British Ambassador Mum On Olympic Opener Renee Montagne interviews Sir Peter Westmacott, Britain's ambassador to the U.S., ahead of tomorrow's opening ceremonies for London's Summer Games.

British Ambassador Mum On Olympic Opener

British Ambassador Mum On Olympic Opener

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Renee Montagne interviews Sir Peter Westmacott, Britain's ambassador to the U.S., ahead of tomorrow's opening ceremonies for London's Summer Games.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

Billions of people around the world are expected to be watching the Olympics opening ceremonies tomorrow. As we'll hear in a moment, for the first time many will be seeing the big event on small mobile devices.

MONTAGNE: And in London, a record number of Olympic-bound travelers are arriving into Heathrow Airport in record numbers. After seven years of planning, $14 billion spent, the big event is nearly here. And remarkably, after weeks of pouring rain, the sun is shining down on the Olympics.

For a British perspective, we invited into our studio the British Ambassador to the U.S., Sir Peter Westmacott. Good morning. And thanks for joining us.

AMBASSADOR PETER WESTMACOTT: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

MONTAGNE: Let's start with the opening ceremony, which is set for tomorrow, designed by the film director Danny Boyle - probably best known here in America for his hit movie "Slumdog Millionaire." And so far what Danny Boyle has planned for the all-important opening ceremony has been kept really secret. About all we know is there'll be lots of real grass and some, I think, sheep. And I guess the breaking news is that David Beckham will be part of the ceremony. But he won't say what exactly he's going to do. So, what do you know? Come on, you're the ambassador.

WESTMACOTT: Well, I'm the ambassador, but I don't have all those details. I've heard about David Beckham. I've heard about this and that. But it is genuinely under wraps.

MONTAGNE: Well, how much compared to the last amazing spectacle that was put on in Beijing, how much do you think this opening ceremony will be a kind of spectacle?

WESTMACOTT: Well, this will be a spectacle. It won't be the same thing as Beijing. They did their thing. We are doing ours at a time when we're very conscious that the economy is difficult and we're living in times of austerity. We are conscious that the eyes of the world will be on us. But do not compare it to Beijing. It'll be very different. It'll be very British.

MONTAGNE: You know, one thing that's not to be considered lightly is security for the games. In recent days, we've heard that the private company contracted to take care of security fell far short of what was needed. How could it be that this just came out?

WESTMACOTT: Well, we'd had a very good run of very good news. We were on time. We were under budget. We were (unintelligible). But then we had this story which broke and which, of course, British media enjoy a very, very free press environment. And so everybody went to town on that. But I think that all this has now been dealt with.

Yes, there was an issue. The British army has stepped in. The fact that we're going to have soldiers in their uniforms at key places I think will be very reassuring to people. And so, let's focus on the games themselves and the opportunity this gives so many people to show they really are the world's best and to break all those records.

MONTAGNE: Well, I have to say, it's good news that the security has been handled, but it's bad news apparently for a fair number of Londoners who are - what's the word - whinging, that's the sort of British...

WESTMACOTT: Whinging is an important word in the English vocabulary.


MONTAGNE: Whinging, complaining, moaning and groaning about how much security there is. In fact, we have a clip from a London cab driver.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: There's many parts of the route that we can't stop on the left, so we can't pick up on the left, we can't set down on the left. So it's just going to prevent us from doing our job and going about our legitimate business.

MONTAGNE: But is there a point? I mean, pity the poor Londoner?

WESTMACOTT: Well, you know, when you've got an operation of this size, then there is going to be a bit of inconvenience. We're all used to complaining, but we're also used to getting stuck in when the going gets tough in London. We've had a lot of experience in that over the centuries. And I'm confident that when the games begin the excitement of the event will take over.

MONTAGNE: Let's just look way ahead down the road. The legacy of summer games has been often that the venues and the money poured in has no great value later. It's so common. There's a word, Olympic hangover. Give an example of something that will be extremely useful two years down the road.

WESTMACOTT: Well, one example is, of course, that we have upgraded the aging underground infrastructure, so the public transport is going to be better. But if you take the accommodation, what we're going to have when the games are over is 11,000 new housing units, of which 3,500 are going to be affordable housing. The stadium and so on, all those are going to be used for sporting events in the years to come.

So in the longer term, we believe that this is an opportunity for people to look at the U.K. as a place which is a pretty remarkable country to live, to study, to have wonderful broader experiences, not just the sports but lots of the other things that our country and our civilization has got to offer.

MONTAGNE: Mr. Ambassador, thanks for joining us.

WESTMACOTT: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Sir Peter Westmacott is the British Ambassador to the United States.

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