It was ‘mind-blowing’, says Callum

Callum Airlie was one of seven young athletes asked to light the Olympic cauldron after the torch was carried into the stadium by Sir Steven Redgrave.
Callum Airlie was one of seven young athletes asked to light the Olympic cauldron after the torch was carried into the stadium by Sir Steven Redgrave.

A YOUNG Berwickshire sailor has revealed the background to the best kept secret of the London Olympics so far.

Callum Airlie, of Westruther near Gordon, played a central part in the opening ceremony by being given the honour of lighting the Olympic cauldron on what was a 17th birthday he will never forget.

But he almost turned down the opportunity of a lifetime because organisers were so secretive about why he was being invited to London.

The Earlston High School pupil was nominated to help light the Olympic cauldron along with six other future medal hopes, by illustrious past Olympians.

Callum, who joins a list of cauldron lighters that includes the likes of Muhammad Ali, Michel Platini and Cathy Freeman, received a phone call from Shirley Robertson, a fellow Scottish sailor and double gold medallist.

He revealed: “In itself, that was incredible. She said, ‘You have got this opportunity, you don’t want to miss it.’ That was when I started thinking this could be something big.

“The first thing I managed to say was, ‘I’m meant to be in training’, but Shirley was sure we could make it work. I thought, wow, this is...” and he tails off, still unable to find the words.

The identity of the cauldron-lighter was a well-kept secret,with many predicting that Sir Steven Redgrave would be given the honour. Several bookmakers are refunding bets because the outcome was impossible to predict.

Julie Robson, Callum’s mother, was one of the few people let in on the surprise. She had to be told, because Callum is under 18. “We went down to London on the Friday,” she said, “and from then on it was all secrecy, and silence and rehearsals.

“There was absolutely no way we could say that Callum was in the opening ceremony.

“We got to London and went straight into a meeting with Danny Boyle. He started explaining his vision and I was present as the seven kids realised what they were going to do.

“They started to glow and shake. They were beaming. Callum had to sit on his hands, he was that excited.”

Callum added: “There was silence while we took it in. “Danny was an absolutely fantastic guy, really funny and friendly, while preparing for this huge, once in a lifetime event.

“Then we were whisked off into rehearsals and very soon we were all thinking, ‘This next time it’s for real.’ It was mind-blowing, it didn’t really seem to happen at normal life speed.”

“Of course there was no way I could tell anybody. In the end I just sent a text, saying ‘you’re going to want to watch this.’

This meant that Callum’s dad, Iain, only realised the role his son was playing when the seven youngsters paraded the torch.

Iain is part of the results team at the sailing events in Weymouth, and he was watching the TV on the beach there when his son appeared before a global audience of nearly a billion people.

“I got a text from him,” said Julie, “that just read ‘Wow. Gobsmacked. Really didn’t expect that at all!” Taken aback by the

the enormity of the moment, Robertson “had a tear in her eye” when passing the torch on to Callum.

She said: “We want them to do well and it’s a great honour for them. Callum is one of our incredible talents. It felt very symbolic, actually. When we passed over the torch I had a tear in my eye. We were passing our ambitions to future Olympic hopefuls.”

Callum is more modest about why he was nominated. He said: “Shirley didn’t tell me why she nominated me and I didn’t really want to ask. It’s an incredible compliment. All seven of us were thinking, ‘Why us? What makes us special?’”

He never let the occasion distract him from his sailing. Having slipped away during rehearsals to train on the Austrian lakes ahead of the World Championships this week, Callum was headed back to the continent on another flight just six hours after the opening ceremony ended.

He feels the ceremony created a special bond between the seven young sports people, all of whom are aiming to compete at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

“We very quickly became really good friends, because we shared this massive secret, and I think we will be friends for life, now,” he said. “I still haven’t got my head around it yet. It’s such a huge honour to be asked to do this. Shaking hands with all these famous people! It was incredible to hear all their medal stories from previous games.

“It’s definitely spurred me on. Hopefully the next time I’m at the Olympics, it’s to compete.

“Any doubts I may have had have completely vanished. We could all just feel the Olympic spirit welling up in us.”