DID THE OLYMPICS MAKE YOU FEEL PROUD TO BE BRITISH? Can ‘Isles of Wonder’ replace ‘Our Island Story’?

Danny Boyle set the bar for London 2012 in the opening ceremony and he set it high. Instead of giving us the embarrassing spectacle of a Britain desperate to convince the world that it was still a force to be reckoned with, we were presented with the image of a self-effacing people who embrace change and diversity, and find success when they marry collective effort with individual genius. Could our athletes and Olympic volunteers follow the arc of Boyle’s narrative and deliver an event to make us all proud?

In the following weeks, it was difficult not to be drawn in. After a few nervous days where it seemed that only our reputation as good losers was going to be enhanced, it all began to come together. There was edge-of-your-seat excitement, shout-out-loud triumphs, girlie screams and man-hugs. An unforgettable Saturday evening in the Olympic Stadium provided the nation with a communal experience rare in these days of modern multi-media. As a result, a feeling of national pride swept over the country, so warm that it pushed the rain clouds away.

Yet there were some who struggled with this new-found national pride. People who had never felt such emotions before looked at the massed Union Jacks being waved, heard the constant refrain of ‘God Save the Queen’ and felt decidedly queasy.

The long tradition of internationalism has resulted in the left having a blind spot when confronted with expressions of national identity. Many don’t bother to differentiate between nationalism – wanting self-determination for your country – and patriotism – taking pride in your country. Some even go so far as to be positively patriotic about any country that is opposing Britain at sport or in politics.

This is ironic, given that patriotism, like socialism, comes in many varieties, with nuances that are deliberately ignored by detractors. Up close and personal, individual identity is a many-layered construct in which we choose to define ourselves by those things that make us proud to be part of an imagined community.

Beyond our personal control there exists a meta-narrative, which society seeks to enforce through education, tradition and the promotion of certain values. We in turn define ourselves in relation to this version of our national identity – some embrace it, finding comfort in a sense of belonging, while others reject it completely. The question we might ask ourselves, as we emerge from the warm glow of the Olympics, is whether the euphoria of the past two weeks has caused a seismic shift in the meta-narrative of Britishness?

We have witnessed two distinct forms of patriotism on display this summer. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee required us, as subjects, to be interested in the spectacle of an old married couple standing on the deck of a barge while it slowly proceeded down the Thames in the pouring rain. This was patriotism as duty – we were expected to be respectful for no other reason than Elizabeth Windsor is our monarch. The message being sent was that, while the Queen is on the throne and God is in His heaven, we can be proud to be British.

The patriotism displayed in the Olympic Stadium was much less dutiful. Here we were invited to engage with not only with the members of Team GB, but also with the possibility of their defeat. Her Majesty could be on her throne and God in His heaven, but if Mo Farah got boxed in on the final bend of the race, then our sense of national pride could come crashing down. In that moment, between the all-to-familiar sense of disappointment and the unexpected elation of victory after victory, something shifted.

The shock waves were felt far and wide. Morrissey flew into a rage, denouncing the ‘blustering jingoism’ of the Olympics, his knee-jerk reaction blinding him to the fact that jingoism is defined by its bellicosity and the crowds in the stadia were anything but hostile to foreigners. Peter Hitchens came closer to correctly judging the mood when he complained that the Olympics showed that Britain had forgotten that it was once a monarchist Christian country.

This scale of this change was reflected in Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony, which took the date of the last London Olympics, 1948, as the beginning of modern Britain. It was the year that the NHS was founded – Boyle had his nurses dance in late 40s uniforms. It also saw the first wave of post-war immigration – and there was the Empire Windrush, sailing into the stadium. Harder to express in such a pageant was the fact that, in 1948, the Royal Mint removed the title of Emperor of India from our coinage. From now on George VI would only be D:G:BR:OMN:REX – by Grace of God, King of Britain.

