By JILL LAWLESS
LONDON (AP) — The Olympic finishing line is almost in sight. With just a few events to go, athletes and Londoners alike are set for the mother-of-all celebrations — a weekend of gold-medal parties and a pop-tastic closing ceremony.
It’s about time, say some social observers, who claim that London’s party scene has been muted during the games, dragged down by economic recession and a downturn in central London businesses as a result of the games further east.
Britain’s economic gloom means nightclubs and pop-up venues have had to work to lure athletes and celebrities. But they are giving thanks for Olympic swimmers, whose events ended last weekend, leaving them free to party.
The paparazzi were also thankful, filling newspaper pages with party-hardy Olympians.
U.S. champion Michael Phelps — who ended his Olympic career with 22 medals, 18 of them gold— has been spotted in London’s Soho nightlife district.
[iframe http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/tv/Today/96422/2265848185/Boxing-Gold-Medalist%3A-%E2%80%98I-Still-Think-I%E2%80%99m-Dreaming%E2%80%99/embed 580 476]
Teammate Ryan Lochte was photographed leaving the Chinawhite nightclub — long a favorite of partying British royalty. This time around, the club has drawn athletes in droves by offering gold medalists a free Golden Cocktail — a concoction of champagne, cognac and real gold flakes priced, for the rest of us, at 2,012 pounds ($3,150).
Lochte emerged looking a bit bleary-eyed, but it could have been the chlorine.
Zara Phillips, granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth II and a member of Britain’s silver medal-winning equestrian eventing team, was spotted drinking champagne and dancing shoeless at the club.
“I’ve heard it’s not been easy for a lot of venues in London, but we’ve been very lucky,” said Chinawhite club manager James Spallone.
He said the venue was designed to be “a safe haven for athletes to let their hair down.”
“They are amongst their peers. They know everybody,” he said. “It’s fun, It’s like a prom.”
Swimmers have not been the only athletes blowing off steam.
Cyclist Bradley Wiggins tweeted pictures of himself celebrating with a drink in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral after winning gold in the road race. “Getting wasted,” he tweeted.
Another cyclist — 20-year-old Gijs van Hoecke of Belgium — was sent home after photos appeared of him looking very drunk while leaving a London nightclub.
Still, that was all prologue to the final weekend’s blowout, which certainly won’t be confined to Olympic athletes.
Some of the action will center on national hospitality houses set up by the Dutch, the Russians and the French, among others. A lucky elite, however, will take to the water for a handful of yacht parties.
Nearly a dozen of the world’s most luxurious vessels, including the 413-foot (126-meter) Octopus, owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, are docked in east London near the Olympic site.
“It’s going to be a big party, no doubt,” said Benjamin Sutton, director of communications for “superyacht concierge service” MGMT.
“Security is tight, much like any VIP event,” Sutton added.
On land, Olympic sponsors such as Adidas and Omega plan parties at invitation-only pop-up clubs set up for the games. Omega hosting a Brazilian night Friday to celebrate Rio’s turn as host of the 2016 Games, while Adidas is sponsoring a closing-night party with DJ team Livin’ Proof on the decks.
Sportswear rival Puma — Usain Bolt’s sponsor — plans a closing-night celebration at its Jamaica-themed venue in London’s Brick Lane.
Budweiser is sponsoring Club Bud, transforming the Roundhouse music venue in north London into a party destination expected to draw U.S. athletes — including its biggest stars, the basketball team — as well as big-name hip-hop artists.
More accessibly, London’s Hyde Park is the location for a closing-night outdoor concert featuring, Blur, New Order and The Specials.
For some 80,000 spectators inside Olympic Stadium and millions of television viewers worldwide, the celebrations will include watching an Olympic closing ceremony that music director David Arnold promises will be “the greatest after-party in the world.”
“If the opening ceremony was the wedding, then we’re the wedding reception,” he told the Daily Telegraph.
Between director Danny Boyle’s emotion-churning opening spectacle and the record medal haul for Team GB, these games have left Britain reveling in a warm bath of patriotism. That looks set to continue with the closing ceremony, billed as “a symphony of British music” and celebration of the nation’s creativity in design and the arts.
There will be a few solemn ceremonial elements, including an athletes’ march, the raising of the flags of Greece — birthplace of the Olympics— current host Britain and 2016 games host Brazil, speeches and the extinguishing of the Olympic cauldron, marking the handover of the games to Rio.
But the main event will be a mashup of music, theater, circus and hit parade, created by a team used to creating rock spectaculars.
Director Kim Gavin has overseen tours for the band Take That and directed London’s 2007 Princess Diana memorial concert. Designer Es Devlin has created sets for everyone from Lady Gaga to the Royal Opera.
As with the opening ceremony, London is aiming for a plucky, irreverent tone far removed from Beijing’s 2008 Olympic closer, which was heavy on precision displays of fireworks, acrobatics and dancing.
“Hopefully it will wrap up the spirit of what these games have been, which is slightly anarchic, slightly mischievous, funny, heartwarming, emotional, inspiring, and uniquely British,” Arnold said.
The Daily Mail newspaper published photographs of what it said was the set, involving reconstructions of London landmarks such as St. Paul’s Cathedral and Tower Bridge.
The show also features thousands of volunteer performers, and Allen says it will include about 30 British hit singles from the past five decades.
Organizers are doing their best to keep the lineup of closing ceremony live artists under wraps, but the Muse, The Who and George Michael have all said they will take part.
Tips and photos have leaked out of the rehearsal venue, an old car plant in east London.
So will the The Spice Girls sing “Wannabe”? Quite probably.
Will Ray Davies of The Kinks perform his London ballad “Waterloo Sunset”? Very likely.
Will there be members of Queen for the old-timers and acts like Jessie J and Tinie Tempah for the kids? Definitely maybe.
Whoever is on the bill, one thing is certain — it will end with fireworks.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.