On Friday night, 23rd June, I went to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Stadium in London to see Robbie Williams with my Mum.
We went up on the train and I was in my wheelchair. So far, so good.
When we got off the train, it was relieving to see so many security guards about and police manning the site.
Walking around Westfield shopping centre wasn’t something we intended to be doing, but we had a couple of hours before the gates opened so we figured “ah, what the heck!” It was quite difficult because when you have no money, and left bank cards at home because of that purpose, all I could do was shop with my eyes!
When the gates opened, we headed to the stadium and it was hectic but manageable. I panicked a bit when I saw a load of port-a-loos, as I wailed to my Mum that I couldn’t use one of those, and she said there must be some normal toilets inside. Fortunately, there were, and one for disabled too. Phew! Sounds silly, but that was such a relief to me. Bathroom anxiety sucks.
The disabled access was on the one level, which was great, and whilst it wasn’t the “best seats in the house”, we were there and all I could hope for was that the two silhouettes of Robbie on either side of the stage were screens, as I couldn’t see anything but tiny ants (well, people) moving about! (Fortunately, they were!) … They might want to rethink where disabled seating is, because disabled people also include those with sight problems!!
The gig was amazing. The warm up act Erasure, with only one of their songs I was able to sing along to (A Little Respect). I didn’t know whether to feel young or just not in the know! Robbie’s main set was incredible, as usual! (I’ve seen him a couple of times before!) Such the entertainment. Paying respect to George Michael, and the victims of the recent terror attacks in Manchester and London. It was just amazing and emotional.
Then, what happened after was only what I could describe as diabolical and disgusting. The crowd headed out of the stadium in different directions, that we got caught up in a tide of people walking a way we don’t remember! We ended up going backwards and forwards trying to find our way back to the station, and what had been an easy signposted route to the stadium, was not so easy on the way out of the stadium!
We found ourselves at the bottom of the bridge we needed to be on, and the only access was a flight of stairs taking us to the top, otherwise, it would have meant walking all the way back round to the stadium and back to the entry to the other side of the bridge. The ONE lift which would have been used for disabled access had been CLOSED.
It wasn’t that it wasn’t working. It was because there were simply not enough members of staff to man the lift ensuring it was only disabled people only and not the general able-bodied gig-goers.
We were now joined by several other wheelchair users at the bottom of the lift, trying to gain access. With the workers refusing to get it working, the police were asked to try and talk some sense into them.
Unfortunately, this didn’t have much of an impact, and as I watched one of the disabled people start struggling with the stairs on their crutches, and a member of their party fold and carry the wheelchair, a couple of girls who’d clearly enjoyed themselves at the event and spent too much on alcohol, decided that they would help me out…. Only I didn’t get a choice with what I was going to do!
They starting shouting about the issue, and without me being able to have my say, I was promptly lifted in my wheelchair, by several very strong men! (They must’ve been strong, because the wheelchair I have weighs a tonne!) and a pathway was created on the stairs for them to carry me through! The police and security could see the crazy event happening, and no doubt feared for catastrophe! Fortunately, no-one was hurt or injured, and I was placed on the ground and able to get on with our journey home! Only to be approached by one of the workers from the venue telling us there was a lift we could have used! I explained what we were told, and had he have looked over to his left, he’d have seen the lift was shut off by a BIG silver gate in the way!
It was disgusting that there were no thoughts into the welfare of the disabled gig-goers after the event. Why have signs on the way in to the venue, but not on the way out? Why allow disabled access on the way in to the venue, but not on the way out? Why were there not enough members of staff, especially at a gig as big as this, after the recent events? It was horrendous and let down a lot of us.
It didn’t stop there, because we then had to make our way to the train station, and finally we saw a sign for it. We headed in the direction, to yet again be greeted with stairs, and told we would have to walk all the way back up the slope to get onto the disabled access part. Why was this not signposted?! We then were told to use the lifts through the car park, which would take us down to the train station level, except what they didn’t tell us, was that this was also the lift to each and every goddamn car park level!
There were queues of able-bodied people waiting for the lifts, to attend to their cars, when there were signs posting to stairs. All we needed was to go down to the bottom level, and everyone else wanted to go up! I was so, so anxious about missing our train home, especially as it was a direct train, and the last one without changes.
When we finally made it to the level we needed, we were then told there would be a bus service partway through, which would mean we would have to get a taxi due to the wheelchair. Again, something else thrown into the mix! We managed to get onto the train with 4 other wheelchairs (only just though, as it was already packed!) except we were squeezed by the toilet, which wasn’t very pleasant at all. Especially when we had 50 minutes travel time! As passengers got off at the various stops, we were able to move about a bit, and then we were told over the tannoy that the train would be passing through our station! We didn’t need to get off, so were completely confused about what we had to do. Did we have to get off and catch a taxi, or not? What time were we going to get home? Were we ever going to get home?! (Haha!)
Discussing with a train worker, he ensured us we didn’t need to get off and that he had no idea why we were told about the replacement service. Fortunately, he was right and we managed to get off at our station, and my wife was there to greet us. I needed help getting out of the wheelchair because everything had seized up and I was in agony. It had been a very long and exhausting day, and journey home!
I didn’t get to sleep till gone 2am. I was desperate to show the photos and videos of the gig to Lauren, who I’m sure just wanted to go to bed! Then on Saturday, I was struggling to walk, the pain was intense and I wished for it to go away. I had rested, and gone in the wheelchair so I was less likely to suffer, yet I was tormented by pain anyway!
It appears that with fibro, you really can’t win! Your body will still attack when you don’t want it to!
(Unfortunately we don’t have any photos of my wheelchair lift up the stairs because it all happened so quickly, I think my Mum was just as petrified as me!)
I’ll leave with words from Robbie, after the recent events, and the amazing overwhelming response from the crowds as they left the venue…
“We are strong, we’re strong… We’re strong!!!”
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Til next time, keep safe and I’ll be back soon!