Welcome to the UK.
Welcome to London.
Welcome to the greatest show on earth.
On Friday night, I and more than 29 million other people in the UK (and more than a billion around the world) sat down to watch the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics. We all knew it wouldn’t match the sheer numbers of participants and specatacle of the Beijing Opening Ceremony but I had a good feeling it would be very impressive in its own way. Danny Boyle, the director, didn’t let me down.
The start was a montage video flying down from the source of the Thames into London, accompanied by the Radio 4 Shipping Broadcast and pieces of music. I particularly liked when the shot pulled upwards to show the aerial view of the Thames and London used in the titles of Eastenders and accompanied by the iconic theme music.
Then we had a somewhat false but attractive vision of rural Britain, circa. 18th century, all maypoles and cricket. This was then overtaken by Sir Kenneth Branagh, playing Isambard Kingdom Brunel and ushering in the Industrial Revolution with a reading of the “Be not afeared. The isle is full of noises” speech from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. I would have liked to have seen more about British history (some jousting knights would have been good) but this was a good sequence. There were also other bits of British history, including volunteers dressed as Afro-Caribbean immigrants from the Windrush and women from the Sufferagette movement (two of whom were played by decendants of Emmeline and Sylvia Pankhurst, which was a nice touch). After appearances from people dressed in Sgt Pepper outfits, real Chelsea Pensioners and Pearly Kings and Queens, the sequence showed Britain’s role in the Industrial Revolution, ending with smelting the Olympic rings which joined together in a fiery fashion in the sky.
The next section was hilarious and was my favourite of the night. It was a video of Daniel Craig as James Bond collecting the Queen in a helicopter. They flew over London to the stadium where we went back to live and found a helicopter hovering over the stadium – then two people parachuted out in Union Flag parachutes, accompanied by the James Bond theme music! One was dressed as Bond, the other as the Queen. This was shortly followd by the actual entry of the Queen, in the same dress as in the video and when ‘she’ was parachuting! Just a shame she looked like she’d rather be anywhere else the whole night.
After that we moved to a celebration of the digital age and British music from the 60s to the present day. I thought this was well done but didn’t match the opening sequences.
After a memorial sequence to those who lost their lives in the 7/7 bombings, which took place the day after London won the bid, we moved to the entrance of the athletes. The energy inevitably drops during this section because it takes so long, but the organisers did their best with the music and drummers. As is rightly traditional, Greece enter first, and the home team last. The roar when Team GB entered was quite something! Each team was accompanied by a child carrying a little copper kettle, which was meaningless at the time but came to mean everything.
After opening speeches and the taking of the oaths, it was time for the lighting of the cauldron. There had been a lot of speculation about who would do it. Steve Redgrave? Daley Thompson? Roger Bannister? When Steve Redgrave appeared to take the torch from David Beckham at the edge of the River Thames, I thought it would be him, but no. He carried the torch into the stadium before passing it to 7 British teenage athletes. Each had been nominated by a successful British Olympian, including Redgrave, Thompson, Kelly Holmes and Mary Peters. The 7 teenagers ran with their torches to the centre of the stadium, where each of the copper kettles had been placed on the end of a long, thin metal pole. The youngsters each lit something on the ground which then lit all 204 copper kettles. These then rose into the sky to form one cauldron made from the kettles, one per competing nation. Wonderful imagery.
The night was closed with a performance by Paul McCartney. He’s a legend, obviously, but I don’t know why he always gets wheeled out for these things.
Danny Boyle and his team did a fantastic job at showcasing the UK to the world. It wasn’t perfect but it was pretty close! Most credit goes to the volunteers who gave their time, their energy and their talents for free. What a night! Now, enjoy the 30th Olympiad!