I, along with what I should imagine is most of the country (and a lot of the world), watched the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics last night. I don’t often do blog posts where I just write about what I think, but I was moved to today. I tweeted throughout the ceremony itself, but 140 characters is stifling sometimes.
I truly believe that social media is a great thing when it comes to nights like this. I was able to join in a global discussion (even if the US were silly enough not to stream the show live) about what was happening in front of us. Almost all the comments I saw were positive. I particularly enjoyed watching people who were clearly very cynical about the whole thing be won over as it became clear that Danny Boyle had written a crazy love letter to this country.
I’m not usually a great fan of opening ceremonies at sports events; I find that they can get a bit tedious and sometimes it isn’t entirely clear what is supposed to be going on. But last night was something special. Of course, I’m sure that has a lot to do with the fact that I am British (proudly so). I saw a tweet that said that they were glad that Danny Boyle was asked to put it together, rather than an anonymous person behind the scenes. My friend Katy said that you could see that a film-maker was responsible for it. It was almost perfect from start to finish. Here are a few of my favourite bits:
- Sir Kenneth Branagh as Sir Isambard Kingdom Brunel, rocking some awesome sideburns and reading from The Tempest. “Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises…”
- The emerging chimneys and the construction of the Olympic rings during the Industrial Revolution segment. Also the hand-jiving Brunels.
- The inclusion of the EastEnders map and the doof-doofs.
- Daniel Craig alone showing up was a highlight, but he strolls into Buckingham Palace, collects the Queen – the real Queen! – and hops aboard a helicopter with ‘her’? And they proceed to parachute out of said helicopter, with Union Flag chutes, into the stadium? Where she walks out in the same clothes? Simply genius. For everyone that complained that she looked miserable later in the evening, you all have short memories. She agreed to star in the initial video, have someone portray her jumping out of a helicopter, and she’s now basically a Bond Girl. She can do no wrong.
- Mr Bean on keyboard with Sir Simon Rattle conducting. I don’t even like Mr Bean, but the reveal and the sketch made me laugh out loud. The music from Chariots of Fire has become synonymous with the Olympics and it was great to hear it played.
- JK Rowling reading from Peter Pan, Mary Poppins swooping in to save the children from Lord Voldemort and other assorted baddies, and the genius decision to include a section on the NHS in the children’s literature section. Apparently the government were keen for this part to be missed out (I wonder why), but it was kept in.
- Simon Berners-Lee (the inventor of the Internet, no less), live-tweeting from the stage. “This is for everyone.”
- The whole section on the digital technology revolution, soundtracked by the best of British music.
- The inclusion of the lesbian kiss from Brookside, which, I’ve just heard, was aired on Saudi Arabian television (marking a first), but may have been cut from the NBC coverage in the US. There are barely words for how I feel about that. I’ve seen a wee bit of criticism that there wasn’t a gay (male) kiss, it seems that there is still an air of taboo that clearly needs to be stamped out.
- The tiny, almost missed sound of the TARDIS. Apparently there was supposed to be a bit that included the Doctor Who theme, but it got cut. A crying shame, but completely understandable.
- David Beckham, looking incredibly attractive, speeding up the Thames on a boat, with the Olympic flame.
- Michelle Obama being there and waving to Team USA as they walked in.
- Team GB and NI entering the stadium. Yes, we had to sit through everyone else entering the stadium, and it took forever. “We’re only up to [insert letter here]” was spotted all over Twitter. But when Chris Hoy walked in holding the Union Flag aloft with tears in his eyes, that was a little bit special.
- Jacques Rogge’s speech. He acknowledged the fact that for the first time ever, every competing country had a woman in their team (no small fact when you look at some of the competing countries), and also thanked the volunteers.
- The Olympic flag being carried into the stadium by a group of extraordinary people, including Doreen Lawrence, Ban Ki-moon and Muhammed Ali.
- The honour guard of some of the people who were responsible for building the Olympic stadium.
- Sir Paul McCartney.
I know, that’s pretty much the entire ceremony. I can’t help it, I loved it so much there wasn’t much I didn’t want to include.
But I think we can all agree that the most special part of the evening was the lighting of the cauldron. There had been an awful lot of speculation about who would do it, with names such as Sir Chris Hoy, Sir Steve Redgrave, Tom Daley, David Beckham and Sir Roger Bannister being bandied around.
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In the end, it looked as though it would be Redgrave, as he collected it from David Beckham in the aforementioned speedboat. He ran into the stadium with it, and Twitter resounded with the sounds of “Ah, of course, he’s Britain’s greatest Olympian, it had to be him.” And then the classic bait and switch, as he passed the torch to seven young people. Redgrave, along with six other British Olympic champions, had nominated these young athletes for being outstanding in their events; they are considered huge prospects for the future, and the honour of lighting the cauldron was given to them. The motto of this Games is Inspire a Generation, and that sentiment was felt so keenly at this moment. This moment of massive significance was not given to a former Olympian, nor even to a current athlete, but to seven people who represent a future generation who are going to be beneficiaries of everything that has gone into this Olympic Games. The actual lighting of the cauldron was beautiful, the accompanying music was perfect, and it was, without a doubt the perfect way to start the Games. I hope that the legacy of this greatest show on earth is proven to inspire a generation.
There was a lot of talk about how this show would be received around the world. I honestly don’t think it really matters all that much (though the New Yorker seem to approve). What seems more important is that, for a couple of hours on a summer evening at least, we were reminded what is great about this little country of ours, past, present and future, and it had nothing to do with politicians.
Now, let the sports begin!