Why dedicated Lee is a real Olympic hero

Lee Stoddart
Lee Stoddart

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A bag on the floor beside Lee Stoddart contains magical properties. He’s convinced of it.

It holds his uniform – a regal purple and poppy red top, stone-coloured trousers and a pair of distinctive trainers.

And when, in true Clark Kent fashion, he dons them, he maintains he becomes a different person.

‘They’re very special,’ he says, casting a fond gaze down at the bag. ‘Because when I wore them I felt they gave me permission to go up to anybody and talk to them.’

Those distinctive garments have become as familiar as a police officer’s to anyone visiting London in the past month-and-a-half.

But from tomorrow Lee’s striking uniform will be consigned to history.

However, the memories conjured up by those who wore it will last long in the memory of the millions of people who have attended the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

After the Paralympics’ closing ceremony tomorrow evening the 70,000 volunteers who helped put a smile on the face of Olympic Britain will evaporate and return to reality.

For Lee, from Horndean, has been one of them – volunteers rebranded Games Makers for the duration of the past few incredible weeks.

For many it was the first time they had done any voluntary work. For others, like Lee, it wasn’t.

When we meet, Lee, 62, is wearing his other uniform – a polo shirt sporting the logo of the Kings Theatre, Southsea.

A lifelong lover of all things theatrical, he’s a member of the trust which runs the theatre, is occasionally employed as chief electrician for productions, but more often than not you’ll find him volunteering front-of-house.

But he put all that on the back burner during the Olympics and his day job too – he’s a project manager for an IT company with clients worldwide.

For 11 days he was one of the happy, welcoming, informative faces behind the scenes at the Olympic Park at Stratford in the East End of London.

His role was to ensure that athletes, the media, officials and members of each sport’s governing bodies caught the right bus to get to the right venue at the right time.

‘Imagine something like The Hard interchange, but on a huge scale. We had our own massive bus station with double deckers coming and going all the time from early in the morning to gone midnight,’ he says.

Lee’s Olympic dream was spawned in 1996 during the Atlanta games.

‘I was inspired by a background story that was broadcast then. It was an interview with one of the volunteers and he explained that it was his job to drive some of the athletes to their events and make sure they got there in time.

‘I’d not thought about things like that before, but it sounded like a fun thing to do.’

The memory remained with Lee and on July 6, 2005 – the day London was awarded the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games – he knew he had to volunteer.

A year later he registered his interest and on September 15, 2010 the application process opened.

‘A few other people also decided they would volunteer. There were more than 240,000 applications for the 70,000 volunteer positions,’ he adds with considerable understatement.

Still wanting to be a driver, he applied to work in what was known as the Functional Area. He was only up against 120,000 others.

At the end of November last year he was told he’d been successful at his interview and would be working at the Olympic Park.

‘I was amazed that I’d been chosen from so many. Now all I had to do was work out how I was going to get to and from my shifts which were either 6am to 4.30pm or 3.30pm to 2am.’ He managed it by staying with his parents who live at Dartford.

Although he was largely working at that bus station, Lee also spent a fair amount of time ‘front-of-house’ with the public in the park and its nine sporting venues.

‘Because I had the uniform on I felt it gave me permission to go up and talk to anyone.

‘I lost count of the number of couples I approached who were taking pictures of each other. I asked them if they would like me to take a picture of them together and they all said yes.

‘The most popular question was ‘‘can you tell me where the nearest loo is?’’ and, yes, one of the things we got wrong was the signposting for the toilets.

‘One day I spoke to a group of three spectators who had stopped at a junction looking left and right. I asked them if they needed help or directions. They said no, they were just looking around, but were amazed at how quickly a Games Maker would approach and offer help whenever they stopped and looked lost. They were full of praise for the open, helpful and friendly welcome they received from every Games Maker.’

Was he surprised at the way it all worked out?

‘The British way of thinking about things is pessimistic. Everybody thought: transport is going to be a disaster, the whole of London is going to be gridlocked; nobody’s going to be able to get anywhere; there will be queues for miles and events will start with people still outside.

‘Yet what happened was unbelievably efficient and I had a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime experience and was a tiny part of the most wonderful celebration of sporting achievement.’