Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Bear Grylls with the Olympic flame.

Blink and you’d have missed it.

In fact, I bet scores of the estimated 40,000 people who lined the banks of the River Tyne for the over-hyped Olympic Torch Relay spectacular missed it when they sneezed, or bent over to pick up their kid’s toy, or turned round to see what the commotion was in the crowd behind them.

I was one of them.

Desperate not to miss out on what was being pitched as a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience by the media, taking place on my doorstep on Friday, I headed to Newcastle’s riverside to watch the world-famous macho man hurl himself 195ft off the Tyne Bridge.

As one of hundreds of chosen torchbearers currently keeping the Olympic flame alight on its 70-day tour of the UK, Bear Grylls (no you’re not the only one struggling to find some link between the TV adventurer and our northern city) – true to adrenaline-junkie form – was to zip wire over the river, clinging tightly hold of the Olympic Torch.

Faced with a giant rippling crowd waving at us from Newcastle Quayside, we decided to stay on the other side of the water. The crowds were sparser, we had better views, the wire precariously hung above our heads with the landing pad just metres away, and it just seemed a whole lot easier.

With 15 minutes to spare, we picked a prime spot and joined the crowd in focussing our phones/ cameras/ video cameras at the distant white dot that, if you used the zoom button you could see was Bear getting into position. Then again, it could have been a bird nesting among the arched iron branches of the bridge, it was that blurry.

Either way, the crowd was poised. Ready to capture the spectacle, a sea of phones and cameras were in position. No-one dared move. So much so that the coaches carrying the torchbearers, their faces bursting with pride as they waved to a wall of backs, eyes fixed the other way, passed by un-noticed.

The 7pm lift-off came and went. Arms grew tired but people persisted, knowing full well that Sod’s Law would come into play as soon as they gave way to the dull ache that was quickly spreading.

At the 7.05pm mark, the growing ache won and people relaxed. Shook out the crick in their necks, let their arms hang heavy by their sides.

But the rest breaks were a minor reprieve, interrupted by a sudden roar erupting from the crowd opposite where there was a big screen capturing Bear’s every move up close, then a frantic rush to return the cameras to their position, at the ready to snap Bear mid-manoeuvre.

This routine grew tiring, and with no indication as to when Bear was actually going to begin his 400 metre feat we were at the mercy of the crying crowd opposite.

And so it was that Sod’s Law kicked in, and just as I thought Bear – the man who has crossed the North Atlantic Ocean in a dinghy and para-motored over the Himalayas, had chickened out of the challenge, a flash of white whizzed down the wire.

As if on cue, the second Bear catapulted himself from the bridge my tired camera slipped into sleep mode, punishing me for keeping it waiting so long. Panic spread like the yoke of a smashed egg.

A quick fumble and I managed to salvage the situation with a stab-in-the-dark shot (yes, the black dot in the corner of the photo is indeed Bear Grylls) but in the brief few seconds it took to compose myself I’d missed the whole thing.

Thanks to the Internet generation, I could, if I wanted to, watch the whole thing again but I won’t. At least I can say I was there.


32 thoughts on “Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Bear Grylls with the Olympic flame.

  1. Too funny — I once read a story many years ago in a magazine about how parents lament the fact that the lived their children’s accomplishments entirely behind a video lens. At least iPhones are slightly less bulky nowadays… 😉

    Fun pix!

  2. You didn’t miss much. I swear they made the torch out of a remnant piece of radiator mesh. And in typical Bear Grylls style he zip lined his way across without a hitch. Though, I have to admit, it did look like fun!

  3. That’s still pretty awesome that you got to be there!!

    When the Olympic torch came through my town 2 years ago, nothing special happened…no Bear Grylls, no death defying stunts – just a guy running with the torch. (I thought the whole thing was way over-hyped as well…haha)

    Great post and congrats on being Freshly Pressed! 🙂

  4. That is too funny, and so typical. I once entertained my small children for far too long on a highway corner, waiting for a glimpse of the Queen as she drove past from the airport to town – after what seemed like hours, the calvacade appeared, zipped by at 60km/h and was gone. Which car was the Queen’s the older child asked? Did she wave? I have no idea. Like the younger one, I was focussed on the motorcycles, and missed the Queen completely.

  5. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. I love this post and I will share it, hope that’s ok? Otherwise why would you blog?

    Like other commentators I have seen the gloved hands of one or two Royals (or at least I assume I have). If there is a crowd you need to be press or have god on your side! But your photo was okaaaay considering!

    Bear Grylls I have only seen dubbed (that might be an adventage, methinks?).He needs the money. We all do. He gets it. We don’t. I don’t hold that against him, really. I just think, “OMG people really believe this sh*t?” I’m sure he’s a nice guy. The world is just too big nowadays I think.

  6. England’s answer to Steve Irwin. Except I’m not sure Steve could’ve handled a stunt like that. At any rate, it’s always great to see the coat hanger being used for something other than traffic!

    Great post. Thanks for sharing!

  7. It’s exciting to witness the Olympic torch relay. In Vancouver where I live, I biked to different points on a day, to see the torch at different destination points. On behalf for the former 2010 Winter Olymics, one of them modes of transportation for our torch relay was by an iconic Canadian-aboriginal way: the birchbark canoe:

    The torch also included a cyclist carrying the torch in 1 hand, while hanging on the handlebar. He is going up a gentle hill:

    Other modes were ice biking, skiing, snowshoeing running, rafting, etc. across Canada. Canada is over 5,000 km. from east to west. It was the best way to involve ordinary/ non-competitive Canadians in the Olympic journey.

    Wishing everyone a safe Olympics!

  8. Thanks for making me laugh 🙂 Great photo captured the action and the story made me feel really sad at the same time for the other unnoticed torchbearers. You’d think he could have taken them out for a drink to make up for it. I was wondering about his connections with Newcastle and can only think the leap was the only idea the council could agree on. The torch is coming our way in July and was thinking to go. The most important thing is that you were there! We were in London for the Diamond Jubilee. Must visit your blog to see what you were doing! Great post, didn’t know you were on Freshly Pressed until I read the other comments. Congratulations!!

  9. So I should be thankful that we only have runners going through our town – at least they’ll be slow enough to capture on film. I bet it looked spectacular on TV. That’s always a major consideration these days.

    Well done for freshly pressed -I’ll investigate your blog further.

    • I couldn’t agree more. I’ve never seen so many police in my life. If you didn’t know, you would have thought the city was under attack.

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