Seven years in the making, billed as ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’ and not without its detractors and critics, the London 2012 Olympics kicked off in spectacular fashion.
Mitt Romney doubted our abilities and our preparedness, but when the time came, we, the British nation as a whole, stood up and showed him and the rest of the world just what we could do. Were we ready? Yes, we were. Could we pull of an opening ceremony of immense style, skill and patriotism? Yes, we could. Can we host an Olympics the world will remember for years to come?
Ok, now you would surly expect me to be as biased as can be, being a Brit and all, but let me be honest with you here, I too had my doubts in the run up to last nights opening extravaganza. I was half expecting something to go drastically wrong, I knew security wouldn’t be an issue, not with the army now in dominance after the reliance on a private security firm, G4S, to provide security personnel disintegrated. However, something else might have gone amiss, a power failure perhaps, mass over booking of tickets, mega travel disruption or some sort of technical issue that would slam to a halt the glitz and glamour of the opening moments in its tracks. The eyes of the world would be focused London’s way and we’d, well, it doesn’t bear thinking about, but there would have been some seriously red faces, that’s for sure. Yet, hitch, there was none!
Over a billion people are estimated to have watched the opening live on television, almost 27 million in the UK alone, as the 30th Olympiad of modern times were officially opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
The build up to the actual event started two hours earlier on British television and weeks earlier for a whole army of performers and entertainers, most of whom were volunteers from various professions, including nurses, doctors, actors and dancers. There was an excited buzz, not only in London, but all over the kingdom, with dozens of large screens put up in parks, town centres and even beaches for enthusiastic spectators.
The actual ceremony opened with British cyclist Bradley Wiggins, fresh from his impressive Tour de France win, entered the 80,000 seat specially built arena a rang a massive bell. As the bell’s echo diminished strains of the patriotic hymn Jerusalem sung by a slightly nervous young soloist from a wonderful children’s choir. The excitement was fever pitch and danced in the air as we were taken on a magical tour of all four nations of the United Kingdom through the various national songs, sung by young choirs, some in the vast stadium and some at various key locations around the country. Danny boy, Flower of Scotland, Bread of Heaven all delighted the home crowd and somehow managed to really foster the feeling of being ’united’ and a sense of wellbeing enveloped all present.
A horse drawn cart and some men in Victorian style dress take to the arena floor with purpose and power. One of these men turns out to be award winning actor and director Kenneth Branagh, he’s playing Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the industrialist that became a world leading engineer of tunnels, bridges, steamships and railways and you can certainly say the show has well and truly begun.
What followed was a spectacular example of what Great Britain has given the world, perhaps slightly tongue in cheek at times and with a good dollop of British humour. The green and pleasant land opening gave way to rapid progression through the years of our history, the industrial revolution, the two world war, the introduction of trade unionism, the suffragette movement and so much more besides to indicate our proud industrial past.
One thousand drummers added to the cacophony of sound that beats out from the heart of the Olympic park to every part of the capital and the nation. Music had been especially chosen to be indicative of the British sound of the various generations and to be as inclusive as possible.
It was a little after 9.20pm when a film starts of a traditional black London cab drives up the mall, through the gates and pulls up at the grand steps of Buckingham Palace. Feet jump out and head up those red carpeted stairs, were few other that visiting dignitaries get to walk. It is Bond, James Bond, played by Daniel Craig and it all looked rather impressive. Those around me wondered just how director Danny Boyle pulled this off. Filming inside Buckingham Palace is not usually allowed for such things. He’s shown into the private office of HM the Queen. Obviously it’s a look-a-like you think from behind, but then she turns, and you see it really is Her Majesty, “Good Evening Mr Bond” she says. They then make an exit, walking along corridors in the famous palace before boarding a waiting helicopter, which takes off and fly’s over the London skyline. But what is that we can hear overhead, yes a helicopter and the film comes to an end with both Bond and The Queen parachuting out of the helicopter. Above us, we see two people jump out of the hovering chopper with their parachutes billowing as they skydive overhead, coming to land just outside the Olympic Stadium. A spectacular arrival of that there is no mistake and then the Queen accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh enters the stadium and takes her seat in the royal box, along with other members of the royal family.
