…on London 2012 Opening Ceremony

London, 6th July 2005. The assembled crowds in Trafalgar Square go absolutely wild as the International Olympic Committee announces that London is awarded the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, becoming the first city ever to host 3 Olympics.

27th July 2012 at 9pm in London, saw the start of the Opening Ceremony for the Games of the 30th Olympiad, after 7 years of preparation, planning, construction and nail-biting.

Over the intervening years there had been all sorts of dire predictions of doom and disaster, ranging from the venue would not be complete on time (not only was it completed on time, but the IOC said this was the most prepared Games they’d overseen) to the opening ceremony being prophecied as a disaster, a laughing stock, a cringing embarrassment which would make the UK a laughing stock before the entire world. As the Olympics grew closer so the complaints, scandals and fiascoes rose. There was the whole ridiculous situation regarding the tickets; various groups threatened strikes if they didn’t get bonuses for doing their job; G4S spectacularly failed to fulfil their contract to supply security staff thereby necessitating the emergency draw upon the armed forces to step in; sponsors were legally avoiding paying tax on the profits from the event; the logo police were clamping down hard on anyone not an official sponsor, often to a ridiculously over the top degree; the LOCOG using Orwell’s 1984 as a reference guide, and so on.

However, as the clock ticked down, the London 2012 Olympics drew ever nearer, bringing with it the realisation of the dreams of so many athletes of all disciplines from 204 countries, each looking to fulfil their destiny and reap the rewards of all their many years of ceaseless training, to make good their sacrifices, and to complete with their peers, the best of the best of the best in the whole world.

And so, the day of the Opening Ceremony arrives. We know that Danny Boyle has been working hard with his teams to create… well, something, we don’t know what. We do know little officially-released snippets, but that’s all. It is pretty cool to observe that even though the entire ceremony has already been run 2 days earlier as a final rehearsal in front of an audience on 60,000 in the arena, pretty much everyone has honoured the requests not to spill the beans. Yes, there were a few leaks here and there, including some of the nastier elements of our wonderful press leaking some secrets, but overall there was remarkably little spread. Which is actually pretty nice to see.

Now, I will admit to initially having some reservations – I still remembered all too well the fiasco of the 2000 fireworks in London, with the woefully pathetic “River of Fire”. However, each year since then London’s NYE firework displays have improved, and the New Year’s Eve 2011 fireworks were particularly stunning – generally regarded as the best display in the world for that NYE. Watching that display I remembered at the time thinking “You know what, we certainly can put on a great show, I have faith that they will do us proud at the Olympics”.

So, 9pm fast approached and it was time to see just what Danny and his team had in store for us. Would we wow the world, or would the world be laughing at us? The next 3-4 hours would tell…

There’s little point in me describing the ceremony in great detail; I mean, countless hundreds of millions of people round the world saw it live, even more caught highlights and it’s going to be repeated again, so the chances are you already saw all or some of it yourself.

Instead, I’ll just stick to the highlights and to discussing my (and some others’) reactions to the spectacle.

And what a spectacle it was too!

As we started off with very pastoral scenes, I wondered when they would remove the grass and flowerbeds for the actual sporting events, thinking they might have to do it overnight.  But no, they actually removed them all as part of the ceremony as we moved from rural Britain to the Britain of the Industrial Revolution, with chimney after smoking chimney rising from the cleared ground, whilst Sir Kenneth Branagh portrayed Isambard Brunel (and not, as some US channels mistakenly claimed, ‘a Dickensian character’!) reading extracts from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  With some spectacular effects they showed molten metal being poured and used to forge circles, which later rose to form the 5 Olympic rings held high above the stadium.  We moved through the history of modern music of the UK with excerpts from many pieces throughout the decades (loved the multi-generational head-banging to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody a la Waynes World!).  We had children going to sleep in massive glowing beds with lots of nurses looking after them to protect them from their nightmares in a wonderful tribute to the most excellent NHS and Great Ormond Street Hospital (in a poignant reminder of just what we stand to lose with the ongoing privatisation and dismantling of the NHS).  Of course, as every child knows, sleep brings dreams and monsters, and this time was no exception as a giant Voldemort appears along with his flying Death Eaters – fortunately salvation soon arrived in the form of 40 flying Mary Poppins – where else could you ever hope to see 40 Mary Poppins vanquishing a giant Lord Voldermort?!

Other unexpected but welcome British heroes who made an appearance included Sir Tim Berners Lee, the man who invented the world wide web (without Sir Tim, I could not be writing this and you could not be reading it), sat at a desk with a NeXT computer just like the one on which he invented the web – he proceeded to tweet “This is for everyone” which was displayed across the audience.

We had Sir Simon Rattle conducting the London Philharmonic playing Vangelis‘ Chariots of Fire aided on synth bassline by Mr Bean, with the usual amusing consequences.

