Keepers of the flame

Melanie Lenihan above and the Riggs family, below.
Melanie Lenihan above and the Riggs family, below.
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The Olympics may be the pinnacle of an athlete’s career. But as the London 2012 Games draw near, what about the people behind the scenes who make the spectacle possible? Catherine Scott meets the Yorkshire volunteers.

Melanie Lenihan: Senior make-up artist, Huddersfield

Melanie Leniham is used to mixing with the stars. She has just finished working on Wasteland with Timothy Spall. Last summer she did the make-up and prosthetics for Whitechapel and has previously worked alongside Catherine Tate.

But her job behind the scenes at this summer’s Olympics will be on an entirely different scale.

“There are 7,800 people taking part in the opening ceremony and they all need to be made up,” says the mother of two from Birkby in Huddersfield.

Melanie has the title senior make-up artist, but in truth it is a far bigger and more strategic role.

“There are three teams of make-up artists, 14 in each, which I have to recruit and a big crowd of volunteers to organise. We will be responsible for all the make-up for the opening and closing ceremonies of both the Olympics and Paralympics,” she says.

Although she is sworn to secrecy about the details of the ceremonies with film director Danny Boyle, he of Slumdog Millionaire fame, in charge, her job has been made even more challenging.

“It is amazing working with Danny, but he doesn’t work like other film directors where you know who is going to be in the forefront of a shot. His work is much more organic, so everyone has to be made up the same. It’s going to be a massive job.”

Melanie moved to London at the beginning of July and will be there until September 11 when the Paralympics finish – something she struggled to tell her two sons Ryan, eight and Finlay, six.

“After Whitechapel, I promised Ryan and Finlay that I wouldn’t work this summer, but there was no way I could turn the Olympics down. I have had to make a lot of compromises.”

Last year’s compromise was a trip to Disney World in Florida for her two boys and while she has secured them tickets for the taekwondo, Melanie isn’t sure how she is going to top that.

“They are very good about me working away. I love living in Yorkshire, but in the television and film industry a lot of work is in London and so that does mean I have to be away quite a lot. I am lucky that I have a very supportive husband and family.

“When I’m down there I normally share a flat with a friend, but as I’d decided I wasn’t working this summer we’d already let it out for £9,000 during the Games. Then suddenly I needed it but I have managed to find friends to stay with,” says Melanie, who started out working in a Huddersfield hair salon at the age of 12.

“All I was ever interested in was hair and make up, but my mum persuaded me to go to university where I studied law and business studies and so the hair and make up became a hobby.”

After she graduated Melanie found herself spending so much time on her hobby that she retrained at night school and followed her vocation. And she has never looked back.

The Riggs Family: Gamemakers, Harrogate

The Olympics are something of an obsession for the Riggs family from Harrogate.

They are one of only two families in the UK to be volunteers during London 2012, but their love affair with the Games goes back a lot further. In 2000, John and his wife Anne decided to take their three daughters, Martha, Josephine and Harriet to visit Anne’s sister in Australia at the same time as the Sydney Olympics were getting underway.

“The girls were only eight, 10 and 12 at the time and it was a big trip,” says John. “We got to go to quite a few events and we were there on Magic Monday when Jonathan Edwards won the triple jump. We also saw Steve Redgrave in the rowing.”

It is little surprise that they were bitten by the Olympic bug, but it wasn’t just the prowess of the athletes which impressed them.

“Sydney had a real affect on us,” explains John. “Not just the athletes, but the volunteers. They were so impressive, it was like you were staying in their home, they took such pride in what they were doing and made you feel so welcome.”

Four years later the family were off again, this time to Beijing.

“We just decided to go for it,” says John. “It was then that we thought about volunteering for London 2012. We worked out that the girls would be just finishing university and we would hopefully be working part-time so we all applied to be Gamesmakers.”

A Gamesmaker can do anything from giving visitors directions and handing out security passes to providing medical support and travelling with the torch. John and Anne will be working as team leaders at the Olympic Park, where Martha, 20, and Josephine, 23, will also be volunteering, while keen tennis player Harriet, 25, will be at Wimbledon.

