It took seven years, £11 billion and the manufacture of more Great Britain flags than we ever thought possible. Finally, the Olympics burst into life with the lavish Opening Ceremony – and it really couldn’t have been more British, particularly with the impromptu downpour just twenty minutes before the start. Fresh from the Tour de France and suitably clad in yellow, Bradley Wiggins got the celebrations underway with a resounding clang on the Olympic Bell.
After hymns sung by children from across the nation, the ceremony launched into a whistle-stop tour of Britain’s recent history. It began by portraying the idyllic countryside before the industrial revolution, complete with a rousing speech from Shakespeare’s tempest recited by actor Kenneth Branagh.
Paradise was swiftly shattered with thundering percussion, deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie leading a troupe of 100 drummers. In a graphic representation of the descent into industrialism, the towering tree dominating the set was torn from its roots, smoke and industrial workers flooding in from the hole left in the ground. Grass was pulled from the floor, industrial towers rose from the ground belching smoke amidst toiling workers and swinging chimney sweepers.
A moment of delicious uncertainty…
There was a powerful pause as it neared Britain’s war years, commemorated by complete stillness and lingering shots of poppies and uniform-clad soldiers. The ceremony swept on to the sixties, with psychedelic Beatles fans and a replica of the Windrush, the ship which brought the first Caribbean immigrants to Britain.
Then onto the seventies and eighties, the stage flooded with gleaming rivers of melted iron worked by masked miners – a hint perhaps at the decimation of the British mining industry in those decades. Smoking and glinting, five giant suspended rings then came together to form the iconic Olympic symbol. As the drums came to a thumping end, the rings poured sparks down onto the actors below, bringing the journey through time to a dramatic close.
A video montage followed, revealing Daniel Craig inside Buckingham Palace as British icon James Bond. Speculation had been rife over a royal cameo appearance, and the video played cheekily on these rumours, lingering on back shots of the Queen as Bond was introduced. As her face was finally revealed, an ecstatic crowd witnessed the British monarch in the flesh, before she appeared to board a waiting helicopter alongside 007. Complete with Bond theme tune, we then switched back to the stadium, where the royal helicopter was flying over the stadium in real time. A moment of delicious uncertainty, before two skydivers, purportedly Bond and the Monarch, hurled themselves from the helicopter in GB parachutes.
…a dance and video tribute to Britain’s formidable musical history…
Cue the entrance of the Queen to rapturous applause, as the Ceremony launched into its next phase: a dance-filled tribute to the NHS. Pyjama-clad children, jiving doctors and nurses flooded the stage, with gymnasts doing acrobatics on gleaming trampoline beds. The routine then morphed into a surreal childhood nightmare, as Harry Potter millionaire, JK Rowling, popped up to read a snippet from a children’s book. Grotesque clowns and an enormous Voldemort puppet lurched across the stage, until the arrival of a squad of Mary Poppins lookalikes forced them back out.
A swelling rendition of the Chariots of Fire theme next, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra and conducted by the legendary Simon Rattle. Rowan Atkinson got the loudest laugh of the night featuring as a hapless keyboard player frustrated at been stuck simply playing a single repetitive note. Next, a dance and video tribute to Britain’s formidable musical history, powering through from the Rolling Stones to Prodigy and ending up with a storming performance by Dizzee Rascal. A cameo appearance by the Internet’s creator, Tim Berners-Lee, was a reminder of yet another feather in the cap of British achievements through the ages.
Like it or not, the London Games will forever be connected with the bombings which followed the announcement of the bid’s success in 2005. Thus there followed a moment’s silence, when the screens were flooded with photos of the victims of the attacks. A soulful and slower-paced movement brought this part of the Ceremony to a close with Emile Sandre singing a mournful refrain as a troupe of dancers performed under a baking orange light.
There were few surprised faces when it was five time Olympic gold medallist…
It was back to the freneticism of the opening stages as the athletes of all 204 nations then filed on, led as ever by Greece, creators of the Olympics. Waving to the crowds, often in traditional costume, the teams filed round the stadium, each squad containing at least one woman for the first time in Olympic history.
Sheffield band the Arctic Monkeys were up next, providing an indie-fuelled shot of energy. Their set was followed by a stunning, almost Avataresque sequence where hundreds of cyclists with gleaming flapping wings circled the stadium, with one then rising high in the air above the crowds. It was time then to reveal who would carry the torch into the stadium. There were few surprised faces when it was five time Olympic gold medallist, Steve Redgrave, who collected the flame from David Beckham for its final journey.
In a heart-warming nod to the inspire message of the Olympics, Redgrave then passed the torch on to a handful of young sporting hopefuls, each nominated by an Olympic legend who embraced them as they set off to light the Cauldron. The young athletes touched their torches to the cauldron’s lowest copper petals and sparked a gradual ignition of the whole feature, which rose up to mark the beginning of the Games.
In fact, he simply chose to celebrate the greatness of the host nation…
With the dances, speeches and flames over, there was only one Brit who was ever going to sing the ceremony to a close: Sir Paul McCartney. Roaring out Hey Jude with the energy of a man half his age; the former Beatle rounded off what had been a curiously British and frankly remarkable evening.
There were fears before the ceremony that director, Danny Boyle, might try to rival the might of Beijing or recreate the success of Sydney’s opening show. In fact, he simply chose to celebrate the greatness of the host nation with striking warmth and humour. If this was an indication of the Games to come, Lord Coe can breathe a sigh of relief. It will be an affectionately British and delightfully watchable spectacle.