The Olympic rings reached new heights as they were sent into space to capture the astonishing London 2012 opening ceremony.
Brilliant, breathtaking, bonkers and utterly British. Danny Boyle captured the spirit, history, humour and patriotism of an expectant nation last night as he pulled off an Olympic opening ceremony like no other.From a bucolic vision of our green and pleasant land to a riotous medley of Britpop’s greatest hits, Boyle’s tour de force was a love letter to his homeland that left 65,000 spectators choking with pride.
To cap it all, London 2012 literally reached stratospheric heights as five Olympic rings were lifted by giant balloons from the stadium into space. Pity the person who has to try to better this in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Boyle’s £27 million creation crackled with wit; the sight of a stadium full of people wearing 3D glasses and head-banging in time to the Sex Pistols’ Pretty Vacant was certainly not one the organisers saw coming when London was given the Games seven years ago, but it was gloriously madcap nonetheless.Following pre-show entertainment that included a Red Arrows flypast timed at 20.12, a worldwide TV audience of up to a billion tuned in at 9pm for what promised to be the greatest show on earth.
The Isles of Wonder
Boyle’s Isles of Wonder theme for the evening began with a film of ships approaching the coast, played to the strains of Elgar’s Nimrod, that grabbed the audience by the heart and refused to let go.Next came a dazzlingly fast-paced journey down the Thames from its source in Kemble, Glos., to the east end of London, taking in Ratty and Mole, village cricket, rowers at Henley and the London Underground, backed by a pulsating procession of British music, from the Clash’s London Calling to the Sex Pistols and the theme from EastEnders.
As the countdown neared its end, a set of Olympic rings attached to four balloons were released from the top of the stadium, with a camera attached, in the hope that they would beam back pictures from the stratosphere at the end of the night.Then, once the clock reached zero, man of the moment Bradley Wiggins, Britain’s Tour de France hero, rang Europe’s largest tuned bell, forged for the Games in Whitechapel. Not bad for starters.Bradley Wiggins rang the Europe’s biggest bell to ring in the opening ceremony
A green and pleasant land
Danny Boyle’s decision to use live animals in a recreation of rural Britain in the early 19th century had raised eyebrows, but on the night the 40 sheep, 3 cows, 9 geese, 2 goats, 10 chickens, 10 ducks and 12 horses were as well-drilled as any of the human performers.
Built around a cottage with smoking chimneys, a vegetable patch and beehives, this was an unashamedly romantic view of country life, complete with cricket on the village green, a working water wheel, maypole dancers and women picking barley and kneading bread on their smallholding. This, said Boyle, was the Britain of Wind in the Willows and Winnie the Pooh, where sheep obediently grazed real grass in their pen under the watchful eye of a sheepdog and a horse-drawn omnibus circled on a “road” built over the running track.
Opposite the giant bell, the other end of the stadium was swallowed up by a Glastonbury-style tor, criss-crossed with pathways and with an English oak tree on its summit.Overhead, four clouds (which admittedly looked a little bit like something knocked up by the presenters of Blue Peter) were walked around the stadium by people holding their strings, and even brought that essential element of any British outdoor event, a passing shower.
To ensure lumps in the throats of every corner of the United Kingdom, choirboys sang the “national anthem” of each of our four countries: Jerusalem, sung from the stadium, Londonderry Air, sung on the Giant’s Causeway, Cwm Rhondda, from Rhossili Beach and Flower of Scotland from Edinburgh Castle.But things were about to change forever, as Kenneth Branagh appeared as Isambard Kingdom Brunel, reciting Caliban’s speech from The Tempest: “Be not afeard: the isle is full of noises.” Pandemonium (John Milton’s capital city of Hell)
The peace and tranquility of the British countryside was shattered by the sound of 965 demonic drummers pounding a mechanical beat, led by the deaf drummer Dame Evelyn Glennie, as the industrial revolution ripped up the landscape.The 7,346sq m of real grass was stripped away piece by piece to reveal the streets of London and the River Thames. With 50 Brunels looked on approvingly, six smoking chimneys rose up to tower over the stage, beam engines pumped water out of unseen mines and the oak atop the tor was ripped from its firmament until its roots dangled in the air.Drawing heavily from Danny Boyle’s working-class Lancashire upbringing, six giant looms thrashed away, powering Victorian
Britain’s economic prosperity, and operated by actors whose costumes had been “broken down” for four months to give them an authentically worn look. All around the stadium, the nation’s identity was forged in front of our eyes, from the Grimethorpe Colliery Band to Chelsea pensioners, pearly kings and queens and an army of Beatles, complete with two floating yellow submarines.Boyle’s strong Labour leanings surfaced here as he celebrated the right to protest, with appearances from Helen and Laura Pankhurst, from the great Suffragette’s family, and Jarrow Marchers, including Lizi Gray, one of their descendants.
Never afraid to introduce sudden changes of mood, Boyle switched attention to a war memorial of the “Accrington Pals” battalion, wiped out in the Somme, and soldiers standing in a poppy field in the stadium. The actors on stage and the spectators in the stadium stood silently to honour sacrifices made in times of war to protect our freedom.Then came perhaps the most spectacular moment of all, as workers in a furnace produced a crucible of “molten metal”, poured down a channel and into a circular mould to forge an Olympic ring. From the four corners of the stadium’s roof came four more rings to join it, which united in mid-air to form the Olympic rings which crackled and then showered sparks onto the stage below.
