Norfolk man takes part in Olympics ceremony after motor neurone disease diagnosis
06:30 01 August 2012
It began as a way of getting inside the Olympic stadium after David O’Neale was unable to get a ticket for the London 2012 games.
But the opening ceremony of the Olympics took on extra meaning for the musician and history writer after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease shortly after securing a volunteer role in Danny Boyle’s spectacular show.
Mr O’Neale, who lives in Bridgham, near Thetford, spoke of his pride at taking part in the opening ceremony on Friday after months of secret rehearsals.
The 57-year-old, who gave up his role as conductor of the Bridgham and Harling Band earlier this year because of his condition, played a smelter in the industrial revolution part of the ceremony where the Olympic rings were cast.
Mr O’Neale, who works for Norfolk County Council’s music services, said he was more determined to take part in the opening show after being diagnosed with the neurological disease in March, which has already affected his speech and movement.
He added that he also wanted to represent his family at the London Games because in 1908 his grandfather’s cousin, Dorothea Lambert Chambers (nee Douglass) won the Olympic gold medal for tennis.
“Originally I decided to get involved in the opening ceremony because I could not get a ticket to the Olympic stadium and in a funny sort of way I wanted to represent the family and I had hoped to get tickets for the tennis. I can still walk, with a limp, and I can still drive and there will come a point where I will not be able to and this is the time to do anything I can,” he said.
Mr O’Neale, who was on stage for about 15 minutes, said he had been sworn to secrecy over his participation in the show. He was allowed to keep his costume and was given a programme and a certificate signed by Danny Boyle for his involvement.
“From my point of view it was a life-affirming opportunity. I am used to performing and we had practised it so often, we were not nervous and we did what we always did and I did not know that Kenneth Branagh was walking amongst us. The whole experience has been totally inclusive and it was wonderful that I was able to take part.”
“The camaraderie was so great and no one moaned and everyone just enjoyed being part of the greatest show on earth,” he added.
Mr O’Neale also had the opportunity to speak to the Oscar winning director of the show during rehearsals and gave him a copy of Village Life The story of Bridgham in Norfolk, which he said represented Danny Boyle’s opening part of the ceremony ‘Green and Pleasant Land’.
He also gave a copy of Lest We Forget, a 2006 book written by Mr O’Neale about Bridgham and Roudham during to the Great War, to three young men who were playing first world war soldiers in the Olympic opening ceremony.