With an anticipated global audience of 1.5 billion the eyes of the world will be on Birmingham 2022. Ahead of the games we chat to Chief Creative Officer Martin Green CBE, mastermind behind the London 2012 opening ceremony, who talks about his love for Birmingham, the opening ceremony, and the lasting impact of the games.
How are you feeling now it’s so close?
Round about this time you kind of leap violently between total excitement and feeling sick to the pit of your stomach! But I look around me and the city looks ready. There are several hundred people behind-the scenes who have spent the last two or three years getting ready for this. Now we just want to deliver for everybody. We feel the weight of responsibility very keenly.
You’ve organised some big events – you were head of the opening/closing ceremonies London 2012 (recruiting Danny Boyle), head of events for the Mayor of London and opening the O2, how does this compare?
There are two halves to it. In some ways you are happy that you’ve got a bit of form in this sort of area, that when a problem arises, because it’s arisen before you know how to fix it, and that’s nice. But the other side is that they are ALL different. They’re all at different times and in different places. That’s where your experience is less valid because it’s about doing the right thing for this place right now. It’s making sure that in this moment, when Birmingham and the West Midlands stand on a global stage, we and the team have done everything right.
What can we expect from the opening ceremony?
It’s a really creative show and I think it will set the tone in a very Brummie way. This is why you have to make sure it’s Brummie’s in charge. Our Creative Director is Iqbal Khan, a great Brummie and a great theatre director, working with Maeve Clarke and Joshua Holness. Iqbal always said that he wanted to welcome the Commonwealth and celebrate Birmingham. Beguilingly simple ideas really, but I think they have been really ambitious. This place is unique, and it has its unique way of seeing the world. Iqbal really wanted to show that.
What have been your personal highlights so far from the whole experience?
The great privilege of my job is to go and live in other places for a decent amount of time. Long enough to actually get to know it, to actually feel part of the furniture. I moved here 3 years ago, and I love living in Birmingham. One of my highlights has been discovering this city, discovering how great it is, how warm everyone is, discovering its complexities, its challenges, and to really work with the creative sector here to help make the work that they want to make. When we opened the festival with The Wondrous Stories show that was all made by people here, it was a piece of spectacle, vastly ambitious, right in the centre of the city, that was a highlight.
People talk a lot about legacy associated with these huge sporting events. What does that mean to you?
I always talk about three things for legacy because it’s a really complicated thing. I start by saying that the Scandinavians call legacy, ‘impact’, which I think is much, much better. My problem with ‘legacy’ is that it seems to refer to the past, that everything happening forwards is only happening because of something that happened in the past. There’s a danger that it gets interpreted as just needing to keep repeating that. It’s not that, it’s about impact and moving forward.
The second really important thing is that legacy is a collective act. It is not one person or one organisation’s responsibility to deliver it. We all go through this experience, whether we are a worker, a volunteer, a resident, a community, part of the organising committee, one of the stakeholders, the council – we all need to find our bit of it to take forward.
After that, it divides into hard and soft options. The soft options are the ones we don’t talk about enough. I always call them the legacy of memory. The confidence that success in this mega event will inspire in the city, the pride in the city, the ambition of the city. The ability of a city to push its shoulders back and lift its head up high and go ‘Yeh, that was us, we did that’ is legacy, and immensely important to any bricks and mortar/finance kind of legacy. Having said that you also need those ‘harder’ options. Sandwell has a brand-new swimming pool, the Alexander Stadium is looking spectacular, the funding that we have put into the Birmingham Festival has allowed many, many artists to make the most ambitious work of their lives and that will get noticed and go forward. Legacy comes from cities going ‘Right we did that, what’s next, what’s the next ambitious, different thing we can do and how does it continue to celebrate us as a young, diverse and creative place?’
Do you think Birmingham will do that?
I hope so. They are going to be looking at other events from around the world that they can bring here. I also think they need to continue to support and grow their own. For example, Birmingham has a claim to be the dance centre of the UK in a way that no other city does. DanceXchange are here, the ballet is here, there are great, young up-and-coming dance groups here. I think having grown the Birmingham International Dance Festival into a really self-owned destination festival, even more than it is already, is a really important thing. I think cities need things they can claim. That’s why I’d also like to a see a great Metal Biennial or something, where we can celebrate our claim to be the home of Metal.
You said earlier that you love living in Birmingham. Obviously, the achievement of pulling together this Commonwealth Games programme is a huge part of that, but what else is there about Birmingham that you love?
The food’s great! There’s Pushkar just over from my office; the St. Pauls House Sunday lunch is fantastic; I had a goat curry in Soho once that was equally fantastic; there’s a fabulous Mexican place in the Jewellery Quarter. There’s not a dud moment when it comes to food in this city. I have to run more in the morning because the food’s so great.
What are your top Birmingham 2022 Festival recommendations during the games and beyond?
The festival sites for the games – Smithfield, Victoria Square, and seven pop-ups around the city. They’re free, they’re going to be really, really good and a great way to access the games.
Any of our festival sport commissions that run throughout the games including Fluitō– a new, interactive outdoor public art installation showcasing the agility and speed of elite swimmers in Sandwell Valley Country Park; Come Bowl With Me – a fun outdoor theatre show about Lawn Bowls and Amaechi – three Birmingham basketball players, three percussionists and an electronic musician performing on the 3X3 practice court at SmithField Festival Site.
PoliNations produced with ‘Unboxed’ – we’re building this vast architectural forest in September in Victoria Square.
The world premiere of the Peaky Blinders ballet by Rambert, at The Hippodrome. That, I think is going to be fantastic.
The continuation of the Creative City Programme. Birmingham City Council has funded 107 community art projects across the whole of the city. Some has been done already, but there’s a lot more to come.
Route 34. a summer season of carnival by the North Birmingham Alliance over the Bank Holiday weekend. I think that is going to be super fun.