A central part in the £27-million Olympic Opening Ceremony extravaganza, his tunes played to a billion people around the globe – so how did Mike Oldfield manage to keep the secret of his gig of a lifetime?
“I just didn’t tell anybody,” he shrugs.
Mike Oldfield was surprised to be given a central role in the Olympic Opening Ceremony by Danny Boyle
The composer - at the age of 19(!) - of one of his generation’s most iconic soundtracks, the 18-million selling Tubular Bells, was already sitting pretty. He’s talking to me now on Skype from his pad in Nassau in the Bahamas, and behind him, I can see the twinkling Caribbean with his own yacht surely just out of sight.
But even he admits he was chuffed to bits, and surprised, to get the call from Danny Boyle in August last year.
“Danny turned up – he just managed to get here before Hurricane Irene – and stayed three hours. He had a video, full of drawings and computer animations, much of it based on a concert I’d performed in Horse Guards Parade over a decade before, and he knew exactly what he wanted.
“So I said I’d give it my best shot.”
Mike Oldfield performed during the ceremony's tribute to the NHS
Much of the time since then has been taken up with “the legal side of things – you wouldn’t believe the pile of paperwork involved in the confidential aspect” – but Oldfield also enjoyed getting his hands back on his era-defining tunes, Tubular Bells (Virgin Music’s first lucky signing), the jaunty In Dulci Jubilo that he's made his own – but I must ask, what happened to Oldfield’s other famous cultural contribution, the theme tune to Blue Peter?
“I did suggest it and Danny mulled over it for a while,” he laughs. “But it’s SO British, whereas In Dulci Jubilo is a Christmas carol all over the world, so in the end he plumped for that.”
Oldfield enjoyed a close collaboration with his creative director:
“I’d send him little bits, he’d send me comments, and when we were both happy, the engineers came on board for the final mix, which sounded absolutely perfect. It was a massive team effort for five or six months.”
Boyle was so successful in keeping the project under wraps that Oldfield “only knew Paul McCartney was playing too, that was it”. But come the hour, was the veteran musician nervous about the prospect of performing in the stadium, and to a worldwide audience of over a billion?
“Yes. But my son was with me, and he was nervous as well, so I spent my time trying to calm him down, and that helped.
“The first few minutes were fraught. After that when the cast arrived in the middle of the arena, I got into it, and it was an absolute joy.”
Oldfield’s equally chuffed that his part in the ceremony has seen a fresh burst of popularity for his music, reflected in sales and playlists. He’s currently working on his next album, with his music to be accompanied by guest vocalists – “I’ll just spin my dream Rolodex and see who appears. Rod Stewart would be great, he’s so distinctive… who else? Elton John would be amazing.”
But Oldfield is nothing if not true to his roots, and also hoping his performance helps spark a renaissance for instrumental rock music – “there hasn’t been anything really successful that’s just instrumental – you can dance to it, get ready for a night out. It can be choreographed, styled, anything, just so long as you’re playing real instruments, that’s what I’m trying to get across.”
And as the rediscovered minstrel gazes out once more over the perfect blue waters around his home, he reflects finally:
“I can’t believe my luck, to be honest. Thanks, Danny.”
Two Sides: The Very Best Of Mike Oldfield is now available - purchase link here.