In the years since, although Britain has changed fundamentally, those who have taken it upon themselves to enforce the national meta-narrative have clung ever tighter to a version of events that has come to be known as ‘Our Island Story’. This portrays the British as a people who are white, homogeneous, monarchist and Christian, whose forefathers ruled the greatest empire the world has ever seen – a mind-set neatly symbolised by the Union Jack.

That’s why some felt uneasy when they saw the massed flag-waving in the stadium. Here, before us on the running track, were three good examples of how our society had benefited from multiculturalism, how the collective provision of free education, healthcare had helped these three individuals to achieve their full potential. Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah are the embodiment of the diverse Britain of the 21st century. But where was our symbol of who we think we are?

That question was answered by the athletes themselves – as soon as they won their titles, they reached for the Union Jack. When the BNP raise our flag, they are asking us to share their prejudices which seek to divide our communities. When it is held aloft by a mixed-raced woman, a ginger haired guy and an immigrant named Mohamed in the Olympic Stadium, they are asking us to share in the success of a state-funded, multicultural project that brings people together. And for the millions watching on tv around the world, they are challenging the traditional image of Britishness.

Those who cling to ‘Our Island Story’ have long relied on the fact that we on the left were inept at constructing a counter-narrative capable of uniting the British people in a sense of national pride. Danny Boyle, with his ‘Isles of Wonder’, has provided us with our own founding story and our athletes and Olympic volunteers have offered us a glimpse of who we really are. Can a new spirit of engaged and transformational patriotism emerge from this experience? One that seeks to build a fairer, more inclusive tomorrow, rather than constantly rehashing a narrow vision of the past?

This post-Olympics glow will fade. It will still rain through the summer and the Daily Mail will continue to loudly complain that the glass is half empty, but we now have a positive image of a contemporary Britain and a feeling to go with it. We remain a nation of quirky individuals, but we now know that when we rise together – like the flames of Thomas Heatherwick’s Olympic cauldron – we are capable of creating something unique and impressive. Something that makes us all proud.

41 Responses to “DID THE OLYMPICS MAKE YOU FEEL PROUD TO BE BRITISH? Can ‘Isles of Wonder’ replace ‘Our Island Story’?”

  1. Samuel says:

    His name’s Greg Rutherford, not Andy!

  2. Billy Bragg says:

    Thanks for pointing that out Samuel – I’ve corrected my mistake

  3. Chris Wilkinson says:

    Hi Billy,

    I wasn’t too impressed with the opening ceremony – a sensory overload is easily confused with entertainment, but isn’t actually the same thing. the closing ceremony was terrible though, and descended very quickly and unimaginatively into the now seemingly inevitable pop festival.

    I thought the games were fantastic though, and yes, it did make me feel proud. Crucially, unlike previous flag-waving nonsense, there was actually something to feel proud about. For the first time in my lifetime as far as I can recall, we as a nation celebrated the link between talent, hard work and achievement. What’s more, we celebrated it with the whole world, as part of the whole world.

  4. Steve Sarson says:

    Great post. Love your book too–Progressive Patriot. And your music, of course….

    Here’s my take (as a historian and a sweary person), if you’re interested, on the wonderful opening ceremony: http://stevesarson.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/the-olympic-opening-ceremony-as-popular.html

  5. Very thoughtful and interesting piece. I would solely like to throw in a nod to Frank Cottrell Boyce as writer of the opening ceremony.


  6. Kevin Game says:

    Greg Rutherford, GREG.

    Apart from that, well said :0)

  7. Ian Hall says:

    An excellent article, Billy – as inspirational as the Games themselves! The challenge now is for people to articulate specific public-policy measures that can sustain and enhance the Olympics’ glow.

  8. Andy says:

    Hi Bill.

    Great piece, thanks for posting.

    I must admit, I’d always been terrified of appearing too patriotic because of the NF/BNP connections to the flag etc. Your work (along with the Blue Labour movement) laid the groundwork for me to enjoy the positive patriotism of the Olympics. Let’s hope it’s been a real game-changer for the whole country. Time will tell.


