On the evening of 27 July 2012, 80,000 spectators inside the Olympic Stadium, and a further 900 million who were glued to their television sets around the world, witnessed the magnificent spectacle of the Opening Ceremony of the Games of the XXX Olympiad.
Conceived and produced by renowned British film director Danny Boyle, who chose as his theme Isles of Wonder, the Ceremony was a spectacular and panoramic celebration of the modern history and finest achievements of Great Britain, infused with humour, and the occasional surreal twist, and played out against a musical backdrop that captured the quintessential essence of “Britishness”.
Earlier in the day, the Great Bell of Big Ben rang out, echoed by bells around the United Kingdom, to mark the advent of the Games of the XXX Olympiad. That evening, some 80,000 lucky spectators took their places inside the Olympic Stadium, each one of which was equipped with a special LED light module. At precisely 20h12 , they gazed up to see the sky emblazoned in red, white and blue, as the Royal Air Force’s display team, the Red Arrows organised a flypast; at the very same moment across the city in Hyde Park, a concert got underway, featuring bands from each of the four constituent nations of the United Kingdom: Duran Duran (England); Snow Patrol (Northern Ireland); the Stereophonics (Wales) and Paolo Nutini (Scotland).
At 21h00, following a one-minute “London-themed” countdown, British cyclist, Bradley Wiggins, who had won the Tour de France just five days earlier, rang the stadium bell, to declare the Ceremony open. Over the next four hours, in epic fashion, the story of the making of Great Britain was then depicted in a series of spectacular scenes, the first of which, entitled “Green and Pleasant Land” depicted the green fields of rural England, with locals tilling the land and tending to their animals, as a choir of schoolchildren sang traditional songs that captured the spirit of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The rural scenes then gave way to those symbolising the advent of the industrial revolution of the 19th century, as stagecoaches carrying businessmen and industrialists in top hats took centre stage. The next sequence, entitled “Pandemonium” took the spectators on a cultural and social journey through to the 1960s, which culminated with four glowing orange rings high above the stadium converging gradually and joining with a fifth ring that appeared to be forged on the stadium floor. Accompanied by steam and fireworks, the rings formed the Olympic rings high in the sky, igniting into a spectacular shower of silver and gold.
Next came a sequence entitled “Happy and Glorious”. Spectators were transported, via a giant screen, to the study of Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, where she received a visit from James Bond (played by actor Daniel Craig). The Queen then set off with Bond in a helicopter which headed east for o the Olympic Stadium Then, to huge collective gasps of amazement, the sovereign parachuted out of the helicopter, as her Union Jack-themed parachute unfurled, descending into the heart of the stadium. Moments later she reemerged next to the IOC President Jacques Rogge in the VIP tribune. It was a brilliantly choreographed and executed illusion, in which the British monarch played her full part.
Something for everyone
The next sequence paid homage to one of the host nation’s proudest institutions, the National Health Service, with an elaborate choreography of staff and patients from Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. That gave way to cameos evoking various famous works of children’s literature, from Alice in Wonderland to Mary Poppins and Harry Potter. In a sequence that started as a musical “Interlude” provided by the London Symphony Orchestra performing excerpts from the famous soundtrack from the film, Chariots of Fire, there was another surreal twist, as comedian Rowan Atkinson, in the character of his most famous creation, Mr Bean, appeared in the orchestra pit, repeating a single note on a synthesiser, much to the apparent displeasure of conductor Simon Rattle, and the growing hilarity of the crowds. Mr Bean then resurfaced in a dream sequence on the giant screen, in a comic recreation of the famous scene from Chariots of Fire and the 1924 Olympic Games, in which he borrows a car to overtake athletes Eric Lidell and Harold Abrahams, before pipping them at the finish
The next sequence, which took the audience from the 1970s through to the ‘digital era’ of the present day, culminated with a spotlight on Sir Tim Berners-Lee, British inventor of the World Wide Web, sending a “tweet” from his computer, which reads “This is for everyone”, which was then spelled out via the LED lights attached to the stadium seats.
At 22h20, the Parade of Nations began, as the athletes of the 204 participating nations made their way joyfully into the Olympic Stadium, starting with Alexandros Nikolaïdis of Greece and finishing with Sir Chris Hoy of Great Britain, There seemed to be as many cameras on the track as there were in the stands, as the massed ranks of Olympians took the opportunity to capture the magic of this unique moment!
Once the last athletes had made their entrance, 75 cyclists completed a circuit of the stadium, equipped with illuminated wings to represent the doves of peace. It then fell to Lord Sebastian Coe, head of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) to officially welcome the world to the British capital. For his part, IOC President, Jacques Rogge reminded everyone that this was the third time in its history that London was hosting the Games, and emphasised the important role that the metropolis has played in the development of sport over the decades, before going on to thank the thousands of volunteers who played such a key role in the organisation of London 2012. Finally, Queen Elizabeth II declared the Games of the XXX Olympiad officially open.
The Olympic flag was carried into the stadium by eight flagbearers, each selected for their embodiment of the Olympic values: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim, charity worker Sally Becker, head of the civil rights NGO Liberty Shami Chakrabarti, Ethiopian long-distance legend Haile Gebrselassie , human rights campaigner, racial equality campaigner Doreen Lawrence, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee and Brazilian politician and environmentalist Marina Silva . The flagbearers paused momentarily in front of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who had lit the Olympic flame at the Atlanta Games in1996.
The Olympic Oath was read out by British taekwondo star Sarah Stevenson on behalf of the athletes, by boxing referee Mik Basi on behalf of the officials, and by canoeing coach Eric Farrell on behalf of the coaches.
The arrival of the Olympic torch saw another moment of pure invention, as footballer David Beckham was seen transporting it down the River Thames to the Stadium via motorboat. On disembarking, “Becks” passed the torch to Olympic rowing legend Sir Steven Redgrave, who then made his way towards the Stadium entrance through a guard of honour made up of 500 of the construction workers who had built the Olympic Stadium. Finally, in the spirit of the slogan “Inspire a Generation”, Redgrave handed the torch to one of the seven young athletes selected to represent the future of British sport. What followed was truly magical. The Olympic cauldron was formed from 204 copper petals (one for each of the participating nations). The young athletes lit some of the petals, and gradually the flame spread to ignite all 204, at which point they rose majestically upwards to form a single flame which would then continue to burn throughout the duration of the next two weeks.
Throughout the entire spectacle, the stadium resonated to an anthology of tracks from famous British rock and pop groups from the last 50 years, including David Bowie, the Arctic Monkeys, Pink Floyd, Mike Oldfield, the Who, U2, Oasis, Muse, Adele, the Bee Gees, Chemical Brothers, the Pet Shop Boys, Queen, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and the Eurythmics ... It was left to Sir Paul McCartney to provide the soundtrack to the closing moments of the ceremony, with a modern twist on the Beatles classic Hey Jude, with the entire audience joining in for the final chorus. And Sir Paul then sang another Beatles favourite, The End, as a huge firework display lit up the East London skyline. With the ceremony complete it was time for the main show to begin!