And an undoubted highlight saw James Bond (in the form of Daniel Craig) visiting Buckingham Palace to meet and escort HM The Queen (played by none other than HM The Queen herself) from the Palace to a waiting helicopter and thence to the games via Tower Bridge (see the photos from IanVisits on the day they filmed flying through Tower Bridge) where they both parachuted to the stadium (OK, obviously the parachute jump wasn’t them…) – what other Olympics opening ceremony has had The Queen (or their monarch) actually taking part in a filmed sketch?

We had shots of David Beckham driving the Olympic Flame in a speedboat up the Thames to the Stadium (I like to think he is now driving that boat up and down the waterways of the world as our newest travelling crime fighter), with Sir Steve Redgrave taking the flame from the boat into the stadium – was Sir Steve going to light the cauldron?  And where was it anyway?  More of that in a moment.

We had the long entry of the athletes from all 204 competing nations, with this Games being notable for being the first one where every nation has at least 1 female athlete in their team – progress, slowly but surely.  Intriguingly each of the countries also carried what looked like a strange copper bowl, with no clue as to what that was for.

As the lighting of the flame drew nearer, it was time for the speeches from Seb Coe and from the head of the IOC, both giving speeches perhaps a tad long for the occasion.  Then it was the Queen’s turn to give a speech declaring the Games open, and she showed them how it’s done; up, declare games open, and sit down again. No messing about, short and to the point. Nicely done!

Which meant it was time for the lighting of the cauldron, with just two questions – who would light it, and where was it anyway?  Ah, turns out it wasn’t to be lit by someone, but rather by 7 young upcoming athletes sponsored by some of the greats past and present, with the flame being passed to them by Sir Steve, neatly symbolising the passing of the baton down the generations.  And the cauldron itself?  A most beautiful cascade created from those 204 copper bowls, and once they were all lit the whole structure rose and came together as a massive bowl – extremely impressive (I have yet to hear anyone fail to be impressed by that).

The close of the ceremony was, alas, Sir Paul McCartney ‘singing’ Hey Jude – I say alas because as great as he may once have been, his singing ability is passed it (didn’t help that there was some mixup with a backing track along the way).  Personally I would have had Queen performing We Are The Champions as the finale which woudl have neatly summed up each and every athlete there.  But if not Queen then there is a plethora of other options which could have been used (even a cheesy rendition of Spandau Ballet’s Gold would have worked).  Still, McCartney it was, and he did get the crowd singing, and even his poor vocals couldn’t really detract from the fantastic spectacle of the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games.  Oh, and the massive fireworks display in, on and around the stadium and surrounding areas of the Park (accompanied by Pink Floyd‘s Eclipse from Dark Side Of The Moon), which whilst not as epic as the NYE ones, was still pretty good and a nice close.

It woudl appear that reaction from around the globe was pretty unanimous that it was an excellent opening ceremony (even if USA coverage did remove the tribute to the 7/7 victims, which was a disgrace – one can imagine the outcry had roles been reversed); certainly Britain was not made a laughing stock, the ceremony was well received (China apparently scoring it at 90%!).  In the UK most people seemed to enjoy it (I absolutely loved it), with much praise for all those who took part and for Danny Boyle for coming up with the whole concept – his knighthood in the next honours list being seen as pretty much a well-deserved and foregone conclusion.  As someone commented on Twitter the following day, “What is Danny Boyle doing today?  Absolutely anything he likes.  He’s earned it!”.

I loved the whole thing, I thought it struck the right chord, contained some lovely tributes to many people and times throughout our history, and did it without gloating, apologising, going over the top or being embarrassed.  Everyone who took part of contributed can certainly rest easy knowing that they did us proud with a cracking opening ceremony.   I mean, we had Sir Tim Berners Lee, 40 flying Mary Poppins defeating a giant Lord Voldermort, Mr Bean and the London Philharmonic, James Bond and HM The Queen, smoking chimneys rising from the stadium floor, and the most impressive cauldron the Olympics has ever had.  What’s not to love?

Apparently the opening ceremony cost £27 million to stage.  It is one of those strange coincidences which happen from time to time that approximately 27 million people in the UK watched at least part of the ceremony on TV – that’s the best £1 I have spent in a long long time!

And now, it’s over to the the 10,000+ athletes from the 204 participating nations to compete over the next weeks, displaying to the world that they have got what it takes to be the best of the best of the best.  And to be honest, even those who do not win any medals have a lot of which to be proud, for they have proven themselves worthy of being Olympians one and all.  Their training, hard work, dedication, sacrifices have got them to London, let’s enjoy the Olympics and celebrate their achievements!  (Which I shall be hoping to see in action at a hockey match)