iwan to pass the baton onto me. Gulp!!
‘Hold the baton upright’
‘Make sure the screw is facing you so that the media can see the engraving’
‘Hold it with both hands’
‘Don’t drop it’
‘Don’t hand it to anyone else’
What could possibly go wrong? Well, there was the moment when I held it in one hand. That didn’t last long! Also, the time I tripped up whilst holding it – I didn’t drop it! Ah, and the time I thought I was walking alongside Iwan and said ‘I don’t suppose we should do this with the Baton’ as I passed it from hand to hand. It turned out that it wasn’t Iwan, but a member of the QBR team. Oops! Really glad that I didn’t go for the ‘throw it in the air, spin around and catch it’ routine I’d been practicing! Only kidding about the last bit. Honest!
All of a sudden, I was guarding the Baton with my life! This meant a tighter grip and sweatier palms! The Baton felt good to hold. Nicely balanced and really was a work of art. It would have made a good weapon… I’ll say no more
Having successfully managed to keep hold of the Baton on deck, we made our way up in a lift to the floor (?) where the bridge was. This is where I tripped going from one, er, room (?) to another. The ‘guardian of the Baton’ looked unimpressed and I was reminded that the Baton was the Queen’s Baton and not mine. I held on even tighter!
We were briefed about what we were to do once we entered the bridge and then we made our way to the crowds of media to meet the Captain.
I have no idea what the Captain’s name was but we exchanged pleasantries before Iwan and I signed the guest book which had been signed by the Queen herself and other royals and well known people who I can’t really recall! The fact was that Iwan and I had to sign the guestbook! The art of writing eluded me a little but I managed to scribble something barely legible and gave Iwan the pen!
With his A level in Art, Iwan decided to draw a picture of the Baton!
We then had photos taken with the guestbook and Iwan’s work of art and the other work of art, the Baton!
There was a little time for more interviews. Those were with the Daily Echo, ITV, BBC and Cunard’s own media team. We were due to have a live broadcast but the satellite signal kept breaking up (due to a huge hulk of metal between the satellite and the OB van, namely the ship!) so we did an ‘as live’ piece instead. I did my best to make sense as I spoke and tried to remember to sounds like a worthy Baton Bearer. Not sure I managed it but you can decide once the footage airs later today!
Our next mission was to sit in the Captain’s seat for some photos. Not easy whilst trying to hold the Baton with 2 hands. I had to hand it to one of the QBR team while I got settled! We had various photos taken and both resisted the rather strong temptation to press any buttons!
We also had a few photos taken with the Captain. As she wasn’t an ‘designated’ Baton Bearer, she wasn’t allowed to hold the baton but was allowed to touch it.
Finally, there was just time to have a few more interviews with the media before being escorted off the ship; our duties complete for the morning. This evening, we had to the Guildhall for a reception and to watch the cliff divers! More on that in a later post.
It’s been a great honour to have been chosen by Active Nation, Sport Solent and Southampton City Council as a Baton Bearer at such as special occasion and to be given the opportunity to be on board the Queen Elizabeth, visit the bridge and, most importantly, bear the Baton. I’ve joked a little about the latter but it really was a privilege being one of so few to have the honour of holding the Queen’s Baton!
It’s a great day for Southampton too. A real showcase of the city’s sporting pedigree and the opportunities available to children and adults of all ages and abilities to participate in sport through the city’s excellent facilities, coaching and events. I’m also very proud to have been able to help promote parkrun and our local events to the local media.
Some of the coverage of this morning’s event:
I’ll post about the early evening celebrations soon!