Along with the rest of the world, I was very prepared to hate the Olympic Opening Ceremony. I expected a certain amount of playing up to the tacky stereotyping of what the rest of the World thinks Britain is – see any Briton in any American television programme, and build a sense of the nation from there…
To my immense surprise, I was rather wrong.
Instead, Boyle (and the largely unmentioned creative team that produced the massive show) produced a glittering, funny and colourful Ceremony which showcased so many aspects of the history of our great nation. The show, Isles of Wonder, including scenes from the industrial revolution right through to modern dance styles, celebrated almost every side of British culture, including our contributions to sport (with the Ceremony opened by cool-as-a-cucumber Bradley Wiggins, whose Tour de France Win was described by Sir Chris Hoy as the possibly greatest achievement by any British athlete) comedy (Mr Bean’s cameo in the Chariots of Fire piece); motoring (with a German-made BMW mini); the Internet (with a random appearance from Sir Tim Berners-Lee); and music (with performances from Emile Sande, Macca and that Dozy Rascal chap I’m not too fond of.)
It was perfectly British, but without a hint of ASBOs, Gary Barlow or people waltzing around drinking tea in top hats.
Technically, the vision of Boyle was a fantastic feat of modern stage and performance technology. This, for me, was highlighted by the huge smoke chimneys rising from beneath the stage (for that’s what it was, in essence. Just an bloody expansive one), the pixel-mapping in the audience seating and epitomised by the five massive steel rings which came together in mid air and did a bit of sparky gerb type stuff. Wonderful.
The Ceremony also showed some of the unique things about Britain, such as ability to not take ourselves too seriously – I’m talking parachuting the Queen in, and yes she may have looked pissed off all night, but I’m sure you would be if you were 80+ and Danny Boyle talked you into parachuting into the arena…
Also included was a segment about Great Ormond Street Hospital and the NHS, and I thought it was good of Boyle – who fought to have the right to direct the TV coverage – to cut away to crowd shots before figures dressed as David Cameron came out to axe the nurses – most of whom, actually, were workers from within the medical sector. Lovely touch. To be questioned at this point was the commentary team, led by newsreader Huw Edwards. They seemed a bit out-of-touch. And where were the drop-in shots of Clare Balding interviewing the dancers/actors/any of Boyle’s live animals/blades of grass? Is she poorly? Get well soon Clare, Jill of All Trades. We miss you.
There was so much other stuff before the parade of nations taking part in the games – cyclists with huge dove costumes; informal anthems sung by choirs of children; the Olympic Flag being touched my Muhammed Ali; dance including Akram Khan; and David Beckham aboard a speedboat with the Olympic Flame, grinning like a happy thing, just to name a few…
About sixteen hours after Greece paraded around the stadium, and after about 600 different countries, most of which could only have been made up between Boyle, Seb Coe and Boris Johnson, it was finally time for Sir Chris Hoy, our most successful British Olympic cyclist, to proudly lead the athletes of Team GB into the arena. Well, half of them, the sailors were down in Weymouth and the swimmers decided to save their energy for the next day in the pool. Anyway, cheekily the background music of karaoke versions of songs now dropped away and Bowie’s Heroes kicked in. Sneaky. Inspiring.
On the subject of inspiring, Lord Coe did his little opening speech, mentioning how a key focus of London’s games were to “Inspire a Generation.” It therefore seemed very fitting that the honour of lighting the Olympic cauldron was passed onto a team, of seven promising young athletes, chosen by British Olympians including Kelly Holmes, Steve Redgrave and Mary Peters.
Each of the countries paraded in with a copper petal, which was fitted to the end of each “stem” of the cauldron, which were lit by a torch each from the young athletes – Callum Airlie, Jordan Duckitt, Desiree Henry, Katie Kirk, Cameron MacRitchie, Aidan Reynolds, and Adelle Tracey. The lit petals then majestically rose to from one unified upright column of flame, a very elegant and unique symbol of the coming together of nations which the Olympic Games represents.
All in all, jolly good job, Boyle. Britain should be proud of our Opening Ceremony, which instead of aiming to beat China’s Beijing opening, celebrated the finest things about the British Isles and the through-the-ages history of our Nation. Some of it didn’t make much sense, some of it was breathtaking, and occasionally it looked like a scene from a JRR Tolkien novel of Middle-Earth. But it was ours, and Danny Boyle can rest assured that he did not let a nation down like so many expected.
He certainly made up for 127 Hours. Terrible film.