MOST teenagers blow out candles on their birthday.
Westruther sailor Callum Airlie isn’t most teenagers, however.
Twenty-eight minutes into his 17th birthday, the Earlston High School pupil lit the most famous, and elaborate, candle in the world, watched by an estimated billion people worldwide, to signal the beginning of the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Callum was one of seven talented young athletes who lit the Olympic cauldron to close the breathtaking opening ceremony on Friday night.
Callum said: “I found out I’d be doing it just six days before. The organisers asked me to come to London, but it was all very secretive and I had no idea what it was for, at first.”
All seven young athletes had been nominated by previous British Olympic medal winners, and Callum was selected by fellow Scot and sailor Shirley Robertson, a double Olympic gold medallist.
He explained: “We got a call from Shirley. It set alarm bells ringing, and although she didn’t say why I was invited to the opening, she was adamant I should not miss this.
“The whole thing was part of what they called ‘Save the Surprise’. Only my mum knew.
“She couldn’t tell Dad, though, and my brothers didn’t have a clue.”
Callum had been in the middle of his preparation for the 420 World Championships in Austria, where he returned on Saturday to continue his build-up.
But following the phonecall, he and his family decided that whatever was in store sounded important enough to come back for and on Sunday, August 19, he and his mum Dr Julie Robson arrived in London to find out more.
Dr Robson told TheSouthern: “The organisers told us that they would help with the logistics and we soon worked out that this was not an opportunity to be missed.”
After meeting up with the six other young athletes in the stadium, Oscar-winning film director Danny Boyle explained his vision of the ceremony.
Dr Robson added: “Callum sat on his hands to stop himself shaking as he told me ... it didn’t work. When Danny asked them what they thought – they couldn’t speak.”
Then followed a hectic week with rehearsals, Callum flying out to Austria for training and then back for the ceremony itself. He stayed cool, calm and silent, just as requested.
By Friday, all the young athletes had enjoyed the weeks speculation of who would light the cauldron.
“We all got to watch the show until about 10.30pm when they went off to change,” explained Dr Robson. “Then it began to dawn on the teens and their families that this was it. As GBR entered the stadium we knew the moment was drawing near, the roar of the crowd was tremendous. I started to feel slightly queasy and shaky, but at least I had a camera to hold. Then they appeared, dressed in black, almost invisible apart from flashes of gold.”
Lined up waiting for Sir Steve Redgrave to hand over the torch, the concentration on the youngsters’ faces reflected the seriousness of the moment.
Callum later admitted that they were all “shaking at the knees” as they saw the five-times gold medal-winning rower approaching.
The flame was handed to 19-year-old rower Cameron MacRitchie and they were off.
All the rehearsals came into force and they played their parts to perfection, a clear run around the stadium and back in front of the stage where they lined up again with their sponsoring Olympians for the symbolic embrace portraying the past and the future Olympic dreams.
Fresh torches were handed over, giving the final authority to light the cauldron via copper petals which ignited and raised from the ground to form one big beacon.
“We couldn’t see this from the ground so watched it all on the huge screens around the top of the stadium, or through the camera lens in my case,” said Dr Robson.
“The whole thing was indescribable. Words do not come close. It was so big, magical, unbelievable, awesome and surreal. Watching video clips still gives me goosebumps.
“Callum has said something similar, I think, – but in teenage terminology – wow!
“While we cannot describe the feelings we were both fully aware of what an honour and awesome responsibility he had, a privilege that he was more than happy to accept, and determined to live up to all expectations that were attached to it.”
Callum’s dad Iain Airlie was unable to attend the ceremony as he was in Weymouth as part of the results team on the Olympic Laser sailing course. He and the team watched the evening’s events unfold on the TV screen and he, too, was gobsmacked when he realised just how large a role his son was playing.
“It was rather surreal, since I only knew that he was doing something, but not what,” he told us. “Amazing!”
Callum has been sailing since the age of four, is a two-time Optimist UK National Champion and has been sailing a 420 for two years, with crew Joseph Butterworth. The local hero returned to Lake Neusiedl, Austria, on Saturday to compete at the World Championships.
Following that, he will travel to Italy for the Europeans and then back to Britain for the National Championships. At the end of the month he will return to school in the Borders where he has highers and university places to think about.
Ahead of the Opening Ceremony for the Games, Callum was a torchbearer for the Torch Relay and carried the beacon through Gordon.