  9. Steve McKenna says:

    Nice piece Billy. I despair when I hear people completely slating the Olympics. Obviously there was some unsavoury aspects (empty seats, a big McDonalds in the Olympic Park). But that Saturday night was one of the most uplifting our country has seen for years, for so many reasons. Whatever you think of the money spent on the Olympics, and the corporate input, the focal point, and headline makers, were ordinary, decent people – of all races and backgrounds – who got where they did through hard graft and their own talent. Inspirational characters. PS. It was Greg, not Andy, Rutherford.

  10. Excellent piece. And it echoes so many conversations I’ve been having over recent weeks, since many of us were ambushed by unexpected feelings of national identity and pride, finding ourselves suddenly, as a friend of mine put it, ‘A nation joyous, sharing, passionate, generous, supportive’. We’re starting to talk now about how we can take that discovery forward, and not let it all just fade away – how we can answer your questions above in the affirmative.

  11. Mark says:

    I’m not sure if those of us on the left are ‘inept’ at producing a counter-narrative or just not as obsessed with propaganda or the need to control as those on the right.

    I felt great pleasure for our athletes who won a medal, more so when I knew a bit of their back story. For example Katherine Grainger’s three previous silver medals made sure I watched her rowing final on the iplayer even though I was at work. But I felt equally pleased for Usain Bolt when he came blistering home first and for Katie Taylor when she deservedly won gold for Ireland.

    I’ve never been proud to be British. Yes the Olympics were great but yes, that glow will fade away. The Jubilee was offensive to me. We are told we’re all in this together and then the royal family sail down the Thames in a gold plated boat. That’s sick.

    The Olympics proved that we are a nation of extremely talented individuals, who, with investment can take on and beat the rest of the world. But we are still a nation run by right wing spivs who’s only interest is making money. The things that would make me proud to be British (our NHS, our public sector, our BBC) are the very things that these spivs are desperately trying to destroy in the name of increased profits for them.

    Instead of a counter-narrative I think we on the left are better at quietly getting on with it. Socialism for me equals sharing, or giving. This is a much better and healthier state of mind than the alternative and will, I believe, win out in the end. But this is a marathon though, not a sprint.

  12. Pat Kane says:

    Here’s hoping Billy. You’d forgive me, tho, for doing a slight slow-handclap as the power of a left-of-centre civic nationalism finally dawns on minds below the Scottish border. You’d think Labour could benefit from this. But we’ll be seeing them lining up with Tories in the Scottish referendum “No” campaign – not only to trash-talk self-determination, but also not supporting a “Devo-Max” option that would herald the federalised Britain which would be the real, substantive political complement to the vision of diversity in Boyle’s ceremony & that great track evening. & not forgetting that this still leaves the obscenity of a renewed Trident in place, as a cross party commitment – whereas independence would surely kill it stone dead – the foul black lining of Union Jack as a big-power symbol. Also worth remembering that “Jerusalem” was ceremony’s theme – like Jez Butterworth play of same name, it may prove a better resource for the “New England” you seek, than a New Britishness. TBC…

  13. Paul says:

    Thanks, Billy. Beautifully written and I hope that one of the many legacies now being debated is how we can all contribute and be part of the progressive, engaged patriotism you so eloquently describe.

  14. Pam Cooke says:

    I’ve always been faintly embarrassed and apologetic to be British (I found the Jubilee celebrations somewhat distasteful – birth vs. personal achievement) .. but for the first time in the best part of 50 years I am proud to be so. I have surprised myself, my family, my friends & neighbours, by displaying a Union Flag outside mt house (albeit it in a hanging basket) but NEVER did I imagine I would do such a thing.

    My daughter is 11 and has not become imbibed with typical British cynicism. Her delight in seeing Team GB doing SO well is a joy and an example I intend to follow.

    I wonder if this is how Americans feel all the time ?

  15. Paul says:

    Outstanding article – thank you for helping me get my head round the nationalism/patriotism issue. I’ve long struggled to explain my concerns with flag-waving to my American wife, but this article nails it. Flag-waving at the Jubilee made me wince. Flag-waving at the Olympics seemed to reflect how rightly proud we all felt about our modern multicultural nation.

