9.6 miles (Total 2914.2 miles) 19,200 steps (Total 6,487,401 steps)
One of the most memorable sayings I picked up from the walk was from Alice Walpole our redoubtable ambassador in Luxembourg who would quote her life philosophy handed down to her from her mother, ‘It’s not all about you darling’. I loved this phrase because it is such a powerful antidote to the poison of the age which is that ‘It is all about me’. It reminds us and reminded me that morning that the walk wasn’t about me ‘darling’ it was about the Olympic truce which had been before, during and after my inspiration and passion. It is a joy in life to devote yourself to a cause which is greater than yourself, this I had been privileged to do.
To the wisdom of Alice’s mother I would add a philosophy which I discovered with my brother David in the grounds of Corpus Christi College, Oxford about ten years ago. It came in the form of a simple plaque dedicated to the memory of Russell Crockford 1957-1981 which carried the valedictory, ‘He did all he could.’ Initially when we read it we laughed at the pomposity of some don who struggled to sum up the life of a student who was not blessed with a ‘First-class brain’- then as I pondered more the words seemed to rearrange themselves into a powerful challenge of a significance far greater than the ability to assemble facts and weave them into elegant prose in an examination essay. The question that remained was, ‘I’ doing all I could…..
The benefit of seeing yourself as part of something greater than you are is that it removes the pressure to perform which weighs us down in the ‘it’s all about me’ age. The benefit of seeking to simply ‘do’ all I could was that it removes pressure to succeed. Like the Olympics themselves life becomes not about the winning but the taking part and not for narrow selfish ambition but for the glory of the Games. Give of your best and ditch the rest. If that ain’t good enough, well darling , it was never all about you.
I was in contemplative mood as I made my way to Canary Wharf just after 6AM to recommence my walk which finished a few miles short of my target the evening before sue to the decision to return to the House of Lords to vote. The early start was because Ed Staite had issued a Press Notice saying that I would be setting off on the final day at 9AM from The Greenway, close to the Olympic Stadium and there was a possibility that people might turn up. I knew that Gerry Foley of ITV North East was planning to be there and Will Green of The Newcastle Journal, but at the last minute Ed managed to persuade BBC Radio 4’s Today programme to send along the Radio Car for an interview at 8:40AM.
I had selected the location of The Greenway had been selected as the starting point of the final day of the walk so as not to require any permission from LOCOG which I was fairly confident would have been refused. So if you don’t want to hear a negative answer then don’t ask the question. I respect LOCOG’s position of wishing to bury all political aspects of the Games, such as the truce, for security concerns, but I of course disagree with it believing the rediscovering the ancient vision of the Games expressed through the truce would strengthen security not weaken it, but it is rightly their decision, not mine, because it is ultimately their responsibility and not mine.
I had to push hard to make it to Pudding Mill Station for 8:30AM but I made it just although not before getting a few anxious phone calls from Ed to check my whereabouts. I arrived to a coincidence, and that was that Baroness Tanny Grey-Thomspon, a hero of mine who had been very supportive of the walk was getting out of a taxi. We greeted each other warmly before she asked me to forget that I had seen her and disappeared off up the ramp to The Greenway with her usual speed.
I was summoned to the Radio Car, it was now 8:40AM but the preceding items were over-running so I could be squeezed out, being in philosophical mood I was totally relaxed about this, professionally Ed was not, as this was the only national media interest we had. At about 8:55AM we got the green light and John Humphrey’s came on the line, I tried to anticipate his first question: “We’re in the middle of a deep recession and the government is trying to tackle the deficit and undertake major public sector reform and your response id to swan off to Greece on a walk for a year. Isn’t that utterly irresponsible?”
On a day when I would realise the folly of prejudice (pre-judging) John Humphrey’s first question was a fascination with the Olympic truce and followed up with good wishes for the last day of the walk. I emerged from the Radio Car a humbled man and then found Jonathan Edwards, another hero or mine, and a friend who had also been encouraging of the walk since I first discussed it with him on a slow train journey back to Newcastle a year earlier. Jonathan was accompanied by Craig Beaumont the energetic and effective Government Relations Officer for LOCOG whose ear I had bent on many occasions about the truce over the preceding two years.
We walked up the ramp onto The Greenway where we met up again with Tanni Grey-Thompson for a photo call. I was quite amazed, still recovering from a nice and positive interview with Mr Humphrey’s I was now with a LOCOG organised photo-call with Jonathan and Tanni. Craig was at pains to stress that the photo and the press release would focus more on the personal achievement aspect of having walked from Olympia to London rather than on the truce, but I was just very grateful that they had come out and shown their support.
