Jul 27 2012
By Gary Ralston
Olympics opening ceremony Image 5
THE self-styled greatest city on Earth lived up to its claim last night as London stunned the world with an inspirational ceremony to mark the opening of the Olympic Games.
A worldwide television audience of up to four billion tuned in as Britain showcased all that has made it Great against a backdrop, typically, of falling rain at Stratford.
This was the east end meets the west end as artistic director Danny Boyle put on an amazing show in front of a crowd of almost 60,000 that was a joyful and magical kaleidoscope of colour, noise and celebration of centuries of British history and heritage.
The show, which lasted almost three-and-a-half hours, included appearances from Mary Poppins, Cruella de Vil, Voldemort from Harry Potter, and bed-hopping nurses who jumped on trampoline sheets in a homage to the NHS.
JK Rowling even made a rare public appearance to read Peter Pan in front of a VIP audience that included the Queen, Prime Minister David Cameron, Michelle Obama and dozens of heads of state from all around the world.
Musical acts included the Arctic Monkeys and Sir Paul McCartney, with special appearances from actors such as Sir Kenneth Branagh and Rowan Atkinson.
And there were gasps as a film showed James Bond star Daniel Craig collecting the Queen from Buckingham Palace – then two parachutists leapt from a chopper hovering above the stadium.
Scotland was also represented with percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie leading a drum march before songstress Emeli Sande brought the show to a close with a spine-tingling version of Abide with Me.
Edinburgh’s Sir Chris Hoy carried the Union flag as the arrival of Team GB for the athletes’ parade threatened to bring the roof down on the space age stadium that will now host more than a fortnight of world class sport.
The £27million Olympics opening show was christened the Isles of Wonder and Boyle did not disappoint with his vision of the country through the ages as London revelled in the triumphant opening night of the Games, awarded against the odds seven years ago.
In the backyard of London’s pearly kings and queens, the cast and capacity crowd beamed only pearly whites in front of a worldwide television audience that will not be bettered this year.
Spectators began arriving at the Olympic Stadium early in the afternoon and the scenes outside were of joyous expectation as Britons mingled with visitors and guests from all corners of the planet.
National dress was to the fore – a Japanese samurai queued for entry beside Queen Bodicea as families swept excitedly from Stratford International station and into Olympic Park.
They thronged around concessions stands and tucked into British favourites – fish and chips and Indian dishes – washed down by pint after pint of beer warmed, fittingly, by the humidity of a muggy London evening.
Milky skies had threatened to crack and rumble all day before the rain finally started falling at 8.30pm, perhaps drawn by the enormous fluffy white pillow cases of candy floss, filled with helium and carried around the perimeter of the field by volunteers in an ironic nod to the vagaries of the British weather.
Rain continued to fall as the show got under way but it mattered little to the crowd who showed the national trait for fortitude and preparedness by reaching for umbrellas.
The set was stunning and there were audible gasps as guests walked inside the stadium to be confronted by a pastoral vision of Britain, complete with almost 7500 square metres of green, grassy meadow.
A babbling brook meandered its way towards a water wheel – and a whitewashed but ‘n’ ben dominated the centre of the stunning set, looking as if it had been inspired by Blackrock Cottage in the shadow of Buachaille Etive Mor in Glencoe.
There were loud cheers when a group of the volunteer army of 7500 took to the meadow, shepherding 40 sheep, 12 horses, three cows, two goats, 10 chickens, 10 ducks and a menagerie of everything else, it seemed, but a partridge in a pear tree.
Over a PA system that delivered a million watts of sound, double the amount of speakers on the main stage at Glastonbury, birds chirped and tweeted as an expectant hush descended on the audience, who had earlier participated in jovial Mexican waves as the party atmosphere built.
Artistic director Danny Boyle made his name in Trainspotting but this was as far from that grimy depiction of a sad aspect of British life as possible.
For that, Boyle was unashamedly unapologetic as he made it clear he was determined to focus on all that was great about Britain, from the Industrial Revolution, literature, social and digital revolutions and the spirit of collectivism that has best been characterised by the NHS.
Boyle said: “The theme of the opening ceremony is, ‘This is for everyone.’
“It is a celebration of the creativity, exuberance and, above all, the generosity of the British people.
“Woven through it all runs a golden thread of purpose – the idea of Jerusalem – of a better world that can be built through the prosperity of industry, through the caring nation that built the welfare state, through the joyous energy of popular culture, through the dream of universal communication.”
Fittingly, the show started at exactly 20:12 when the Red Arrows flew over the stadium, emitting a patriotic plume of red, white and blue as host Curtis Walker worked the crowd into a frenzy.
In truth, many of the spectators were slow to arrive, with pockets of white seats still visible as Walker instructed the crowd on their roles in the performance, perhaps echoing the travel problems in and out of Stratford that had been a talking point before and after dress rehearsals earlier in the week.
However, that was all forgotten as the clock counted down to 9pm and a film was shown on the giant screens depicting London’s iconic river, the Thames, from its source in the parish of Kemble in Gloucestershire.
Five Olympic rings were then launched into space, carried by four balloons and which climbed 34 kilometres into the night sky by the time the show came to a close after midnight.
A specially commissioned Olympic bell was rung before four films from around the UK were shown, including a choral rendition of Flower of Scotland from Edinburgh Castle as Kenneth Branagh delivered a speech from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Other highlights included a touching moment of remembrance for the fallen of two World Wars and other conflicts.
And there was a parade including trade unionists and relatives of suffragettes before the music kicked in.
Above it all, five Olympic rings gleamed like molten metal.
It was a triumphant mixture of Last Night of the Proms meets the Jubilee Concert and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
And the crowd lapped up every single moment.
Now the nation can only hold its breath and hope Team GB athletes keep up their side of the bargain.