... Suddenly I was standing in a car park, pretty much alone, holding the Olympic Torch. Only the media truck for company. What on earth is going on?! That’s when things started to get really bizarre.
The Mayor came over to introduce herself, have a photo taken, and off she went. Then a mother with her child was walking through, clearly unaware that the torch was there at the exact moment. The child was so excited, and he had a tiny replica of the Torch, so we swapped – me with his child-size one, him with the proper one.
Then Tessa Jowell appeared. She’d been supportive of the new campaign, but would miss the launch. I was really grateful to her for stopping by. It was the day before the start of the Games she did so much to bring here, but she still had time for me. Nice touch.
Tessa moved out, and I get a tap on the shoulder. Two warm but bone-crunchingly firm handshakes. “We’re your security team”. When you meet them you know you're in safe hands. Then a lantern appears, with a tiny fire inside. “What’s that?” I ask. They smile. “That’s the Olympic Flame.”
It turned out I’d be the first torchbearer after lunch, so rather than being passed the flame from a previous torch, mine would be lit from the ‘overnight’ lantern. The wick was lit, pressed against the side, and suddenly...whooosh...the Torch is alight.
It takes a few minutes to come to terms with it. That’s the Olympic Flame. The actual Olympic Flame. The thing that has spread excitement and pride throughout the country since May. The thing that stands for more that I can put into words. And I’m actually holding it, in my actual hand.
Your hand starts to shake as the cameras start to flash. I turn to my chiselled security companion. “Is this live?” Another smile, “Sure is. Just stand here for a few minutes and we’ll let you know when to move”.
The place was still empty. Literally no-one there other than me, the security team and the media truck. There is only so long you can look at the back of a truck and smile without feeling like a complete fool. A helicopter hovered overhead. I remember thinking to myself “Well then lad, this is the only chance you’ll ever have to wave at a helicopter live on national television, better take it.”
We’re off, out of the car park and onto the road, were the crowds would be waiting... The road was empty. One guy walking his dog. Other than that, completely empty. This is not what we’d been told!
“This is a good pace, keep it going like this” I hear. from the security guy next to me, but this is turning into a bit of a damp squib. Where are my family and friends?! There is literally no-one here.
Then I approached the corner with Peckham Road, the main road. I could see a few people gathered in the distance. They began to realise the torch was approaching. Cheers. At that point, individual cheers. You could pick out each voice. Approaching the corner. More cheering. 60 yards, 50 yards, 40 yards. You’ve forgotten you’re on TV, and you’re automatically obeying the ‘speed up, slow down’ commands.
30 yards. A bigger cheer, more people, more voices, but this time as one. Then with 20 yards to the corner, it happened. You hear it before you see it, and I won’t ever forget it. An almighty roar swept round the corner and down the road. It blew me away. 10 yards. I saw the first red Beat Blood Cancer t-shirt. Everyone has a camera out. This is madne.........
I reach the corner. I’ve never seen anything like it. Thousands of people, lining the road on either side. Sun beating down, cheers erupting. You don’t have a clue what to do, you just keep going. I’d seen other people wave, so I waved a bit. I felt like an idiot doing it, but I just wanted to soak it all up. I looked into the crowds on either side, saw glimpses of faces I knew. Colleagues, friends. Kids with home made replica torches, waving and cheering. Everybody smiling.
I lose it a bit. Not in terms of crying – I never really felt like that. But all my senses were on overdrive, and my emotions were heightened to a completely new level. It’s so hard to sum up. Seeing thousands of faces I didn’t know, so full of joy because of what I was holding. Seeing hundreds of faces I did – some of them from Peckham, some of them from Manchester, colleagues old and new, some people who had run, cycled or swum with me to this point, made banners and blown whistles – and how much it meant to them. All wearing the beat blood cancer red, united in one purpose and, for that one incredible moment, at the centre of everything.
The noise is deafening. It’s a complete wall, with the occasional “Yes Goggins!”, “Go on Goghead!” getting through.
Then I see my family. Well, I see the bodies of my family, but a whole load of oversized versions of my own face. My sister Theresa, architect of the infamous Glastonbury inflatable saxophone tribute to Clarence ‘Big Man’ Clemons, had outdone herself by organising a range of Dom’s Face cardboard cut outs, which now peered back at me from the masses. It’s a most unnerving feeling – looking back at yourself, in a crowd of thousands all cheering for you, live on the BBC, with the Olympic Flame in your hand. Drink this in.
Then it all just flooded in. All these wonderful, incredible people, who have been there all the way through the challenges I’d set myself and the journey that had led here. They’re all here again. Why me? Why am I so lucky? I will never be able to answer that question.
Then, in a flash, it’s over. You’ve kissed torches with the next person, they’re off and you’re back on the bus. You can’t say hello to anyway, it’s just...well...it’s over. All you can do is wave, and wait for your fellow torchbearers to go through exactly the same. This Narnia is a strange place, but it's the best place I've ever been.
I remember the small details. The human things. I can’t describe the awe, but I can remember the real things. In the car park, I remember wondering if my Nan could see me. She was watching at home, having a champagne lunch with my Aunt Nora. I remember thinking “I hope that dog doesn’t come after me”, when I first got out of the car park. I’m a bit scared of dogs. I remember seeing Greg and Jack, no shirts on, shouting their heads off, and my colleagues Armelle and Katy jumping out in the road with a big homemade sign. I remember seeing Michelle, my wonderful housemate, and my Dad wearing my face. I remember seeing Ben Kind, and putting my thumb up before punching the air. And little Freddie, my friends' baby son, in his ‘Team Goggins’ t-shirt. I remember my lip quivering when I handed over the flame. Not because I was crying, or about to, but because I was so happy that my smile had reached its elastic limit. I remember wondering whether people would be able to tell.
Above all I remember the love. Love of what I was doing, of the people I was sharing it with – even those I’d never met. Their love for me. Love of my friend Steven, who all of it was for. Love of the charity that, through his death, have become such a big part of my life. Love of his parents, and his brother. Of my own, and my sister. Love of the Games. Love of energy, and daring, and ambition, and trying your best without any idea of what success is, let alone whether you’ll achieve anything. Love of the journey. And of life.
“There’s love enough to light the street, 'cause everybody’s here.”
Then we were dropped off back at the Academy. We took some photos and video, and I remember having exactly 90 seconds to myself. 90 seconds to flick the switch between that wonderful moment and everything that had gone into it, and what was about to happen next...