Sam Farmar, who had been with me filming on the first few days of the walk came to capture the final stretch and also there were Gerry Foley and Will Green. There was much fun and banter between us in between the formal interviews. It is perhaps not a shock that those who show up on such an occasion should be friends and well-wishers. Politics is a people business in which relationships formed and tested over many years remain the highway along which we communicate. After being presented with a pair of trainers, about four sizes too small, I set off for Westminster.
I set off in the direction of Limehouse and then down to Wapping. I walked down Prescott Street and the Premier Inn where I used to sty and from which I would walk into Westminster. As I turned onto Tower Bridge i was getting nostalgic. It was also a bit like friends re-united as Helena Kittle, another of the group with whom I went out to start the walk sent a text to say that she was on Tower Bridge and wanted to welcome me back—it was great to see her beaming smile. Sam was filming from all angles with great style and it was all a bit of a flashback to Olympia. We were then joined by my eldest son Matt and by a lady from the Foreign Office PR team who wanted to record a short interview for their web-site on Tower Bridge.
Before I knew it we were losing time significant time as I was due to at Trafalgar Square and the Countdown Clock for the Games at 1PM. I don’t like being late, or rushing, so having to stride out to make Trafalgar Square was not ideal. Xuelin was calling me asking me for an arrival time as she had arranged for a crew from CITV, China’s main tv channel, to interview me there. Everything was getting a bit boxed in. I was to be received by the Lord Speaker at Westminster at 1:30PM prompt. I called and said that I would need to scratch the Trafalgar Square detour and go direct to the House of Lords. I was then told that in addition to the CITV crew a team from the Foreign Office Conflict Group had come out and wanted to meet me and walk down Whitehall will me—this changed the plan back again as the FCO team had been utterly outstanding in their support for the walk and I wasn’t going to let them down and so I arrived to meet them at Trafalgar Square at 1:25PM and after the CITV interview I set off down Whitehall with Andrew Mitchell (FCO, 2012 Head), Conrad Bailey and Neville Jones of the Olympic truce and Conflict teams. I was a bit stressed at being late and keeping the Lord Speaker waiting, but the FCO team had been with me on the journey and I wanted to be with them on the final leg down Whitehall. I had wanted to end the walk at Westminster because this was a political campaign and I am a politician.
From Westminster I was called by my sister Alison who as only she could would gently ask where I was as the Lord Speaker was waiting. I didn’t know what to expect, but I just knew that I wasn’t going to run and I wasn’t going to ditch the FCO team so I apologised and got there at 1:45PM. I had anticipated a more formal handshake for the Lord Speaker, Baroness D’souza and a photo when i arrived at Peers Entrance, but as I approached past St Stephen’s Entrance I could see a crowd gathered whom I assumed were protesters, but as I got closer I saw a banner ‘Welcome Home Michael’ and family and friends waiting along with some colleagues from the House of Lords; Baroness Ann Jenkin, Baroness Trish Morris, Lord Nat Wei and Baroness Tanni-Grey Thompson. Frances D’souza gave me a big hug and I apologised for not being around to vote for her in her election as Lord Speaker, but I had let out a cheer in Albania when the news had come through. John Glen MP, Alison and Xuelin from my support team were there along with it seemed like, my entire family: my two sons, Matt & Alex, mum & dad, sisters, Liz and Al, brother David and his partner Jackie; nephew Daniel, Liz’s husband John Powell and their children Timothy, Benjamin and Ruth, my cousins Stephen and Sarah, Sarah’s husband, Tom Hall and their children Lois and Esther and my friends Sir Peter & Margaret Vardy. They were joined by the entire north east press core: ITV North East News Tonight, Northern Echo, The Journal and Look North.
The homecoming was just perfect everyone who was dear to me was there with the exception of my dear friends Gary Streeter MP (who was at home in Devon recovering from a hip operation) and Rob Parsons (who was on along planned seminar tour of southern Africa) but both had been in contact by text and phone as they had been throughout the walk. I received a generous welcome home message from Boris Johnson and Henry Bellingham MP, the Foreign Office Minister included a very positive quote about the truce in the FCO press release.
As we set off back for pizza and champagne at Xuelin’s home in Pimlico I reflected on the true reality of life that is: When the rubber hits the road, or as is more common in my case, the sh*t hits the fan the people who can be relied on to rally round are family and friends. This, my last day of the walk, was a day to give thanks for them and celebrate with family and friends. To remember that all that is required of us in this life is not to succeed in efforts to see the Olympic truce taken seriously for the first time but simply to have done ‘what I could’ to make it so and finally to remember that in the final analysis ‘it’s not all about you, darling’ it was about the Olympic truce, a concept that three thousand years after its conception is still challenging us to ‘rise above’.