There are people in this world who possess an innate sense of the theatrical — and then there’s my friend Adam Wildi. Theatrical people strike attitudes and make entrances; they cannot see a situation without making a stage of it — then occupying its centre. Clothes are their costumes, furnishings their scenery, other people their supporting cast and their conscience their understudy. But for Adam the very world itself is a stand-in for a provincial playhouse; hills and rivers are his scenery; humungous stadia his “flattage”. His casts run into thousands — his audiences into billions. He must consider the wind, the sun and the moon when it comes to contriving his son et lumiere effects.
For Adam is the technical director for some of the world’s biggest celebratory events. Last year he was responsible for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Athens Olympic Games; he is currently involved in a bid to do the same job for Beijing in 2008. In 1997 he was the presiding spirit for the theatrics which announced the handover of Hong Kong to the Chinese, and in between he spends his time dealing with the small change of global drama, the G8s and other international summits which constitute the marketing plan for the world’s kleptocracies.
Adam’s professional illness is a kind of mega-theatricality — he cannot see a city without wondering how it would look tidied up, revitalised, lit and mic’ed, then refracted through the lenses of an thousand thousand television cameras. He goes away and lies on beaches, only to be haunted by the delayed echo of ghostly tannoys in his inner ear, and the play of searchlights on the cloud scape. Adam is Oz, manipulating levers and buttons from behind a curtain, while out front we see the mighty Prometheus of technical progress fused with physical excellence.
Well, that’s my take on it at any rate — you’ll be reassured to know that Adam’s is both more down to earth and resolutely pragmatic: “When we arrived in Hong Kong to do the handover,” he told me over shredded duck in Soho “I was taken to the site and shown a heap of rubble which had been flogged to a developer. The rain was torrential. I had to climb over a fence to look at it, and then I was up to my neck in water — it was insane!” The same gargantuan scenery problems faced him in Athens: “I pitched up to look at the stadium, I had 700 people on my staff ready to go, and there was no roof on it — no roof at all! Even when we got the roof on the architect — Calatrava Santiago — didn’t want to us hang lighting rigs from it. So far as he was concerned it was a sculptural form rather than a structural necessity. Still,” he muttered into his roast fowl, “he was an amazing man to work with. Astonishingly creative.”
My own take on the olympiad is as jaundiced as George Best’s secondhand liver. I well remember cycling around the defunct remains of the Montreal Olympics in the late 1970s. It was only a lustrum since the Games had taken place, and yet here were crumbling velodromes and weedy rowing lakes. The whole shemozzle had just about bankrupted the city. Adam is, however, an incurable as well as a theatrical meliorist: “It’s true that the Games cost Athens a shit-load of money, and there are now quite a lot of sports facilities they can’t use, but you have to balance that against the city being revolutionised. They built a new airport, eight new metro lines, the pump-priming to the national economy — largely through EU grants — has been phenomenal.”
Adam’s quite as gung-ho about London in 2012. He was responsible for organising the media centre for the G8 summit in Gleneagles, so when the news of London’s successful bid came in he was standing by Tony Blair’s Armani shoulder pad. It was a cruel irony — we agreed — that there was Blair, punching the air, and twelve hours later getting fulsomely punched in the gut by news of the London bombings. Still, Adam was, presumably, already deep in a fugue involving the Lea Valley transforming into a simulacrum of ancient Delphi.
“Look!” he exhorted me, “the world needs its celebrations. It needs the sense of shared purpose that these things provide. Not, you understand,” he continued more sotto, “that I have anything to do with these decisions — I’m just the technical guy. With Athens we did a stop-motion DVD of the whole gig, from when we started work, through the opening ceremony, the Games themselves, the closing ceremony and the breaking of the set. Let me tell you, if you ever feel disposed to doubt the limitlessness of human madness and folly it’s worth taking a look at it fast-forwarding.”
Sadly, Adam, there are no limits to my belief in that limitlessness. None whatsoever.