The Royal Parks is hosting a number of events for the London 2012 Olympic Games. We spoke to Senior Events Manager Sarah Cook to find out what she’s working on and how she got there.
Tell us about the job you’re doing now. What does it involve?
I am Senior Events Manager for the London 2012 Games and The Royal Parks. This involves project managing a number of the events happening during the Olympic Games in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. We are hosting BT London Live in Hyde Park (a free to access event with live Games coverage, music performances and sports participation), The London 2012 Shop at Hyde Park, and two National Olympic Committee hospitality houses called Sochi Park and Africa Village in Kensington Gardens. I’m also involved in other projects such as implementing a new radio communication system, setting up the control rooms that Royal Parks’ staff will use during the Games, and working on the Hyde Park concerts taking place just before the start of the Games (including Rihanna and Madonna).
What is the most exciting aspect of your work?
I would have to say the actual days of the events. It’s the time when you can see the end result of all your hard work and you’ve hopefully overcome any obstacles that may have come up during the planning process. On the day, everything that comes up requires an immediate reaction. I’m at my best when being asked to make quick, dynamic decisions.
Would your classmates from school be surprised at what you’re doing now?
Possibly. Although I keep bumping into them, the Venue General Manager for the Hyde Park Olympic Site was in my class at school! I’m quite an introverted person and was very quiet at school so they may be surprised to learn I’m in this. You definitely need to be able to speak up in this job, otherwise decisions may get made that have a negative impact on the parks.
Was there a teacher who had a particularly strong influence on you and if so in what way?
If I had to pick one it would probably be an A-level English teacher who encouraged everyone in the class to take an active role in discussions and exercises. But I wouldn’t really say there were any teachers who had a particularly strong influence on me.
What school subjects were you good at and have any been surprisingly helpful later on?
I was good at English. I can’t remember a stand-out moment since leaving university when I thought learning a particular skill at school has been helpful, except reading and basic arithmetic! However, the sum of many parts at school has obviously contributed to the whole.
How did you decide what you wanted to do after school?
I didn’t have a clue. I knew I wanted to live in London, so I moved here with friends and then worried about getting a job. I did some temping work in a bank, which made up my mind that I didn’t ever want to work in banking and am useless at sales work. I answered an ad in the Guardian for a receptionist role in The Royal Parks and they offered me an events job instead – and here I am 10 years later working on the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games!
Did you take a gap year? Did it influence any decisions later in life?
I didn’t, but I did have a year between university and moving to London when I went to Australia with friends for three months. Doing that has made me feel that I haven’t missed out on the travelling experience – even if it wasn’t for a full year, or the most adventurous trip. Going to university, travelling abroad and moving away from my home town to a big city has all combined to make me a much more confident person.
If you went to university what was your university experience like?
I did go to university and it was an amazing experience for me. As I said, I was very introverted as a child and a grumpy teenager later on so to move away from home and out of my comfort zone definitely helped me to become the more confident, self-assured adult that I am. I made some brilliant friends and although my degree subject didn’t influence my career choices, I think just having a degree has opened up more opportunities and the whole experience was incredibly worthwhile.
What has been your proudest moment?
Running a half marathon in 1 hour 44 mins and 32 seconds. It was the first time I felt like I’d truly pushed myself to my limits and proved to myself what I am capable of. Other moments include my trip to Australia, living in the USA for five months during university and navigating from one side to the other, and driving half-way across Canada and back.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
Hopefully owning my own home, but probably not still in London. I don’t plan that far ahead and would just hope that I’m happy.
What advice would you give someone still at school who wants to do what you’re doing now?
As I didn’t deliberately choose my career I’m not sure I have specific advice for those still at school. I would recommend trying to get as much life experience as possible, such as university or travelling, before you start working in a full time career as you don’t know when you’re next going to get the opportunity.
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