Prior to the start of the London 2012 Olympic Games, no one in the UK had the slightest interest in whether or not Royal Mail letterboxes were anything other than fire engine red. In fact, if any had been painted any other colour, there probably would have been letters of complaint.
Fast forward three weeks. What the hell happened? Now the existence of an (officially sanctioned) gold letterbox in your city, town, village or hamlet is the ultimate badge of honour. Before, no one had given them a second thought. Now they’re the absolute must-have accessory of the urban and rural landscape.
They are, of course, the (admittedly inspired) idea of the Royal Mail. Every British recipient of an Olympic gold medal would have their achievement recognised by the transformation of a letterbox in their ‘home town’ from red to gold. The boxes were painted sometimes within hours of the medal being won, and it caused an unprecedented outpouring of civic pride.
No longer did a town have to wait for crusty councillors to endlessly debate the merit of commissioning a permanent monument to local heroes, which may or may not appear in a year or so’s time. Here was an instant, prominent and gloriously over-the-top celebration of sporting excellence and achievement in the most amazing year for Britain in decades. No planning permission required, and extremely low cost. This was pure genius.
Ben Ainslie of Restronguet
Cracks started to appear in the plan. There was the occasional letterbox painted in the wrong village. And then, in this country of a transient and fluid population, how does one define a ‘home town’? Is it the place where you were born? The place where you live now? Or the place where most of your Olympic training has taken place?
Enter Ben Ainslie of Lymington. Or is it Ben Ainslie of Restronguet? This question was at the centre of a potential PR fiasco for Royal Mail.
First a little background on Ben Ainslie’s gold medal for sailing, hard won in Weymouth. After a very difficult (and not hugely successful) Finn Class series of races, Ainslie’s podium position was entirely dependent on the last race – and towards the finish it wasn’t looking good, with both a Dane and a Dutchman trying to mess it all up for him. Fate undoubtably played a part though, and somehow Ben won the gold by the thinnest of margins, making him the most decorated Olympic sailor in history.
So Gold for Ben Ainslie. And (naturally) Gold for a Lymington letterbox. Lymington waited. And waited, and… hang on… One evening the news showed a tiny letterbox in a small Cornish hamlet attributed to Ben Ainslie. Lymington’s Ben Ainslie. When approached about this strange decision, Royal Mail’s response was this:
From the Royal Mail:
Royal Mail is delighted to mark the achievement of Team GB athletes winning gold medals at London 2012 – either individually or as part of a team. Each of these gold medal winners will have a post-box painted gold in the community they are, or have been closely associated with.
This could be where they were born, where they grew up or where they presently live and we look at all these factors before reaching a considered choice.
We picked Restronguet in Cornwall as the place Ben Ainslie grew up and where he first learned to sail, as such there are no plans to paint any boxes in Lymington.
As the days passed (and more boxes were painted country-wide, rubbing the preverbial salt in the wounds), the gentle folk of Lymington became restless. And then the inevitable happened.
Ben Ainslie: Lymington gold postbox painter arrested
A man has been arrested after painting a Hampshire Royal Mail postbox gold in honour of Olympic sailor Ben Ainslie. Rob Smith, 51, said he painted the postbox in Lymington, where the gold medallist lives, in the early hours. He said he was upset Royal Mail had announced it would only paint a postbox gold in Cornwall, where Ainslie grew up.
So, Lymington got its Gold postbox. A rogue one, soon to be painted red by Royal Mail.
Ben steps in
And then… Ben turned up at a party in his honour at the Royal Lymington Yacht Club, where he described Rob Smith as a ‘local legend’ and said that the ‘act of vandalism’ was the “best thing he heard in years”. Royal Mail’s inspired idea was starting to backfire; but they were in a quandary. If they changed their minds, it could encourage more unauthorised spray-painted gold postboxes to spring up across the UK. But if they did nothing, all the good feeling they had engendered could be forgotten.
I’m happy to say they did the right thing.
Ben Ainslie postbox: Royal Mail U-turn in Lymington
A postbox in Lymington will be repainted gold in honour of Olympic gold medallist Ben Ainslie, the Royal Mail has said.
“However, after speaking with Ben, we have agreed to repaint the postbox on Lymington High Street at his request, and are delighted to do so.
“Ben is a local hero in Lymington and now he will be one of the few lucky Team GB gold medallists to have two gold postboxes celebrating his achievement.
“However, we still highly recommend people leave the painting of postboxes to Royal Mail.”
No online letterbox though…
Their Gold Postbox finder tells a different story though… the Lymington box seems not to have reached the map: http://www.goldpostboxes.com/
All this will become moot of course… the boxes will be repainted in Royal Mail’s traditional red in due course. Unless this unlikely petition succeeds.
More on the subject:
- Pensioner who painted postbox gold in tribute to Olympic triathlon champion sees red when ‘miserable’ Royal Mail quickly cover it up
- Tarnished: Gold postbox for Alistair Brownlee’s Olympics triumph is vandalised
- How Olympic gold gave Britain a fresh coat of patriotism