  16. Phil says:

    I did find Boyle’s ceremony ironic as he tributed the Jarrow marchers and up the road people were being arrested for protesting the corporate Bread and Circuses that were the Olympics. It’s funny how Glaxo had been fined for fraud to the tune of over a billion and were the “cheat Police”. I guess the theory was it takes one to catch one? I also love London on Lockdown, missiles on roofs and horsey people winning medals in events where only a handful of other teams participated. That is to say nothing of the fact the medals were disproportionately won by public school educated athletes in events normal people could not afford to learn. For every Mo we had an Army captain or a minor royal… Yes, I’m a socialist.

  17. Pete says:

    Great article. Danny Boyle did a great job in wrestling the exclusive ownership of patriotism from the right and reminding us that our country belongs to everyone. The empty seats, the hamfisted attempts to ‘corporatise’ the Games and the politicians trying to bask in the reflected glory of our competitors all highlighted how out of touch politicians and big business have become and how ordinary Britons make this country a great place to live in.
    Above all, it was just wonderful sport and drama. Let’s make the Paralympics a great success and then start reclaiming Great Britain for the vast majority of people and not just a privileged elite.

  18. Ian says:

    I’m proud of British multiculturalism and can understand that people like to watch sport.

    However, I’m not proud of a Britain that decides that it’s okay to spend £1000 per household in order to fulfil the requirements of an International Olympic committee.

    There are a huge number of projects which could benefit from the £ billions that were spent and wasted. All over the country, charities are receiving fewer grants because money was taken to pay for the Olympics.

    The right should be bemoaning the higher taxes you are paying because of it. The left should be bemoaning the reduction of services to ordinary people that are due to it.

    It’s not about encouraging sport in the young – there’s no evidence to show any sustainable increase in sports due to such events. The way to do that is to invest in sports facilities across the country.

    It’s not about regeneration – if the aim was regeneration, then one does a study and decides where to spend the money.

    • What message does it send to remove the speed bumps from roads so that Olympic officials can have a smoother ride in their BMWs?
    • Why do centuries old trees in Greenwich Park have to be hacked down?
    • What sense does it make to build a giant swimming pool (part of which is then demolished) and at the same time be closing down local facilities across London?
    • Why do we have to accept that soft drinks, hamburgers and designer clothes be advertised at an event that we paid for?

    The answer to the above 4 questions – and they’re just examples – is because the IOC says that a country has to do this to get the Olympics.

    The Olympics can still be held without such expenditure, such showing off.

    It just takes for countries to take a stand and make modest, reasonable, proportionate proposals. Of course, the response to that is, “well we wouldn’t have got it”. Well I say, it’s nothing to be proud of just throwing huge amounts of money at something just to make us look better in the eyes of the world.

    That’s why I can’t be proud of a Britain that gets its priorities wrong to such an extent.

  19. Billy Bragg says:


    I’m a socialist too and found the fact that people were protesting up the road to be a fitting affirmation of the progressive traditions that Danny Boyle was evoking in the stadium.

    I agree that missiles on the rooftops was completely over the top, but only 37% of our medal winners were privately educated – which I accept is disproportionate to the 7% of students who attend private schools – but before we make proportionality one of our demands, bear in mind that only 10% of our population are black and minority ethnic, which would exclude a large number of very talented athletes.

    And complaining about ‘horsey people winning medals’ doesn’t sound that different from those who complain about too many black people winning medals. If we expect our fellow citizens to accept black British boxer and gold medal winner Nicola Adams, then surely we should be prepared to accept Charlotte Dujardin, who won gold in dressage on the same day?

  20. Dave King says:

    Hi Bill, As a 50 something i’ve been struggling for some years to be comfortable with this country. Thanks to the Bush/Blair ‘love in’ etc. I thought Boyle managed to nail in a very creative way where we’ve come from and what sort of country we are now. This was then reflected by our athletes and the crowd. Now two weeks on i’m proud to share this country with such people and to those begrudgers in the press: this is who we are now. Deal with it. As an aside I am happy to report that as a family we we’re happy to cheer others special mention : Pakistani mens hockey, Japanese ladies football and of course Jamaican 4/100 relay.

