According to the popular story, Lady Godiva (?-c.1067) took pity on the people of Coventry, who were suffering under her husband's, Leofric, the Earl of Mercia, oppressive taxation. She appealed to her husband, who obstinately refused to remit the tolls. Finally, he granted her request if she would ride through the streets of the town naked. (What kind of husband is that?) Lady Godiva took him at his word and, after issuing a proclamation that everyone should stay indoors and shut their windows, she rode through the town, clothed only in her long hair. Leofric kept his word and abolished the onerous taxesour Youtube VideoOn Saturday 28 July 2012, Lady Godiva was back again in Coventry after 1000 years. And I was delighted when I got my hands on 2 pairs of the most sought-after tickets to see her. Part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, the performance heralded the start of an extraordinary journey to London’s Olympic Stadium, a stunning gift from Coventry, Warwickshire and the Midlands to the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Godiva Awakes re-imagined Lady Godiva as a contemporary icon for the region, a symbol of courage, fairness, social justice, self sacrifice and sustainability who will create a unique spectacle as she walks to London .It was a spectacular performance involving the Godiva Choir, dancers, actors, aerialists, musicians, pyrotechnicians, carnivalists and 220 young people in a procession marking the unveiling of Lady Godiva for the modern age.
On a very breezy and dry Saturday night, we joined the 3,000 people crammed into the cathedral square for the awakening ceremony. The extravanga was also screened in real time on the big screen in Broadgate, for those without tickets to share in the moment when the iconic figure opened her eyes for the first time in centuries. We were so close to the stage that we could see her standing proud but hidden behind the screen. From time to time, the screen was blown apart by the winds and we managed to catch a glimpse of her, to the delight of the waiting crowds.
We could feel the tension and anticipation building high in the lead-up to the fantastic unveiling. Our attention were drawn to the cathedral steps where hundreds of dancers, actors and musicians descended from all sides, one was even abseiling face forward from the Cathedral roof, in elaborate costumes to welcome the star of the show. The Godiva choir walked past us in their Narnia-like costumes, each carrying a paper lantern.
The Hummingbirds in their brown satin cloaks were hovering around us, a symbol of determination and desire to make a positive difference in any way they can. A very proud mum who was standing beside me was in tears because her daughter was one of the Hummingbirds. Lucky girl. The drum beats were getting louder and louder. And then silence…
The voices of the Godiva Choir willing Lady Godiva to wake was the cue for the drawing back of the curtains to reveal the immense 6 metre stature of Lady Godiva – complete with blonde hair– in a chamber opposite the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum. Huge cheers erupted at the sight of the new-look icon surrounded by trapeze artists and acrobats, her size 54 figure clothed in an organza nightdress.
She towered over the crowd as she was moved forward, powered by a crane manned by a crew of four, on size 72 feet towards her audience. She smiled, with arms outstretched, and blinked her great realistic piercing blue eyes in apparent amazement at the cheering crowd, a choir of 150, hundreds of dancers, and aerial artists with fireworks showering from above us and also the cathedral. The later was a symbol of resurrection, risen from the rubble after the ancient church and most of the medieval heart of Coventry were destroyed in one night's firestorm during the second world war.
A Book of Intent containing the hopes and wishes of young people for a better world was presented amid the colourful firework displays. The 2m by 1.5m book was a feat of design and engineering in itself as is the Bookstand that holds it was in the shape of a Hummingbird. She will deliver the book to London as part of the Olympic and Paralympic celebrations.
We left when she made her way out of University Square to meet the viewers at the live screening in Broadgate. It had been a long but memorable night for us and for the Lady too. After making her presence felt, she spent the night in a poignant moment of contemplation in the Cathedral Ruins in readiness for the following day’s carnival celebration where I hoped to see her again.
The following day, 29 July 2012, I joined the thousands lining the streets of Coventry to soak up the atmosphere as Lady Godiva took centre stage in her own carnival. It began to rain and the crowd dispersed except moi and those who came prepared with the temperamental weather. Then the crowd returned with a vengeance. An enterprising entrepreneur pushed along a cart full of multi-coloured whirlers and whistles. I bought a whirler and joined the crowd whirling and the whistles whistling. The sound was deafening and the atmosphere was electrifying.
Lady Godiva stood regally among a technicolour procession of colourful and flamboyantly-dressed dancers, musicians and performers in a dazzling display of colour and sound. Drummers led the way as a parade of 1,500 dancers weaved through the city centre. Sun imps and fiery imps in vivid costumes vowed the crowd. Amplified music was blaring away from massive sound systems hidden in the floats, created a kaleidoscopic explosion of colour and sound.
Then she rode past us on a mechanical horse, powered by the cyclopaedia, looking splendid in her embroidered coat. The Cyclopaedia was a squadron of linked bicycles that towed Lady Godiva when she took to the open road, with the muscle power supplied by 100 cyclists led by the British cycling champion Mick Ives. The carnival party danced and snaked around the city centre. Quite a few of the spectators followed the parade but some of us just walked across the city centre and met the procession again by New Union Street. They were still dancing, waving, drumming and cycling. What a fantastic bunch of people.
I left the carnival party to check the beautiful Olympic floral-themed displays dotted around the city centre. They were beautifully done. This floral football field was very impressive. Before I board the bus to go home, I waved to Lady Godiva and her team and wished them a safe journey. On 30th July, she began her epic journey travelling along the A5 to London over seven days passing through seven towns inspiring a series of extraordinary outdoor celebrations at Rugby, Northampton, Luton, Hatfield, and Waltham Abbey. I have seen photographs as she made her way, flanked by riders and stopping traffic. Powered by the 100 cyclists, she arrived in London intact to celebrate the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. She will definitely knock their socks off.
I was glad to know that Coventry has no intention of letting all the blood, sweat and tears ended with the Olympics. A permanent home was created for her in the city. "Every year she'll wake up, and every year she'll need a carnival to welcome her." It won’t be a problem because the Carnival was already an annual event and having the Lady around will be the icing on the cake. The Cyclopedia machine which carried Godiva will be on display at Coventry Transport Museum. Just brilliant.