Tubular Bells performed by Mike Oldfield kicks off the next section of this mammoth ceremony which features volunteers from hospitals from all over the UK including patients and staff from Great Ormond Street Hospital for sick children. It is a remarkable tribute to the NHS that has some 600 or so beds, dozens of Mary Poppin’s characters, children jumping on the beds and the mood is so light and very celebratory without being preachy or sycophantic.
JK Rowling reads a short line or two from the JM Barrie classic Peter Pan it’s bed time for the little ones, not surprising really as its nearly quarter to ten. But, this is a special occasion, normal rules don’t apply here. Wicked ghouls wake the children from pretend slumbers and I think I even spy Voldemort stalking around this vast stage that is the stadium, or arena floor.
I’m not sure what was the biggest highlight, the wondrously funny performance by Rowan Atkinson as Mr Bean, The Chariots of Fire race, the modern take on social media and modern communications which followed along with some rather odd and obscure TV references, which I’m sure people around the world wouldn’t have got. I know I didn’t get half of them, but I did get a tremendous buzz from the performances, the dancing, the sound and light all used to an amazing effect. I’ve never seen a spectacular like this in my life, not with so many people, so many parts, so much feeling and for so long. It truly is one of the greatest shows on earth and thankfully so, it also makes one proud to be British.
Just after 10.20pm the first of the Olympic Athletes start to arrive in their teams, Greece as the spiritual home of the Olympics is always first and then it reverts to alphabetical order, until the last team enters which is always the home nation. For many this is the key part of the opening ceremony, the glamour and glitz of the show are all well and good, but the true reason of why we are all here is the ability, strength, skill and determination of the people entering now, the athletic representatives from nearly every nation on earth. Each team has a flag carrying athlete and also each team brings in a massive copper petal, which seems intriguing. Another key point to remember about these games, is that every team from every country includes at least one female, the first time in history that has happened and perhaps indicative of the Olympian ethos of inclusion.
It is pretty much midnight when the final team, the home nation enter the stadium and as you would expect are greeted with the loudest cheer. Great Britain isn’t a relatively big country, in fact it is rather small on a global scale, approximately one and a half times the size of the US state of Illinois, if that helps any, with a population of around sixty million, so to field an athletic contingent of around 500 is quite impressive. As is putting on a show as exuberant as this whilst in the midst of a deep recession and something that should be applauded and rightly so.
Birds on bicycles circle around the athletes in artistic fashion before one flies off, these I’m told indicate and symbolise the traditional doves of peace released at other Olympic Games. It’s a nice touch, effective and artistic and no danger of injury to our feathered friends. Next came inspiring and appreciative speeches from Lord Sebastian Coe the head of the UK organising committee and the chairman of the IOC Jacques Rogge before Her Majesty The Queen declares the games open.
A group of young athletes, all nominated by former British Olympic champions have the wonderful honour of lighting the Olympic cauldron, which is a conglomeration of all those giant copper petals brought into the stadium by the various teams. The magic and mystery held firm throughout the planning and preparation and a wonderful opening ceremony comes to an end.
So was it The Greatest Show On Earth? I think so, but don’t just take my word for it -
Jolly good show - Chicago Tribune.
Memorable start to the games. - Brisbane Times.
Brilliant. Cheeky too. - New Zeland Herald.
A gigant spectacle. What a show - Germany's Bild.
Danny Boyle modernised the traditional athletes parade on Friday. An opening ceremony so British - France's L'Equipe
A lavish spectacular - Gazzetta Dello Sport Italy.
The Greatest Show on Earth - The Times.
Grand Show - Al Jazeera.