  21. Ian says:

    Everyone seems to have lost the plot.Yes this was corporate inspired.But that was’nt what the millions of people around the world were watching.They came to watch the Athlete’s perform. just like they did in the beginning of the Greek athletes. People who attempt to undermine the British Folks who attended the olympics and the Queens Jubilee went to give there support for something they are extremely proud of and be a member of such a proud nation.

  22. K. Bunny says:

    Oh Billy… whatever happened to “Take Down the Union Jack”?

    I’ll always love your music, but it makes me sad to see your former radicalism eroding like this. What about all the indigenous folks, poor, and disenfranchised people who are displaced all over the world, not to mention the environmental devastation, every time the IOC forces a country to level neighborhoods and wild places to build yet another Olympic complex?

    But then, I’m a Yank, so I guess there are things I’ll never understand about England and love-of-country. Seems to me, though, that flag-waving over an orgy of capitalist profit that happens to allow some otherwise invisible athletes a couple weeks’ spotlight is the same anywhere.

  23. Ian Cowan says:

    Great article, Billy, and glad to see Pat Kane starting to debate what it all meant for Scots contemplating their nationality. Wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cringe at the coverage on ‘Reporting Scotland’ (the BBC’s ‘regional’ news strand), which carefully edited the results just broadcast on the ‘national’ news to tell us how many Scots – yes, even the posh ones – had won medals, an approach happily put into perspective by the more tongue-in-cheek celebration of Yorkshire’s medal count. I thoroughly enjoyed the (whole) UK’s success – both as hosts and participants – and Billy, you have articulated exactly why. I am surely not the only Scot who has been inspired “tae think again” about where we belong in the world.

  24. Billy Bragg says:

    K Bunny,

    The message of ‘Take Down the Union Jack’ was similar to that expressed in this blog in the sense that it calls for the British to move away from our obsession with our imperial past and to embrace our modern multicultural society.

    It’s not so much love of country that leads me to address this issue, more like a determination to marginalise the racist right in their attempts to define Britain as strictly white, monarchist and Christian. I believe that to achieve this, we need to reclaim our national symbols and the sight of white, mixed-race and black British athletes waving our flag at the Olympics gives us the opportunity to make the case for a multicultural Britain.

    If we don’t engage with the racists over the issue of what it means to be British in 21st century and dismiss everyone who waves a flag as a bigot, I worry we will be leaving it to the racists to define who does and who does not belong in our society.

  25. GMac says:

    You really need to figure out why so many Scots – even if it is *only* 40 percent want to leave the British State. Most would have no problems with the anti-racist sentiments you express. Most are also happy to sign up to the idea of genuine “British” multiculturalism. But all the reclaiming stuff about Team GB has been about identity politics. That is fine, but it doesn’t amount to enough. Indy minded Scots are mostly interested in social justice and sovereignty. Why is that less discussed? Also, so much of the discussion could replace Britain with England as the source of all the angst. Remember: neoliberalism is perfectly happy with multiculturalism. It’ll sell to anyone.

  26. Michael Hatfield says:

    Hmmm. I find myself really conflicted over this. I love this country, and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. And I love it BECAUSE of the diversity, the awkwardness, the lack of any real conformity. Like our weather, we’re all over the place, contradictory and unpredicatable. I agree entirely that the Olympics made me proud, the reception non- Brits (like Usain etc) got was unequivocally positive, and a real reflection of admiration for talent. So far I agree with you entirely-let’s take nationalism away from the narrow-minded bigots and racists,and forge a new kind of Isles of Wonder.
    Here’s,my problem..
    We had a stadium (maybe a nation?) singing along with Imagine..” Imagine there’s no countries..nothing to kill and die for..” without a trace of irony. Isn’t the solution to get rid of the idea of countries altogether? And things like the Olympics build up barrieres between countries by saying that some are better than others? And don’t forget, some nations have no chance in some sports because they haven’t the money or resources. So actually the Olympics just reinforces the gap between haves and have nots, even in sport?
    I dunno. In an imperfect world, maybe we just try to make our national pride (in the words of Dexys) a personal pride, and show that we can love our country without abusing others…it’d be a start!! But we can’t ever forget the unfairness of the world. Can we?

