MOST of us witnessed the splendour of the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games last week but I bet hardly anyone in Fiji could recognise one of our own in the crowd of performers. Twenty-five-year-old Josaia Tamanikairukurukuiovalau from Bureta Tai, Ovalau dressed the part of Marc Bolan, a famous glam rock idol in the 1970s.
On top of all the glamour and fancy costumes, making the cut to perform in the opening ceremony was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the United Kingdom-based bartender who has been living in his adopted country since 2009.
"I've been here since September 2009 and I came over because I wanted to see the world and travel Europe," he said from the UK.
"Some people think I came here because I joined the British Army — but my grandfather was one of the first Fijians to join the British Army and that's how I managed to come here. Sadly, my grandfather died a few years ago."
It took him three auditions to get the thumbs-up from director Danny Boyle, the same guy who directed the 2008 Academy Award Indo-British film Slumdog Millionaire. And it was this lucky pick that saw him perform in front of millions of people.
"I auditioned for a place and when I got the part, I was very excited. My whole experience was the best thing that's ever happened to me. I've made so many new friends. The rehearsals were a bit tiring because we spent long hours (rehearsing) — sometimes all day and all night but there was a lot of waiting around as well.
"We started rehearsing at 3 Mills Studio which is where they make a lot of films and after two months of rehearsing in a closed area, we moved to Dagenham which is in an open field.
"Sometimes it rained and the weather was cold, but we kept on rehearsing.
"After months (of rehearsing) there, we moved to the Olympic Stadium that was where I realised that I was rehearsing for the actual 'Opening Ceremony'.
"I was overjoyed but we were strictly not allowed to take photos there. On the last week of rehearsals, we had to sort out our costumes and make-up — there were 1800 of us."
The atmosphere then would have been hectic especially on the big day. In the middle of running around to get ready, Josaia found himself helping out with hair and make-up for other performers.
"I thought I was working there because I had people lining up at my table to get their hair and make-up sorted," he said.
"The place where we got ready was 30 minutes walk to the stadium, and as I walked there on the day, I was so excited and scared at the same time because I never dreamt that I was going to ever take part in the opening ceremony.
"Minutes before going on stage, I panicked and all my friends were saying to 'just breathe' because it was at that moment I realised I was going to be part of the world's biggest event and all the important people in the world was going to be there, some watching it live on television from their home all over the world."
Being part of the event meant sacrificing time off work and studies. He was part of one of the first groups that started rehearsals in February. His group — representing the 70s era — was the one that formed a star during the mind-boggling performance.
"To be honest, I never thought I would be part of the Olympics ever but I used to look forward to watching it on television. I didn't meet any of the Team Fiji athletes after the ceremony but I did pass them and I said 'bula'. They all looked at me and replied back but I think they must have thought I was just some crazy Fijian fan," he said.
"I got a lot of positive feedback from everyone who said they really enjoyed the performance and the whole ceremony. I was even more lucky to meet and converse with the director, Danny Boyle."
Josaia is no stranger to the business of entertainment; though not on a large scale like Beyonce or Rihanna, he has performed at various Pacific festivals around Europe, doing his bit to promote his cultural heritage and identity.
"I do take part in a lot of Pacific events around here especially representing Fiji in Europe. I've missed out on a lot ever since I started rehearsals for the opening ceremony. I usually dance to represent Fiji but I'm sure there are better performers out there who could represent Fiji but I just do it for Fiji," he said.
"I think it's important for us to keep our Fijian identity because that's how we are recognised in society and people should never forget where they came from. I've met a lot of people who have been to Fiji and they've told me that Fiji is like paradise — they say the people are so nice and friendly and they can't stop smiling which is really true.
"The last time I was in Fiji was two years ago and I really loved being back. When I'm here, I sometimes feel homesick, missing everyone back in Fiji — but I keep myself occupied like catching up with friends and family here, visiting aunties and having some grog. There are times when I really enjoy just spending time with my sister, nephew and niece."
With the Olympic Games already in full gear, Josaia is gearing up for another rehearsal — this time for the opening of the Paralympics on August 29.
"I know it's not really a big one but it's a good experience working with people with disabilities. A lot of them are very talented and I'm also looking forward to it," he said.
The former St John Bosco Primary and Cathedral Secondary School student hopes to one day visit his village, Bureta Tai, after admitting he spent most of his teen days at his grandmother's village, Natokalau on Ovalau. The rest of his childhood upbringing was spent at Nabua and later Toorak.