Anne also has the job of masterminding the logistics of getting the family to different parts of London for the various shifts, many which start at 5.45am.

“You cannot overestimate the importance of the 70,000 volunteers. While the sport can be hit and miss people will remember the welcome they are given,” says John.

The family have been travelling to London for regular training sessions over the last few months and being a volunteer is a big commitment both in terms of time and money.

“But it is going to be worth it,” says John. “It’s like all things; you make a decision and then you go for it.”

Dr Phil O’Connor: Consultant musculoskeletal radiologist, Chapel Allerton Hospital

Dr Phil O’Connor has been preparing for his role in the London 2012 Olympics for longer than many of the athletes.

He started his preparations in 2005 soon after it was announced London’s bid had been successful, when he applied to lead the medical team responsible for offering imaging services to the 20,000 athletes.

Having headed similar teams at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester and the World Indoor Athletics Championships in Birmingham, Dr O’Connor, who is normally based at Chapel Allerton radiology service, was favourite for the job.

He will lead a team of more than 200 people including 80 radiologists, 130 radiographers and about 80 radiographic assistances who will diagnose and help treat sports injuries during the Games.

Dr O’Connor expects his team to carry out more than 600 MRI scans over the 13 days of the Olympics on state-of-the-art equipment costing £6m.

He has been based in the athletes’ village since June 16 and despite possibly treating some of the world’s top athletes he will not see any of them compete.

“It is a great honour to be involved in the Olympics and it will be an amazing atmosphere in the Athletes’ Village but we have access to the Olympic Park. There are also no live broadcasts into the village so we won’t get to see much of it, but that doesn’t matter.”

A lot of training has gone into ensuring staff remain professional at all times and don’t get star struck.

“The athletes are here to do a job and so are we. The team are used to handling high-profile patients and they know they can’t ask for autographs or have their picture taken with the athletes. They also get training in how to communicate with the athletes. Many of then are highly strung individuals and you have to be quite careful what you say. It’s really important to treat it like your day job, and try to forget who you are dealing with.”

The imaging centre is part of major medical facility that also includes an accident and emergency department, anti-doping facility, treatment rooms, physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, sports massage and dental and opthalmology units.

For the last few weeks Dr O’Connor has been involved in recruiting volunteers, purchasing and supervising equipment and organising the teams which are sent out to the other Olympic venues. But when the Games get started he will become very hands on working from 7am to 11pm.

“Obviously all the athletes are looking for a normal scan. These guys are at the peak of their career and the chances of them getting stress fractures is as high as it is ever going to be. An abnormal scan can mean the end of their Games or worse.”

After the Olympics are over Dr O’Connor will remain in London for a few days to ensure all the information on his hi-tech machines has been erased.

“All the equipment is being sold on, so we don’t want to leave Usain’s Bolt’s MRI scan on there.”

Kate Ashford: Gamemaker, Leeds

For event management student Kate Ashford, being accepted as a Gamemaker wasn’t the biggest hurdle. For Kate, who will be working at the wheelchair tennis during the Paralympics, it was finding somewhere affordable to stay.

“I got talking to a few people at the training sessions and they said they were paying up to £5,000 for 10 nights sleeping on someone’s couch,” says Kate, 23, from north Leeds.

“There was no way I could afford that and I was worried that I might not be able to do it. Then someone else mentioned that they were camping. It is costing me £10 a night and I am two tube stops away from the venue.”

Camping at the Games has teamed up with local sports and community clubs to offer affordable pitches to volunteers at the Games.

“I have only ever camped a couple of time before so I am a little worried, especially about the weather,” says Kate, who has borrowed a tent from her uncle. “But I am hoping that it will be very sociable and I’ll meet some new people.”

Kate volunteered as far back as 2010 and is hopeful having Gamesmaker on her CV will help her career.

“It will look great on my CV and hopefully be of benefit in my future career. I also wanted to be involved in the Olympics for personal reasons, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I feel honoured to be a part of it.”