  27. Billy Bragg says:


    Not sure about your argument about small nations being disadvantaged – where else could Jamaica humble the USA? How else does a country like Ethiopia show it has athletes to defeat the world?

    And while the idea of no countries may seem attractive, no country has ever dissolved itself into nothingness, only into smaller countries.

  28. Richard Wager says:

    I loved the olympics and as an englishman proudly watched as much as i could from my sofa in New Zealand,with my new born son. Enough about that,how about the pressing issue of the day. $80 for a ticket to the Auckland town hall gig! and seated at that! Not so much as workers playtime, but all work and no play time to pay for them bad boys.

  29. Rob Gibbs says:

    “The patriotism displayed in the Olympic Stadium was much less dutiful.” You reckon? Any British person daring to support Kenenisa Bekele would have been lynched on that ’super Saturday’ had Bekele won. That warm fuzzy suburban euphoria would quickly have become more like a Nuremberg rally.

    The Olympics was just another exercise in British exceptionalism, of collective self-love. I don’t detect a “a seismic shift in the meta-narrative of Britishness” at all. Self-congratulation still reigns. It wil take a lot more than 2 weeks of cool sporting events to trump our obsession with getting rich, mocking the poor and telling ourselves that the world loves us because we are so delightfully quirky.

    When it comes down, most people in this country would reach for the outdated cliches of Britishness when asked to define the country. Progressives are in a minority, as are people from non-white backgrounds. Do a survey of all the folk in the stadium. Responses would all be about morris dancing, roast beef and Churchill. Nothing’s changed.

    (I accept I’m out on a limb here…)

  30. Tim Bold says:

    Great article – it really sums up many of my own feelings about the olympics. I have to admit, I still feel quite angry about the corporate whoredom that LOCOG brought to the country – seeing Coe defending the ‘rights’ of Coca Cola, Visa, Macdonalds etc to ‘copyright’ London, summer, 2012 olympic etc was truly sickening.
    What was wonderful was seeing the reaction of the British to the winners from all nations and to the divers, multicultural British athletes. This is the Britain that I love and feel proud of and patriotic towards.

    More patriotism (love of your country), less jingoism (hatred/intolerance of others).

    Internationalism id a wonderful thing but. like charity, it has to start at home.

    As for the flag – let’s claim back the union jack – from the biggots, little Englanders, EDL, fascists and Tories.

  31. Aidan says:

    Keep on doing your thing Billy. As you can see from the comments, it isn’t for everyone, but it does create a legitimate space for people to feel proud of themselves and pushes back against the BNP style racism.

    Diversity. Don’t you love it.

    P.S. Not a Brit – a Kiwi domiciled in Australia

  32. SteveJ says:

    Nicely written but i can’t go with it. if people want to focus their lives entirely on how fast they can cover 100 metres or cycle round France then that’s great, even impressive. But those achievements are as nothing compared with bringing up a kid on a deprived council estate in Newham down the road or day after day working on the streets helping people, and and and. Doing something that is actually useful rather than symbolic. People, unrecognised, trying to make it all work while the politicians squabble and wave.
    Cameron and co jumped on many bandwagons throughout the Olympics. He decided to promise money from a lottery that isnt his, whose coffers he wont be contributing to (unless he buys a ticket!) effectively taking money away from charities and services that will only need more resources as the homeless figures rise.
    Plenty of blogs out there with good essays and information showing the reality. Slightly disappointed how so many people fell under the spell of the shiny pretty things…

  33. wooddragon45 says:

