| In the early part of 2012, the Pet Shop Boys were approached to see if they would perform at|
the Olympic Closing Ceremony in London. The event was being put together by Kim Gavin with Es Devlin – they previously worked together on the Take That tour, Progress, on which the Pet Shop Boys appeared, and Es Devlin has, of course, collaborated with the Pet Shop Boys many times.
We went to a meeting in April,” says Neil. “We went along to east London,” says Chris.
“They had a huge model of the stadium and they had these little models of me and Neil on the back of chariots, one each, with pointy hats on, being surrounded by loads of people on bicycles with orange pointy helmets. Exactly how it was. And they asked if we’d be interested in performing a minute or so of ‘West End girls’. So we said yes, we’d do that, no problem. We thought it would be a laugh, whizzing around the stadium. They told us the whole running order and it just seemed rather exciting. We were rather thrilled that One Direction
were right behind us.”
“We said, ‘oh, you want pointy hats?’ and Es said, ‘You’ve got to get Gareth Pugh to do the costumes,”‘ says Neil. “So we phoned up Gareth and had a meeting with him. The costumes we wore already existed they’re from his archive.
They weren’t made forus because his factory was damaged in the earthquake in Italy last year. But they were perfect. And he made the pointy hats for us.” By the time Neil and Chris put on those hats, it was far from the first time “West End girls” had been heard at the Olympics. First it was played during the athlete’s parade in the opening ceremony on July 27 . Neil and Chris hadn’t been officially told about this beforehand but by chance word had reached them.
“My brother Philip had a friend from Newcastle who was a volunteer in the opening scene,” says Neil, “and he texted Philip to say that ‘West End girls ‘was in the athlete’s parade. And obviously the rehearsal went quicker than the real thing because he said it was during a different countr5r, but on the night we got China which is pretty good going.” “We watched it in a hotel in Wimbledon,” says
“I thought the whole ceremony was good,” says
Neil and Chris were in a Wimbledon hotel because they had also been separately asked to take part in another Olympic event the next morning, performing at the opening of the Olympic tennis event at Wimbledon. (They went down the night before and stayed in a hotel because terrible traffic was expected.) “We were asked to do three songs,” says
Neil, “and they made videos for us rather good
videos. ‘Always on my mind ‘was drag queens or something like that, ‘Winner ‘was people winning and I can’t remember what we had for ‘What have I done to deserve this?’. It was fun. It was the first day of the Olympics.” “Pleasant change from the string quartet n the jazzbatd;)” texted the mother of the eventual gold medal winmer, Andy Murray, after hearing their rehearsal. For the closing ceremony, on August 12, they went to one rehearsal in Dagenham. “It was all we needed really,” says Neil.
“It all went according to plan,” says Chris. “It was a bit nerve-wracking on the chariots because
we were wearing these pointy hats and it was quite bumpy and we were worried that the hats would fall off on live television. And I didn’t know what plan B was because I didn’t then want to go round
without a hat on.
“Gareth Pugh put a little band in the inside so they wouldn’t fall off,” says Neil. On the day of the Ceremony, they were driven to the stadium down the special Olympic traffic lanes- “The green room was quite Amazigh-all these Spice Girls, One Direction, Annie Lennox,
Tinie Tempah, Madness,” says Neil. “We talked to George Michael, and Madness. Saw Mark Owen.
Got ow photograph taken with One Direction.
Talked to Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell.” “I said to Kate ‘what are you doing at this?”‘ says Chris. “She said ‘walking’.”
“It was an exciting atmosphere backstage,” says Neil. “And just before we went on it seemed like it was running slightly late. The idea that it was going live on television around the world… I think one could say it was unique, knowing that you were going to be seen everywhere in the world.
We were only on for two minutes but it was a good two minutes. It was a great feeling standing there – we had little backrests so we could lean back and so we didn’t fall off. They were going quite fast. We were being cycled and we had the cycling outriders.”
They were asked to mime, so in the days before Neil had gone to Pete Gleadall’s studio. “I sang West End girls’ once and we didn’t correct it or anything so it was live, only it had been recorded. Because otherwise… I mean, I think George
Michael sang live… ” “But Neil, he wasn’t on the back of a chariot,”
Chris points out.
“He wasn’t on the back of a chariot – exactly,” says Neil. “With a pointy hat on,” Chris adds. “The opening ceremony had three weeks in the stadium on site,” says Neil,’ rehears the closing ceremony loaded in at 11 .30 the night before with something like 430 trucks.”
“Was it?” says Chris skeptically. “Is that too many trucks?” wonders Neil. “You might want to check that,” Chris suggests.
