KEIR RADNEDGE in the Olympic Stadium
STRATFORD, East London: The Olympic Games for which London has been waiting for so long – well, seven years since that memorable July day in Singapore in 2005 – have finally and formally come home. Competition action began two days ago but it took the Opening Ceremony, in front of a worldwide audience of 4bn to tick the decisive last box.
This was London pride to the power of incredible and indelibly memorable. Show director Danny Boyle must be in line for just about every honour the nation and his creative colleagues have to offer. This was not Beijing. This was, in many ways, better, more human, albeit many of the illustrations sketched out in music and dance and lights would have been lost on foreign viewers.
Still, the spectacle was immense, the pace relentless and the surprise episodes perfectly judged.
The opening stadium scene presented the British country idyll: country cottages, hills, valleys, even the live 40 sheep, 12 horses, nine geese, 10 ducks, three cows, two goats and three sheepdogs plus clouds, a water wheel and a maypole. Just so that no-one missed the moment the countdown clock flickered across the spectators in the stands and the Red Arrows roared overhead with perfect timing – at 20.12 – burning red, white and blue smoke trails.
A cast of more than 7,000 volunteers had been assembled – apart from the animal element – and a giant Olympic Bell awaited the count-down climax. Indeed, the stage managing was so detailed that, when rain began to fall, no-one was quite certain whether this was just another trick up director Boyle’s sleeve.
Real rain! Even the Chinese could not do that. One thousand, perfectly synchronized drummers? So what? In that context a screened appeal by United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon, urging world peace for at least one day, did not appear so outrageous a wish.
Then the cue: “Ladies and gentlemen, we have one minutes until we go live to the world.”
On with the show!
The introductory rapid-fire film brought the Thames from its source to the stadium and segued seamlessy live into the stadium where Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins loped forward to ring the Countdown Bell and launch a pageant of Britain’s greatest music and words.
The living legacy of Elgar, Blake and Shakespeare was transformed into the might of the industrial revolution with an engineering thunder which embraced the world and which – with perfect stage management – also cleared the village idyll from the giant stage which was the centre of the stadium.
Seven giant factory chimneys rose out of the ground, plus the cotton looms and the steam engines encompassed by human chains of miners, industrial workers, 50 Isambard Kingdom Brunels on to the pearly kings and queens of the East End.
Bond, James Bond . . .
They took their bow and left the stage clear for Daniel Craig’s James Bond to bring the Queen parachuting in from Buckingham Palace and thus into the VVIP stand for real with IOC president Jacques Rogge. The union flag was presented and raised and then the scene moved on to British creative brilliance, introduced by a dance routine from 600 volunteers from the National Health Service complete with beds.
Stars cascaded cleverly, with appropriate invention: such as Rowan Atkinson in a dream scene from Chariots of Fire leading into a race through the decades to catch up with the world of social media, courtesy naturally of Sir Tim Berners-Lee. and then through a pop pastiche into the East End anthem of I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles and Dizee Rascal.
Abide with Me calmed the tone and led into the change of pace and theme with the entry of the teams of athletes – notably, of course, Jamaica led by Usain Bolt and, scheduled to complete the parade, Great Britain flag-born by Sir Chris Hoy.
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