The city of London won the honour to host the 30th Olympiad on the 6th of July 2005. My husband Rob knowing I had already volunteered at the Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002, read my mind when he said “you’ll want to get involved I suppose”. So the next morning (7/7) he registered my volunteer interest online, whilst I travelled on an early morning National Express bus to London, with the intention of seeing the matinee of Billy Elliot the Musical. The bus was late running by an hour but I was not unduly concerned, as I had given myself plenty of time between arriving in London and the start of the show. However, I never got to see Billy that day, as the 7th of July 2005 would become synonymous with multiple bombings occurring around the city. News of these terrible events began filtering through (via text and mobile phone messages) to people on the coach with me. We travelled as far as Luton airport before our driver was instructed to stop and turn back. He was a bit shaken up because he realised that had he not been late running, he would have been driving through an area affected by the bombings and probably diverted as a result. He knew the diversion could well have taken him past Russell Square, at about the time of the bus bomb! So he wasn’t in any mood to go on but London had effectively shut down for the remainder of the day anyway. Many if not all the theatres closed for business, including the Victoria Palace showing Billy Elliot.
For both Rob and I the news of the bus bomb at Russell Square was particularly unnerving. We know that area very well, as the “cheap and cheerful” County Hotel we used regularly is almost next door to the British Medical Association building, where the bus bomb had detonated. We were due to stay at The County on the evening of 7th July because of my theatre plans and Rob was due to give a seminar the next morning. Of course we never got to the hotel as I didn’t reach my destination, and Rob could not physically get to London by public transport on the evening of 7/7. But undeterred Rob was on the 0711 train from Crewe to London on the 8th to give his talk at the Royal Institution later that morning.
On the evening of August 2nd 2005 I did eventually see Billy Elliot the musical, and it was wonderful. Having read about Rob Lowe doing “A Few Good Men” at the Theatre Royal Haymarket during the autumn, I secured my ticket for a 20th September show the next day. I later read in a newspaper interview that Rob Lowe had been finalising his plans for travelling to London when news of the bombings had broken. He could have backed out of doing the show, but stated that had he done so “the bad guys would have won. The way to beat them is to carry on”. I couldn’t have agreed more.
As I reflect on the events of ten years ago it is a sobering thought to know that had my National Express bus NOT been delayed by an hour, I may well have been caught up in the middle of the atrocities. I should have been dropping off my over-night bag at the County Hotel around the time of the bus-bomb! Talking of my “near miss” with an old school teacher friend a couple of months later, I discovered her son’s partner had been on a tube train just a minute behind one that had been blown up. Mrs Mitchell emotionally remarked “to think I may have known two people involved in those awful atrocities”. Thankfully that hour and that minute made all the difference.
I did get to be a Gamesmaker for the London 2012 Olympics and I’m happy to report that my friend’s son married his partner and they have two lovely children now. But I know that none of us touched by the events of 7/7 will never forget those 52 souls lost on that summer’s day. There but by the grace of God go I……