Tuesday Talk - London Mayor "Full of Fire"
(ATR) London Mayor Boris Johnson tells Around the Rings
he wants to lead the city to its Olympic legacy – not seek a higher office.
London Mayor Boris Johnson. (ATR/Panasonic Lumix)
A week after the close of the Paralympics, the mayor admits he’s felt deflated now that the city’s summer of sport is over. But Johnson says he begins the post-Games era for London “full of fire” to fulfill the promise of legacy.
A new poll names Johnson as the most respected politician in the U.K., far outpacing Prime Minister David Cameron. Yet Johnson insists he has no designs on higher office – just delivering on the legacy of the Games.
Johnson, 48, mayor since 2008, was reelected in May to a new four-year term. He’s been a leading figure in planning for the Games, chair of the four-member Olympic Board that reviewed all major decisions affecting the event.
He spoke by phone this week from his City Hall office to Around the Rings
Editor Ed Hula.
Around the Rings:
How do you feel now that the Olympics and Paralympics are over? We’re feeling a little melancholy that we don’t have the Games to deal with anymore. How about you?
Me too. I tell you I woke up on Saturday morning and I had done a week of thank yous and speeches, and then all that came to an end Friday night. And I woke up and I felt a bit like the wind had definitely gone out of me.
ATR Editor Ed Hula with Boris Johnson in 2009. (ATR)
But today I thought, I feel full of fire and we’ve got to deliver on the legacy from the Games and the legacy for London and we’re going to do it. The Games were a massive success for the city and I think psychologically they were very important.
They reminded London and they reminded British people what they can do when they put their minds to it. And we’re going to have a physical legacy and we’re going to make sure London E20 is one of the most fashionable postal districts in the capital, and it's going that way.
We’ve got the volunteering legacy and great successes of London 2012 and the enthusiasm of our Games Makers and the “Team London” ambassadors and we’re going to continue to recruit and continue to find things for them to do and take lessons from all of that.
Of course, we’re going to create a sporting legacy and we’re going to expand our sporting works, so a huge amount of work to take the city forward.
We think London looked good during the Games and we think that the eye of the world was upon us and we think the eye of the world acquitted us pretty credibly. It looked like an attractive place to live in, work in, and to invest in, and we think economically that was very important.
Have you proved the “Olymposkeptics” wrong as far as the Games go?
Boris Johnson rides one of London's ubiquitous "Boris bikes" en route to a meeting. (ATR/Panasonic Lumix)
I think the “Olymposkeptics” have been absolutely righted and they’ve been put to flight, but they haven’t disappeared.
They’ve gone to their caves and are nursing their wounds. They're recovering slowly and they will be back and they will question the thing whether it was about money, and they will be trying to say that we haven’t got a legacy from the Games.
But I want to point out to them, look at what has already been achieved, the massive transformation of the Stratford site, the 1.5 billion pound shopping center, the railway lines, the incredible venues in the Olympic Park, the thousands of new homes, the thousands of new jobs, the volunteering throughout the city, the huge psychological boost to the city as a whole that brought people together connected happiness and national unity.
I think over 10 years it’s the best 9.3 billion pounds we’ve ever spent.
My message to the “Olymposkeptics” is learn from your mistakes, folks. You were wrong about the Games, and you will be wrong about the legacy as well.
This has been a big year with the Olympics, with the Diamond Jubilee. What is the next big thing for London? What is the next point on the horizon that you as a mayor and the city would be shooting for? What’s next?
Boris Johnson greets the Olympic Stadium crowd before the 100m final. (ATR/Panasonic Lumix)
Well, we’ve got a lot of things coming up, coming down the track. Don’t forget we've got the Rugby World Cup in 2015.
We’ve got lots of sporting events coming up. The diving championships...all sorts of big stuff happening in London.
But we want to use the springboard of the Olympics to make the case that London is one of the greatest, if not the greatest city on Earth. We’re setting out a 2020 vision between now and Christmas. We’ll be sending out a 2020 vision for London and spatial development in transport, development in housing and health outcomes and education.
All the things we think the city is going to need. All it's going to develop and one of the things we think London needs is a sensational knockout runway for the airport to serve the needs for the city in the next century, in the next decades and to entrench in our lead as the greatest cultural, financial capital of Europe.
There’s a new poll that shows you are the most popular, respected politician in the U.K. right now. Do you think the Olympics have had a role in your favorable position?
Prime Minister David Cameron, Princess Anne and Boris Johnson during Team GB's post-Games victory parade. (ATR/Panasonic Lumix)
Of course, these things come and they go. I think what that really reflects is people’s happiness with the Olympics and expressing their profound pride in what we do well. And people, they need someone to identify with, what kind of question, what’s been good for the country and I happen to be knocking around at the time. I’m benefitting from the Olympic glow, no question.