    A well written and thought out piece, though there are a couple of points where our opinions diverge, regarding the Union flag, (only referred to as the Union Jack when at sea) I don’t see as a symbol of multiculturalism, nor of empire, as it directly refers to the union between England and Scotland…the ever-popular George Cross, of course, was originally a French flag…yet it’s waved patriotically at ever England match, to borrow a quote from Mr Bragg:

    “What do they know of England…who only England know?” ;- )

    The other divergent point, and my answer to the main question, is that Mr Boyle’s opening ceremony made me sad, as it highlighted all the things that used to feed my patriotism, and now only serve to remind me that the majority of those things are now barely shadows of their former selves…the NHS weighed down with overpaid and unnecessary management, nurses under-trained and under-paid and all in an atmosphere of tension and misery, helped along by the vile media and the greed and blatant dishonesty of our un-elected government…


  34. Chris says:

    Well done Billy for creating the space to consider progressive patriotism and for the inspiration you continue to shine forth. I’ve enjoyed watching, listening to and more recently reading of your commitment to your beliefs, your passions and witnessing them deepen and strengthen over the many many years I’ve been your fan. In 1996 when you sang “sometimes I think to myself should I vote red for my class or green for our children” I saw this is a watershed between the younger Billy and the wiser one. Time, age and wisdom are all good things. But they necessarily come from youth. So thanks for continuing to share your wisdom with the youth. And for continuing to progressively define internationalism, nationalism and patriotism in their better forms. And regarding the post-Olympic fervour, what’s important is the personal reaction, the heart felt emotion. Politicians and corporates can hijack what they see as a collective value or emotion and use this for ill-effect. But an individual should feel what they felt and understand this and then speak it – like you are. Being a white anglo-scandanavian Australian I felt proud before, during and after the 2000 Sydney Olympics but I also recognised that universal values are more powerful and important in these instances. It doesn’t matter that 400m gold-medalist Cathy Freeman wrapped herself in the Aboriginal flag (of course it was important for her to do that – and I respect her choice and her right to do so). What matters is that she stood proud in herself and knew that she had supporters in her country. It also showed that our symbol of Australian identity is many and varied. We don’t need to cling to any one thing, for we are a diverse multicultural nation of larrikins new and old, and a hot southeast Asian curry is as Aussie as a fire side dream time story over a pot of kangaroo stew with Uncle Noel. And reading between your lines Billy, I can see that the universality of love is key to your life’s evolving narrative too. See you in Perth, Western Australia in November 2012!

  35. M Bingham says:

    Billy – your article prompts me to share a slightly embarassing memory from the football’s Italia 90 (Gazza’s tears etc). I distinctly remember running around the streets with a group of friends, following an England win, with us all waving big Union Jack flags. I had no concept of an England flag and don’t recall the shops even selling them at the time. Was I just another dumb kid? At the time I was interested in politics and had been to several BB gigs (thanks Billy for a great show at London Victoria Theatre). To me, it just illustrates how the debate on nationality, patriotism, flags and identity has moved on in that relatively short time period.

  36. Mark says:

    Good post Billy. Interesting to read the replies too – some still have an issue with being proud of their country, even at moments like the Olympics (and yes I was sick of the corporate rubbish and LOCOG too). Pride at times is good, alongside an honest assessment of a nation’s shortcomings.

    My only query on your post is your definition of Nationalism. I think there’s more to it than simply wanting self-determination – there’s an element of thinking you/your people are better than others, including your neighbours, and stressing the differences and never the similarities. I can’t think of any Nationalist movements that didn’t have an element of racism (though you are better informed than I!).

    (Poor curmudgeonly Pat Kane – performing well as one of Salmond’s annoying henchmen. Salmond is playing the ‘we can be friends after the divorce’ card now, but wait until it happens, they’ll be creating a lot of bad feeling. Being a part of Scotland’s largest minority – the English – could get very uncomfortable up there!)

  37. Mike says:


    Yes it did make me feel Proud,I did not expect it to but it did.
    Enjoyed the opening ceremony it was pretty cool and loved the Brunel theme and industrial layout.

