Yesterday was the first day of official Olympic London 2012 arrivals and it reminded me of one of the most exciting and interesting things that I have done this year. And it took place only an hour or so from London: I attended the first day of the Henley Royal Regatta, as a guest of Gant, who are the sponsors of the Leander, the rowing club which holds the annual Regatta, and which has the most Olympic medals of any sporting club in the world.
What I had failed to comprehend before I arrived was that this meant our small group would be seated at lunch in the Eton Room at the Leander with Sir Matthew Pinsent. You could have knocked me down with the proverbial feather: forget fashion designers, I got to spend the whole three courses sitting next to our of our greatest living Olympians. (Arguably one of our greatest Olympians EVER.) Before he retired, he won 10 World Championship gold medals and FOUR CONSECUTIVE Olympic gold medals, (three were with Sir Steve Redgrave).
Not only does he have immaculate manners and buckets of charm (he talked with huge affection about his wife and family), he’s a brilliant conversationalist: ask him a question, any question, and it’s like winding up a clockwork mouse as he off he goes with stories. I mentioned Rio, and he spent the next thirty minutes telling us all about the filming he’s been doing around the world, making a series of films called World Olympic Dreams for the BBC about potential Olympians in far flung places, to highlight the importance of sport to other nations.
Not only has he been filming in Rio, but IN places that it would possibly never occur to us that might be producing Olympians. For instance, who knew that Tae Kwon Do was a major sport to the Afghanis? We heard all about his visit to Kabul to find out more, as well as what it’s like filming a rower at the Baghdad Rowing Club. (Check out his BBC Kabul film here.)
And to cap the whole thing, just to put the cherry on the icing of my Henley cake, Matt then took me & the lovely Giorgina from GQ out on the Henley umpire’s boat whilst he umpired a race.
It may have been p*issing with rain, but with the the aid of a stylish pacamac, our spirits remained undaunted.
A huge thank you to Gant for a most extraordinary day. (And to Boden for the lovely frock: it’s not easy finding a pretty summer dress that falls well below the knee. Henley has the most insane dress regulations for the 21st century. Forget Royal Ascot, these are something else.)