Is there any ambition by Boris Johnson beyond being the mayor of London right now?
No, absolutely not. People keep asking me this mad question. I’ve got work to do as I have just been explaining and I need to get on it.
I think it will be very fun because I think people have got very very positive feelings towards London. They can see the potential. They can see where the growth and opportunities are and we need to lead them to that.
You’ve taken over the London Legacy Development Corporation. Why did you make that move to install yourself as chair, and what do you think the result will be?
I think that’s democratic to be essential. The Olympics was very important. I chaired the Olympic Board and we did a lot of work all on the Olympics. People will expect me to take a direct role in the legacy, it’s something I care about very deeply and I want to be very hands-on.
What’s the next big step as far as securing and exploiting the legacy for London?
The next big step is some of the practical things we need to square away, including the future of the IBC and MPC. There is the future of the stadium, and I’m totally reconciled to a future of the stadium which does not necessarily have to involve football, but we’ll see where we go with that. There’s some good bids on the table.
ow long do you think it will take to resolve the question of the permanent tenants for the stadium? When do you think?
We’re getting along fine with the arguments at the moment. You know there is a negotiation to be had. I’m content that the stadium has won a place in the hearts of the nation as a charismatic building and exciting venue, a place where you can stage all sorts of events: athletics, football, rugby, cricket, rock concerts, whatever it happens to be. That stadium has got a great future.
Is it important for the Olympic Park to open again on the schedule – I say, about a year from now in some form or another?
Yes, I think people will expect the Park to open as fast as possible and we’re on track to do that.
Are you regretting that there is going to be no monumental cauldron left from the Games to light again on anniversaries and show that the Olympics were here?
Well, we can always do something with the Orbit. The Orbit will always be there. The Orbit will tower majestically over the site. I don’t know what’s happening next, but that’s a going point, what’s going to happen with it.
Well, as I understood it, it's going to be demounted. Taken away, all the burners were going to be sent to the National Olympic Committees around the world.
The cauldron is extinguished at the end of the Olympics closing ceremony. (ATR/Panasonic Lumix)
That may be right. I think there will be plenty of ways of reigniting the flame of London 2012. The Orbit is a massive symbol. I think we can come up with some way of doing that.
How did the whole Olympic experience affect the worldwide image of London?
I think it was overwhelmingly positive. And I haven’t seen any of the detail breakdowns or figures yet, but all the information from London Partners, our promotions agency, says the media coverage was positive.
In countries where it was particularly positive in places like France, Australia, countries which did well in the Olympics that had big sporting audiences. I was told we had fantastic coverage, but generally I think it went big around the world.
How will this pay off for London?
We think the economic benefits will be very considerable. I’ve seen figures at around 13 billion pounds overall in the medium term, in terms of investments and economic impacts.
I think one of the most important benefits has been psychological. It has taught us what we can do, it’s reminded us of the genius and dynamism of London and the British people.
They plan. It’s been an amazing reminder of what the public sector and the private sector can do if they do it together and they plan it for a long time. It also shows what can be achieved across party political consensus about something. That was very important and it really helped make the difference.
Do you have a favorite moment from the Olympics?
Jessica Ennis won her heptathlon gold on Super Saturday. (Getty Images)
I think it’s Super Saturday. We had an amazing evening. Some time in the first week, we realized we had an absolute smash hit on our hands. And it’s hard to know when that was, but it was all completely clear on Super Saturday when the stadium was rammed to the rafters and the noise was incredible. And we had these amazing races: Mo Farah, Jess Ennis, Greg Rutherford, and it was just amazing to be there.
What was your biggest surprise?
My biggest surprise was that the kind of benign psychological contagion, the amazing positive vibe that suddenly started to fill the city and the country. I hadn’t realized it would be so transforming of people and it would be so powerful.
The only thing I’ve seen like it was the death of Lady Diana Spencer, the Princess of Wales. This was the opposite. It was a benign psychological intervention.
How about your relationship with the IOC, with the sports federations?
I want to say thank you. A massive thank you to the IOC, to all sports federations, to Jacques Rogge and to Gilbert Felli and Denis Oswald and everybody that stuck up for London for so long.
They were patient, they were all supportive and they did a great job in helping us to get ready.
Everybody asked how is London going to possibly follow Beijing. Now it’s a question of how will Rio de Janeiro follow London. What advice would you give to Rio de Janeiro?
"He's up next," Boris Johnson says of Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes. (ATR/Panasonic Lumix)
I hope every Olympic fan around the world hopes that Rio does even better and I wish them every possible success.
I wouldn’t give any advice, but I think the key thing is to plan.
I am delighted that Transport for London has been appointed official transport consultant to Rio, and that is a reflection of the success of London’s transport planning.
Conducted by Ed Hula. Transcribed by Aaron Bauer.
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