It was 16 years ago in Athens. Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, was the face of the Olympic organising committee, showcasing events for Athens 2004 with immaculately coiffed hair, prim business suits and a commanding presence.
At the virtual meeting on Tuesday night, where she appeared as a guest of The Hellenic Initiative (THI) to speak to the Greek Australian diaspora of her vision as President of the Greece 2021 committee, she was just as primped in her royal blue Chanel-like suit, looking as though a day hadn’t passed since Athens 2004, but reminding her audience that she is a grandmother of three these days.
News presenter John Mangos tried his best to unravel the woman behind the icon that Gianna has become – a brand unto herself. The daughter of unionist Frixos Daskalakis-Fazakis, president of the Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE), Ms Angelopoulos-Daskalaki may have been born to a middle class family in Heraklion, Crete, but she is not exactly your typical, approachable person. For one, her husband Theodore Angelopoulos is a billionaire businessman, shipping and steel magnate and, by his side, Ms Angelopoulos-Daskalaki can be found entertaining the likes of Prince Charles and Camilla on their superyacht, along with heads of state and A-listers.
Well-travelled, she shared “vivid memories” during a private trip to Australia before the Sydney Olympics “with Theodore, an admirer of all you Greeks who went to Australia and created a new chapter in Australia’s history and Greece’s history”, she said.
“Of course, the highlight was when I came because of the Olympic games, I ran in Sydney carrying your torch and I remember it was the first time in my life, doing that in Australia side by side with people from all around the world that made me so proud,” she said, pointing to Australia, with so many Greeks, causing her to feel like she was at her “home away from home” at the time.
“Now that we’re talking, I feel the same sentiment coming back. Why? Because, now again, in 46 countries around the world there are Greeks who want to celebrate, to remember where we come from, and most importantly how we can keep walking into the future. How we will keep our memories alive, our history alive, and how you, the diaspora, can play such an important role – back to the roots again,” she said of her efforts to “touch the soul, the psyche of the people” in order, as she says, “to transcend the society and come back as a cascade of self-confidence”.
She spoke of “complicated” structure of the Athens Olympics using “the culture of systematic effort” and what they achieved, linking this to Greece 2021. “We had a kind of exemplary teamwork, and we were – all of us – totally committed to the goal. Not just the organising committee but also the citizens, the general public and this is what we want to achieve again now through this effort. And not just to remind (people of) the history. It is to create a common sense of goal,” she said.
Since then there has been a crippling debt crisis, some of the Olympic facilities have fallen to disarray and COVID-19 has come to test the resilience of Greeks. For Ms Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, Greeks know how to tackle problems in a way that “is not common” in other countries.
“Sorry guys, we are very proud of us and you know that,” she said, referring to “πολυμήχανος Οδυσσέας” (Polymetis Odysseus), the hero of the Trojan War.
1,800 proposals, 36 from Australia
The committee asked people to suggest events on a digital platform, and was inundated with 1,800 event proposals, 318 from countries outside Greece of which 36 proposals were from Australia.
Ms Angelopoulos-Daskalaki skimmed through a three-page list of events from Greek-Australian artists to collaborations with the Messinian society, from a dinner talk to a book publication, from an 1821-inspired comic book edition of stories for kids to events in the Greek writers festival, from a Greek cruise ship concept in Sydney to Perth, from investment opportunities to a youth conference, from the construction of sculptures to a photo exhibition and “the list goes on”.
Of these, 70 per cent are sustainable programs that will continue even after the 200th anniversary of the Greek Revolution ends, taking us to the third century of Greece’s existence – leaving behind a legacy. She speaks of having a “forecast for the future”, mainly addressing the youth, which will be asked to envision life through different professions in 2040 including guest speakers, such as industrialist Andrew Liveris, the former member of The Dow Chemical Company and THI Chairman.
Though some events would be self-financed others would come at a cost, so the committee – like polymetis Odysseus – had to come up with ways to put on a show as in the Athens Olympics before Greece was squeezed dry of funds. “Because of the 10-year crisis that happened in Greece, we decided we don’t want state funding,” she said. “That was a kind of important decision. We decided to go with private donations, with sponsorships, with funds from selling products with the emblem of 2021.”
These include the production of the first official medals sold at banks around the world, including the Bank of Sydney. Furthermore, a new category of sponsors was created – medium, small and large companies of Greece – adopting proposals that come from the public.
She wants to serve her country by providing her services gratis to Greece 2021. Before that, she had also made an effort to serve “grass-roots democracy that starts from local government to solve everyday problems” prior to going abroad due to her husband’s interests. It is there that she found herself relating to the diaspora and the love they have for their homeland.
She hopes Greece 2021 would give all Greeks, young and old, in Greece and the diaspora, a chance to be inspired by the Greek revolution to seek a better Greece. “You may ask me, is it enough? Can 1800 proposals solve all that?” she asked. “These are small revolutions that we need everyday. Sometimes it is not enough to have a major revolution. We, Greeks, are inspired by our revolution.”
Professor Helen Zorbas and Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki:
Gianna’s views in a nutshell
HER PHILOSOPHY “You have to value every moment of your life – every victory but also every mistake.”
HER ADVICE “Never take ‘no’ for an answer.”
HER LEADERSHIP STYLE “Sometimes I say I’m very hard on my people, on my team, because I’m hard on me.”
HER HUSBAND’S ADVICE TO HER “Relax!”
ABOUT WOMEN “We are very practical as women, not because of our sex but because we have managed different kinds of lives around us at the same time. Be a mother, be a grandmother, be a hardworking woman, create a change in our environment, in our country, in our continent if you like. […] How do we take the opportunity by ourselves? They don’t want to give it to us? We take it by force.”
INSPIRED BY Winston Churchill
FAVORITE MUSIC Greek pop
DANCES Traditional Greek dances, such as tsamikos