‘Torch Boy’

Ryan Whelan is a second seat trainee who graduated from the University of Aberdeen. Whilst at University Ryan founded the Aberdeen Law Project, a national award winning law clinic. Here he blogs about running with the Olympic Torch, an honour for which he was selected due to his work in founding and progressing the Project.  What a week it has been.  My week began reviewing contracts in relation to a major wind-farm development, was punctuated by a most enjoyable karaoke night and ended with the experience of running with the Olympic torch.  Just another week as a trainee lawyer at Pinsent Masons then…  I was fortunate enough to be selected by the Bank of Scotland as a Torch Bearer in my hometown of Aberdeen and was one of two Torchbearer stories featured by the Bank, which meant that I was used in press campaigns and taken to Manchester to meet Sir Chris Hoy as he trained at the Velodrome – a terrific experience and one which was met with many an envious glance from my female colleagues. Much of the publicity interviews focused on why I had been selected to carry the Torch and the advice I had received (“don’t drop it”).  My own story was that I set up the Aberdeen Law Project whilst studying at University.  The Project, which is set up as a company, provides legal advice, representation and community outreach programmes throughout the North East of Scotland and is the first law clinic to be founded, operated and led by students.  I remain involved with the Project, sitting upon its Management Board (as the least distinguished member) and speaking on a weekly basis with the students now driving the Project forward.  Having been selected to run with the torch for the work of the project is an absolute honour, particularly as the project’s success is as a result not just of my work, but the work of many others – the students who continue to operate the project, the law faculty who provide counsel and support, the practitioners who supervise and the clients who trust the project with their problems. I therefore, in truth, ran on behalf of the work of many others.It was an unbelievable experience to be selected to run with the Olympic Torch, to be one of 8,000 to carry the flame towards London and the start of the Games.  It’s easy to slip into clichés in relation to the experience and so instead, in true Olympic style, I’ll instead hop, skip and jump into the clichés, each of which I mean wholeheartedly.Running with the flame was quite simply a once in a lifetime experience that I’ll treasure always as a memory.  Being honest, as I always am, to start with I was rather sceptical about the whole Olympic spirit.  Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled to have been selected to run with the Torch, but, like many, I was sceptical as to whether people would turn out.  I had visions of me running along one of Aberdeen’s busiest streets in rush-hour wearing a white-tracksuit flanked by police, watched solely by my family and friends, no doubt in the rain, as commuters looked on bewildered, apathetic at best.  How wrong I was: I more sauntered than ran; it was dry, sunny even; and the commuters were noisily engaged, drowned out only by the cacophony of sound created by the crowds adorning the pavement four, five deep.The day began at 4:30am at the Headquarters of BP in Aberdeen, where there was a celebratory breakfast for the torch, the company’s employees and us, the torchbearers.  Stepping out of BP’s Headquarters just after 7am, there were people everywhere, literally everywhere.  At that point, surrounded by numerous police and outriders, I realised that the Olympic spirit really had made it to Aberdeen.  From the moment the other Torchbearers and I boarded the bus and it started to incrementally creep forward, the noise got louder and the crowds bigger.  The atmosphere on the bus was amazing as we laughed, joked and waved at the assembled masses on our way towards each of our respective drop-off points.I’m not sure if you’ll know, but the procession works in such a way that the Torchbearers are dropped off ahead of the motorcade and stand at the side of the road with their torch for between 4-6 minutes as they await the previous Torchbearer approaching them for the “kiss” (the term used to signify the passing of the flame from one Torchbearer to another… the potential for an easy but awkward mistake wasn’t lost on me…)  The noise as I got off the bus was deafening and the people so enthusiastic.  People I’d never met before embraced me warmly, knew why I’d been selected and congratulated me.  It really was remarkable.  As I awaited the flame, posing for photographs with friends, family and the many people who had turned out to see the motorcade pass, that’s when the magnitude of the occasion hit me. Then it was my turn.As I took the flame, the crowd erupted, my mum cried and off I went with my security entourage.  It was my time to run/jog/saunter with the flame. I loved it.  Gone were the nerves and the self-awareness, I fully entered into the spirit of things and waved and smiled at everyone I passed.  Then it was over in what felt like an instant, albeit an instant in which I was all too aware of every step, the advice at the back of my mind ever present: do not drop it!  Thankfully, I neither dropped it, nor failed to smile from ear to ear throughout (much to the delight of my parents who were “capturing the moment”) – I in fact excelled myself, managing even to high five Bryan Burnett, the Radio Scotland DJ, to whom I passed the flame, before re-joining the Torchbearer’s bus in the motorcade.    By the time I returned to PM Towers, Olympics fever had well and truly arrived.  Such was the appetite amongst staff to see the Torch upon my return to the office that Fraser McMillan, Head of the Glasgow Office, and Kirk Murdoch, Chair of Pinsent Masons in Scotland, emailed to suggest that I go on a mini-tour of the firm’s Scottish and Northern Irish offices.  I of course replied at once, accepting the invitation and proposing that our Shanghai, Beijing and Dubai offices may also be pleased to see me and the torch.  I never did receive a reply to that email, but off I went to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and Belfast before returning to Glasgow (my current base office), safe in the knowledge that they’ll definitely be arranging something special to commemorate the first anniversary of my having run with the torch (12 June Fraser/Kirk, if you’re reading this…)  The mini-tour was a great success, not least because of the VIP treatment you receive when travelling by air with the Olympic torch (priority through security, first to board the plane, meeting the Captain in the cockpit and photos with the crew are just some of the perks), but primarily the success stems from the fact we raised over £800.00 for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, a wonderful charity which grants wishes to children suffering from life-threatening conditions.So, to sum up, carrying the flame was both a terrific experience and a great honour, but as with everything in life, there can be unexpected effects.  For me, that has been being re-named “Torch Boy” by some of my “witty”, though unimaginative colleagues.  Still, there are worse nicknames – as the perpetrators now know. Plus, the Torch and accompanying nickname has ensured that I’m sorted for the next impromptu karaoke night, no more Michael Buble for me.  It’s time to give the people what they want.  It’s time for a “torch song” (a torch song being a sentimental love song, who knew?!): “relight my fire” by Take That, complete with Olympic Torch prop, will do just nicely, thank you very much!Anyway, enough of my wittering. I hope you enjoy the Olympics.All the best, Ryan