Baker High alum and member of the Florida Gators marching band Taylor Hartley returned from London on July 31 after performing in the Olympics and squeezing in some sightseeing during a very busy week-long trip.
The Press caught up with the 19-year-old Glen St. Mary native now attending the University of Florida and studying tourism and hospitality upon her return for an interview via e-mail.
She is a 2011 graduated of the high school and the daughter of Rhonda and Mark Hartley, also of Glen.
Press: Had you ever been abroad before?
Hartley: I actually have never been abroad before. This made the trip even more exciting. I had flown before, but not more than about 2 hours, so a 6-hour flight seemed crazy. I really enjoyed the trip. My favorite part of the flight was having access to movies and games. A few of the band members and I played trivia on the flight there. I was really nervous about flying over the water, but I just said a little prayer to myself right before take off and that helped calm my nerves.
Press: When and how did you find out the Gator band would be going to the Olympics?
Hartley: We were told about the trip at band practice during the fall. At first, we were just in awe, then there were a few screams and jumping up and down. It was one of the most exciting days. However, we were still not sure it was actually going to happen. Therefore, we tried to stay as calm as possible until we knew for sure. They announced our news to the entire Gator Nation at one of the home games during halftime.Press: What is your role in the band? And what was the band’s role in the Olympics?
Hartley: I am a Gatorette, a baton twirler, in the marching band, so my role is to help with the visual effects of the shows and to add a little sparkle to the field. I also represent the University of Florida and help support the football team and all the teams at UF.
The band’s role in the Olympics were to be the talent and entertainment at different Olympic events — basically, the job we do every Saturday morning during football season. We were there to represent UF, the United States and to show the world that the Gator Nation is everywhere! Even in London!
We played at the US ambassador’s home before various Olympic VIPs, including the first lady Michelle Obama, soccer star David Beckham and the US track and field team.
Press: What did you do in your free time and how much free time did band members get to see the sites, etc.?
Hartley: I hung out with some of my friends and went sightseeing. We had at least an hour a day to sightsee, some days more than others. We had charter buses with tour guides who told us about everything we saw in London. They even did this when we drove to a performance. We were always seeing something new. Most of our sight seeing was in organized group events. We had the opportunity to visit Stonehenge and Oxford University. We saw the British Museum, attended a dinner at Wellington Barracks, next to Buckingham Palace, and went to a British play. The free time we had was for shopping and seeing different places that you hadn’t seen as a group.
Press: What was your impression of the UK and its people?
Hartley: The UK was very different and similar to the US. I actually didn’t feel like I had left the states at first, but then I saw how much diversity was there and realized that this wasn’t like home. There are so many different types of people in London. I mean you see people from all over the world. The people there were very friendly though. I actually loved how they treated the band. They looked at us like super stars. They had never seen a marching band like ours, with so many members and the style of music we played. I met many interesting people. They were very friendly and supportive. They had a lot of passion for their country. It was inspiring.
Press: What were the highlights of the trip?
Hartley: Almost every part of the trip was a highlight. We were the first non-British marching band to perform on the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace. We also performed at Victoria Park before the Opening Ceremonies. This is where the public congregates to watch the ceremonies on big huge screens. We also were the only pre-show entertainment before the ceremonies.
We were invited to watch the changing of the guards at Wellington Barracks. This was exciting because there is very high security there and it’s where the guards live. We also ate at the barracks.
We were able to watch some Olympic events there on the televisions with former Olympians and members of the Olympic committee, some of whom just happened to be UF Alumni. We met the Prime Minister, saw Prince Charles, and saw the Queen twice!
The last night of the trip was probably the best. We were treated with a river boat cruise down the Thames, with food and a DJ, to bring a celebratory end to our trip and season.
To read of the interview with Ms. Hartley, see this week’s print edition or subscribe to the e-edition here.
All photos are courtesy of Ms. Hartley.