“That sounds a lot of trucks. I don’t think there’re that many trucks in the country.” (So that Literally readers are not left wondering
and worrying about this statistic, Neil texts Es Devlin who immediately replies. There were actually 72. “So I was wildly exaggerating,” says Neil. Though a 72-truck event is still quite something to put together in a few hours.) Neil and Chris didn’t stay until the end, though they did watch a 1itt1e more of what happened. “Actually we were in a really good bit and we’d been there for quite a while,” says Chris, “and then someone came along and said, ‘You can’t stand there.”‘
Then they headed home.
“I got the train,” says Chris. “Public Hans port was amazing during the Olympics. And all the volunteers and the police and the army were so helpful. Everywhere around London there were people saying, ‘Do you need any help? ‘and everyone had an iPad and said, ‘Where do you want to go? ‘I think we should have kept the volunteers. I think we should have that all the time. It was a really friendly atmosphere.” And that, they expected, was the end of their satisfying Olympic adventure. They had also been asked to perform “Winner” during the final
parade of British athletes through London that was scheduled to take place much later, after the
Paral1nnpics, but they had tumid down the offer.
“They wanted us to perform it on a bus or walking through London singing it,” says Neil, “and we just thought it sounded too weird and we’d already had our Olympics moment – we thought it was a bit overdoing it.” Then, on the morning of September 8, a
Saturday, their manager Angela Becker called them in Germany where they were promoting Elysium. She had just received a surprising phone call from the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. (It may have been a somewhat surprising call for him too because it was initially answered by Angela’s four-year-old daughter who refused to hand over the phone.) The Mayor was making a final pitch:
“I really want to request that the Pet Shop Boys reconsider performing at this parade on Monday. It’s been discussed in the cabinet and we really want the Pet Shop Boys to perform at this.”
“So Angela phoned us up,” remembers Neil. “I said, ‘It can’t be the cabinet… It must be the mayor’s cabinet.” ‘Anyway, the Pet Shop Boys
were committed to appear on German breakfast TV between 7.30am and 9.15am on Monday morning and their appearance had been promoted all the previous week. It seemed impossible. Unbowed, the parade organisers offered to send a private
plane to get Neil and Chris back to London in time. So they agreed to do it.
Later that day, as Neil and Chris walked round the Berlin shops, Neil received a text on his phone saying that the Prime Minister would like to call him to thank them for changing their plans. “So at seven o’clock that evening the phone rang and this voice said, ‘This is 10 Downing Street, I have the Prime Minister for you, there may be a slight delay,’ and then this voice said, ‘Hello, Neil, oh, hello, yes, this is David Cameron.. . ‘ and he thanked us. He did all the talking, actually. And I said, ‘Thank you, that’s very courteous of you.”‘ And on Monday they headed back one more time into the world of the Olympics. “We went straight from breakfast TV to the airport,” says Neil, “and flew to some RAF landing strip and then we were driven straight to the Ma1l. We did a rehearsal and then had to wait around for a while – I was a bit nervous actually and then suddenly the parade starts to come up The Mall and we had to stand behind the Victoria Monument, and then
all the athletes got off their buses. I took a picture of Tom Daley famous British diver for foreign readers. K T Tunstall sang. We’d got Pete Gleadall to edit a version of ‘Winner ‘with a long intro, and as we sang’ Winner’ll of the British athletics team came and stood around us.” “and Andy Crookston, our tour manager,” says
“A Zelig-like appearance,” says Neil, “because he’d come to take the keyboard away. It was live on BBC 1, Channel 4 and Sky News, and it was the day the album came out! so it was quite good promotion, to look at it from that point of view. We did three songs ‘Winner’, ‘West End girls’ and ‘Go West’- and we had a fourth song planned, ‘Always on my mind ‘but in my headphones this woman said ‘Pet Shop Boys! We do not need the fourth song! Repeat! ‘And I thought, ‘Well, I can see that because they’ve all been there since halfway through *Winner”.’ I felt a bit sorry that the athletes had to stand there, and no one had talked them through what they were meant to be expressing. And you could see out of the comer of your eye David Cameron, Princess Anne, Boris Johnson etc. watching from a stand not that far away. Anyway. the whole thing was quite exciting.” “It was actually thrilling to see these British Olympic athletes at such close proximity” says
Chris, “because you’d been watching them on the television so you felt like you knew them.” “They were asking to take pictures before we went on,” says Neil. “It was a very friendly atmosphere.” Afterwards, Boris Johnson sent them a very nice card, and NeiI texted the assistant at l0 Downing Street who had originally made contact on behalf of this Prime Minister. This was Neil’s message: “Thanks for asking us – actually it was really worth doing. Sorry to bug you but could you pass on to the Prime Minister that in Alan Turing’s
centenary year it would be an amazing inspirational thing to do to pardon him.” “And the assistant texted back,” Neil recounts, “and said: ‘I totally agree with you and I will pass it on to the Prime Minister.”‘ “And that was the last we heard of it,” says