On the bus with the Exmouth Champions

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By PGStrange | Wednesday, September 26, 2012, 17:54

NEARLY 30 Exmouth Champions toured the town's streets in an open-top bus on Saturday 22 September. They included Olympic torch bearers, Olympic games makers, sporting heroes and TV chefs. The tour gave residents a chance to celebrate the Champions' many and varied achievements. I caught up with some of the Champions on board the bus as it toured the town, to find out what they thought of their big day…

"It's a good thing to do for Exmouth, to show locals the amount of people who have helped out at the Olympics," said Olympic torch bearer Steve Hopkins-Thompson. "Exmouth was quite lucky in that we had four torch bearers that held the Olympic flame, which is a lot for a little town."

The RNLI deputy coxswain, who was nominated for his charity work, carried the torch through Babbacombe near Torquay. He says he will never forget his Olympic moment.

"It was an amazing experience. We didn't realize how many people were going to be there until we turned on to Torbay seafront and there were so many people, it was incredible. And when we got off the bus to our specific spot where we were going to take the torch from, we got completely mobbed by people wanting their photographs taken with you. It was an unbelievable day."

Equally awed

Duncan Briggs, who raised more than £12,000 for Cancer Research by cycling, swimming and running a marathon, was equally awed by his moment as an Olympic torch bearer.

"It was a fantastic experience," he said, as the Exmouth Champions' bus swung out of The Strand, en route to Exmouth seafront. "The whole day, the build-up, which I really enjoyed. It was only 300 metres, but I ran as slow as I could!"

What did he think of Exmouth Champions' Day?

"It's fantastic. It's nice to be surrounded by people who have done incredible things, especially on the back of the Olympics, so it's a brilliant day, a good day for the community."

That sentiment was echoed by another Exmouth Olympic torch bearer, Phil Crook, and his daughter and Olympic games maker Nicola.

"It's been a tremendous year for us," said Phil Crook, as the open-top bus made its way up to Brixington. "I was nominated by my daughter Nicola for 40 years' work with Exmouth boxing club, and out of the thousands that were nominated to carry the torch, I did it on day two in south Devon, when it was really new.

"The national coverage was enormous. I think it caught everybody by surprise. From that first morning, 7am in Land's End, the crowds that turned up, they weren't expecting it, and it started a roll from the 19th May, right through to the middle of August when it ended. The whole country seemed to get a massive lift from it. Everyone was talking about it, and watching the torch as it went round the country. Everywhere it went it got phenomenal crowds.

"For a town this size to have four torch bearers shows what a good, hard-working town we must be. It's a great honour."

Building a rapport

"I was at the boxing on the field of play, so I was putting the stool in between rounds and handing out headguards, gloves and things like that," said Nicola, explaining some of her work as an Olympic games maker. "You've got to build up a rapport with the coaches and the athletes, so you're really close.

"I had a better seat than people who had paid £250 for front-row seats, so it was an extremely privileged position to be in really. It was amazing."

And what did she think of Exmouth Champions' Day?

"It's a really nice, lovely thing to do. I don't court limelight, so I find it a bit embarrassing and a bit surreal! But it's lovely to have been part of it and to have been invited!"

"A really good day"

Others on the Champions' bus included games makers Martina Rowland and Keith Vaughan, Olympic torch bearer Colin Rowland and Jack Findel-Hawkins, the UK's number-one under-18s tennis player. Jack was looking forward to competing in international events. "It's a great day to be able to come up and parade around Exmouth as one of the Champions," he said. "It's fantastic, a really good day."

As the bus turned back towards the Strand, it was a chance to catch up with Exmouth restaurateurs Sheila and Olivier Guyard-Mulkerrin of Les Saveurs, who recently won Channel 5's "Marco Pierre White's Kitchen Wars".

"The Exmouth Champions' Day is a nice thing to do," said Sheila. "It's nice to meet other people… "

Olivier: "who have done things for Exmouth and have put Exmouth on the map. We didn't realise that there were so many people actually… amazing!"

How had it been for them since they won "Marco Pierre White's Kitchen Wars"?

Olivier: "It's been very busy, which is why we wanted to do the show in the first place."

Were they planning to have some of the Exmouth Champions along to their restaurant later that day?

Olivier (laughing): "I don't think so today, but hopefully they'll be potential customers!"

Were they hoping to meet up with Hugo Swire, the MP for East Devon, who was going to officially open the Champions' Day once the bus returned to The Strand?

Olivier: "I've cooked for Hugo in Hotel Barcelona in Exeter when he came with his friends, but I've never met him as yet…"

Relishing the chance

By now the bus had arrived back at the Strand to be greeted by VIPs, including Hugo Swire. The MP was relishing the chance of savouring Olivier and Sheila's food.

"I hope that they can cook for me again!" he said. "They won an award. I've just seen them here, and I haven't had a chance to say hi to them yet, but I'll be having a word shortly."

And what did he think of Exmouth Champions' Day?

"It's an opportunity for the people of Exmouth to congratulate our home-grown heroes, and to thank all those – not just the athletes – who took part in the Olympics. The torch bearers and the games-makers – without whom it would not have been possible – and those who worked throughout the Games to make them happen. A huge, unlocked volunteer army has just been on show, and they've done a brilliant job…"

More pictures of Exmouth Champions' Day



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