The name’s Bond, James Bond
The Queen has never made an entrance like this. In a five-minute film made in total secrecy in March, Daniel Craig’s James Bond arrived at Buckingham Palace an embarked on a secret mission in which the pair parachuted into the Olympic stadium.The Queen could then make her entrance, taking her place in the Royal Box alongside the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall, Prince Harry and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Members of the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force were chosen to carry the Union flag to the flagpole part-way up the grassy tor and raise it, where it will stay until the closing ceremony on August 12.
The honour of singing the National Anthem was given to the Koas Signing Choir of deaf and hearing children, from a London-based charity that gets hearing-impaired children involved in the visual and performing arts. Second to the Right, and straight on till morning.
To a live performance of his classic album Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield, 600 NHS nurses and patients from London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for children were due to take over the arena. Boyle had decided to use his global platform to give the watching David Cameron a clear message: Hands Off Our NHS, and his decision to make such a bold statement about public services had caused nervousness at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.
To their credit, however, ministers did not try to interfere, and the result was expected to be the most splendidly surreal section of the entire evening.As children bounced on 320 beds in their pyjamas, the nurses manoeuvred them into position to make the Great Ormond Street logo and to spell out NHS, with each bed appearing to be magically lit from under its sheets. Doctors and nurses jived around the beds and partied with the children, before bedtime approached, and a little boy read Peter Pan by torchlight under the covers, its words spoken by Harry Potter author JK Rowling.
But his sleep was troubled as the stuff of nightmares: Captain Hook, the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Cruella de Vil and Harry Potter’s nemesis, Lord Voldemort, all invaded the stadium.Would evil win out? Not when Mary Poppins is about. Children in the stadium squealed with excitement as dozens of Poppinses flew down from the roof to shoo away the nightmares with illuminated brollies.
Chariots of Fire
In a tribute to British cinema, the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, was hired to play the theme to Chariots of Fire as clips of all-time classics including A Matter of Life and Death, Kes, Gregory’s Girl, Four Weddings and a Funeral and Mr Bean’s Holiday were shown on screen. Then Mr Bean himself, Rowan Atkinson, was to due to appear in the orchestra. In a superb send-up of the opening sequence of Chariots, he was to imagine himself running alongside a beach with the actor whoplayed Eric Liddell, in a sequence filmed in secret at St Andrew’s.
Frankie and June say… Thanks Tim
Having begun the night in the pre-industrial age, the show was due to enter the internet age.Sneak previews to journalists showed housewife Carly Enstone driving into the stadium in her Mini, grabbing her keys and her bags of groceries and let herself into her house in time to listen the The Archers.Quite what viewers in Shanghai or Vladivostok were making of it by this stage is anyone’s guess, but they were about to witness a madcap mash-up of Britain’s favourite music, television shows and films that took us from the 60s right to the present day.
It began with the family inside the house gorging on a feast of telly, including Blackadder, Monty Python and Harry Hill. Even Michael Fish even made an appearance with his famously wrong reassurance that reports of hurricanes were wide of the mark.For teenage sisters Frankie and June, played by 19-year-old Henrique Costa and 18-year-old Jasmine Breinburg, it was time for a night out.A young man who glimpsed June on the Tube picked up her lost mobile phone, and love eventually triumphed as he chased her on a full throttle musical journey through nightclubs in the 60s, 70s, 90s and today.
The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Kinks all filled the stadium, and when David Bowie’s Starman came on the jukebox, spacemen with neon jet-packs soared into the air.Everyone in the stadium had been given 3D glasses for a segment of the projection show that Boyle had filmed in 3D, and Olympic volunteers conducted them in a session of synchronised head-banging to The Sex Pistols’ Pretty Vacant.
Audience participation has surely never been quite so anarchic.As the girls partied, they invited their friends back home using social media, given to the world via Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s invention of the world wide web.Then came another step-change with the Memorial Wall: ticket-holders for the opening ceremony were invited to send in pictures of loved ones who are no longer with us, which were displayed on screen as Emeli Sande sang Abide With Me and 50 dancers dramatized the struggle between life and death.
Enter the Athletes
Led by Greece, the birthplace of the Games, the parade of 204 nations was to be led by a placard bearer wearing a dress made up of pictures of Londoners who auditioned for the opening ceremony. A helicopter was due to drop seven billion tiny pieces of paper – one for every person on the planet – and music including the Bee Gees’ Stayin Alive was to be played at 120 beats per minute to encourage the athletes to walk a little quicker.
Team GB, led by flag-bearer Sir Chris Hoy, was to feature 241 of the 542 due to compete, as some are still abroad at training camps. It was to be followed by “Bike a.m.”, a parade of 75 “dove bikes” to represent the doves released at the start of the ancient Games and to celebrate Team GB’s cycling success. In typically anarchic Danny Boyle style, their musical accompaniment was provided by the Arctic Monkeys.
Let the Games Begin
The ceremony was due to finish with the Queen officially declaring the Games open, and the cauldron beng lit by the final torchbearers. Their identity, and the design of the cauldron, remained a closely-guarded secret even as the ceremony was underway.They would be followed by a spectacular fireworks display and a live performance by Sir Paul McCartney, singing a new song, The End, and Hey Jude. – Telegraph