    Would have been good to see a reenactment of The Battle of Orgreave. Recreating the climactic clash of the 1984 miners’ strike! … only kidding

  38. Richard Lykke says:

    Nice piece Billy. As an Aussie who thought Sydney 2000 would never be surpassed I have been forced to eat my words and acknowledge the wonderful spectacle that was London 2012. Looking forward to seeing you down under in October.

  39. Mr. B, enjoyed your interview by Kim Hill of NZ Radio.
    At 70, it still fascinates me how English contemporary musicians ‘found’ and integrated some of the best of Amerikan music culture. In particular, i appreciated your comments about Woody Guthrie. My Dad was from OK. He told me of hearing Woody busking around the little town where Dad worked on Sat mornings (Whizbang, OK, a boomer town) as an apprentice barber. Dad listened to my Bob Dylan LP’s a while and said, “…he’s copied Woody Guthrie”. Wish i still had the 33rpm of Alan Lomax interviewing Guthrie; it was done for the US Library of Congress, and i don’t know if the recording still exists.
    Dad moved to Oregon (out of the dust bowl) and i was raised there. Guthrie visited Reed College in Pdx, my hometown, and wrote a song about the Columbia Rvr, “Roll on Columbia…”.
    Your comments about politics warmed my soul. I’m a patriot of the US; because of that i emigrated to NZ, as the traitors have taken over and i’m tired of fighting them…….don’t want to end up in prison and am too old to ‘vote w/ my feet, vote in the street’ anymore. Kind of lonesome, but ‘i made my bed here’……and folks seem a lot more tolerant of my viewpoint when i get on a rant.
    Hope to see you perform in Welly.

  40. Philippa says:

    As an American who lived in England in the 80s I was ecstatic to see diverse British athletes being cheered on by their nation. When I lived in Britain there was the miner’s strike, racial unrest in the north, and in East London and a Tory MP who said the Britain was a white nation. Oh, and sexism running rampant. Not that in the USA I had temporarily left all was golden, but I’m talking about England here. That England seems well and truly banished. (Except for the sexism, which is still a bit ridiculous.) England can only be stronger for it’s embracing of diversity. While the US fights a slide into the 1920s lead by the ill named Tea Party England has put on display for the world the strength and beauty of democracy and social union. It was a gorgeous sight and felt like a rising sun.

  41. The Hillsborough Tragedy

    At the F A Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest
    on 15th April 1989, overcrowding resulted in the deaths of 96 people
    with 766 others injured. All were supporters of Liverpool F. C.

    (Main melody: ‘The Sharpsville Massacre’, by Ewan McColl.
    Chorus: ‘The Rising of the Moon’, J C Carey, arr. Luke Kelly)

    It’s Saturday, so what’s the rush,
    And why that soppy grin?
    I’m on my way to Hillsborough,
    The FA Cup to win.
    Though road works cause a bottleneck,
    We’re here for three o’clock.
    There’s crushing on the terraces;
    Two pens are overstocked.

    You’ll never walk alone my friends,
    You’ll never walk alone.
    St James Park to White Hart Lane,
    You’ll never walk alone.

    I ask where all the bobbies are,
    Why safety doors are locked.
    Some folk round here are dying,
    Yet still the match kicks off.
    We can’t believe what’s happening,
    Shocked people stand and stare:
    The pitch is like a battlefield
    with bodies everywhere.


    It’s funeral after funeral,
    Seems far too much to bear;
    Whole city is united
    as anger trumps despair.
    Police evidence gets doctored,
    It’s always been the same;
    The great and good colluding,
    To their eternal shame.


    The Sun crawls out one morning
    The wrong side of the bed:
    Swears fans were drunk and violent
    And looted their own dead.
    The inquest rules by three-fifteen
    All ninety-four had died.
    We now know there were forty-one
    Who might have been revived.


    The final toll is ninety-six,
    The youngest aged just ten;
    One man’s four years on life support
    But never speaks again.
    In twenty-twelve we’re told the truth,
    What football’s always known.
    St James’ Park to White Hart Lane,
    You’ll never walk alone.


    Peter Branson

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