OLYMPIC CHALLENGE: Paulette Randall, one of the team behind the opening ceremony
AFTER YEARS of preparation and months of build up, London’s big moment finally arrives tomorrow night.
Just in case you weren’t aware, a certain event called the Olympic Games is taking place in the capital this summer and already the excitement is building throughout the country.
The event that will kick off the sporting spectacle, the opening ceremony, will be directed by Oscar winning film director Danny Boyle and it’s expected to draw an estimated global television audience of more than a billion people.
From what we know, the £27million ceremony is set to transform the Olympic Stadium into a massive replica of the British countryside for the 62,000 spectators and the huge worldwide audience.
So you’d forgive members of Boyle’s team if they were a little nervous about the weight of expectation on them to deliver nothing less than an amazing show.
But at least one member of that team is not fazed by any sense of fear.
In fact, throughout her career as one of Britain’s most successful theatre directors and television producers, Paulette Randall has thrived on big challenges.
She is the woman who successfully brought black comedy and drama to mainstream British television audiences in the 1980s and 90s as the producer of hugely popular shows such as Desmond’s, Porkpie and The Real McCoy.
However, never having been one to rest on her laurels, Randall is relishing her new role as associate producer of the Olympic opening ceremony.
A role we will all have to wait and see just how well she fits because when we met in Brixton over coffee, there’s not much she could say about the actual content of the event. Like the rest of Boyle’s team, she’s been sworn to secrecy.
“It’s killing me!” she exclaims. “I’m the sort of person that even if you know me remotely, I love to talk and I can’t tell anyone about it.” But she says in consolation “If I wanted to make your Christmas or birthday really special, I couldn’t tell you what I was going to buy you.”
The opening ceremony will be a far cry from anything she’s been involved with before. For a start, the sheer scale of it is a mammoth hurdle. Plus the fact that the cast will be made up of thousands of volunteers rather than the relatively small team of professionals she is used to.
Just choreographing these volunteers and achieving the right combination of colour and costume needed to create the kind of visual spectacle that makes these events a success will be no easy feat. What if Boyle and his team (Randall included), don’t quite manage it? Despite the fears, Randall is confident.
“I think we’ll pull it off,” she says. “We’ve got a whole range of people who are different sizes, ages, colours……it’s all there and it is quite a thing to see. I think that is what makes this country and this city so extraordinary, the range of people that are involved. It’s very moving. The challenge is the scale of it. All of us who are involved have put shows on but this is on a scale that none of us have ever experienced. It is daunting but because we’ve never done it we don’t know what we’re afraid of. We haven’t really got time to be scared; we’ve got too much to do,” Randall said.
But with an estimated 10,000 volunteers involved, surely rehearsals are a logistical nightmare?
“We started doing them in small groups of between 200 and 250 people at a time. Then we moved to a car park so we could see the groups in their sections together and then we just kept building up until we could rehearse with groups of up to fifteen hundred people. We’ve been rehearsing everyday for the last few weeks. This is not something that I normally do and thank God there are people on the team who do big stadium shows all the time.”
Although, as she says, this is not something she normally does, it didn’t take long for her to accept the job when it was offered to her.
Boyle, whom she had worked with on theatre projects several years ago, rang her out of the blue and persuaded her to join his creative team.
“Danny called and said ‘I don’t know if you know what I’m doing’. I replied: ‘everybody knows what you’re doing Danny.’ I was completely excited to get the call because I thought I’d be watching it on the telly like everybody else. He invited me to come in and have a chat. I don’t work in film and he hasn’t worked in theatre for a long time but I guess what he was looking for was someone with the skills to crossover to do this thing that neither of us had done before. I joined a creative team which had already been together for a year so I thought there might not be a lot to do, but I was wrong on that. We have a very collective way of working which is lovely. Somebody has to drive those ideas through and that person is Danny but I have been an integral part of the whole process.”
However, there is one major drawback.
“Relentless meetings!” she cries. “I have never been in so many meetings in my life and I will not miss that aspect of it at all in any shape or form! I am one of those people that if I sit down for too long I will sleep and I’m sure there are meetings where I’ve missed vital pieces of information because I’ve been sleeping with my eyes open.”
Fans of her work will agree that it’s her creative spark rather than her love of admin that has made her name.
But her 25- plus-year career as one of Britain’s leading dramatic talents had very unlikely beginnings.
Whilst working on a market stall in the early 80s, unsure about what to do with her life, a friend showed her an advert for a community theatre course at Rose Bruford College, and bet her £5 she wouldn’t apply. For Randall, it was too good an opportunity to miss.
“Back then five pounds was a lot of money” she grins “I thought to myself ‘I could make some money here’ so I applied. But it wasn’t until I’d actually done it that I realised I actually wanted to do it. The course wasn’t just a straightforward acting one. It was Community Theatre Arts, producing theatre for different communities and that sounded more interesting than just being an actor.”
After graduating in 1982, Randall and two fellow students set up their own company called Theatre of Black Women, in response to the lack of roles for black actors at the time. It was a brave move.
“You don’t think about the difficulty of doing something” she says without hesitating. “If it’s a challenge it’s a challenge. It just makes you step up to the plate even more. Coming from a background of knowing that things are not handed to you on a plate as I did makes your perspective different anyway so you expect to fight or work for what you want.”
As we end our chat over coffee, she’s preparing to go to the Olympic Stadium for a pre scheduled meeting.
Even with the huge workload to organise, there is no sign of a Blackberry, personal organiser or any kind of 21st century gadget that most of us take for granted.
“I’ve never tweeted in my life and I just about e-mail,” she confessed unapologetically. “We don’t need to be that readily available to be found. I’m of an age where if your friend said you were going to meet at 7 at the Town Hall, you were there at 7. Or if there was a disaster, there was a proper disaster. It wasn’t because I didn’t have a phone.”
In between outbursts of laughter, I ask her how she will judge whether or not the opening ceremony has been a success.
“It’s a difficult question to answer never having done anything like this before. But if we make people think ‘the Games were awarded to London and they made the right choice’ then we’ll have done it. It puts the Olympic Games on a great platform.”