London enjoys a golden moment
London 2012 provided a refreshing antidote to those earnestly brilliant but stodgy shows of past Olympic Games. By the time the cast of thousands finished this surreal trip through Britain’s past and present, the pyrotechnics and soaring acrobatics of Beijing were forgotten.
It was said London could never beat Beijing.
And then the bell rang out, the clock in Trafalgar Square struck zero and the queen of England “in her first acting role” jumped out of a helicopter with James Bond.
Suddenly, movie director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire), who directed the epic opening ceremony, had raised the bar.
His romp grabbed the 30th Olympiad by its Saville Row lapels and gave it a swagger and attitude that left his lucky audience breathless. Kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers, sporting legends and showbiz royals – of course they were there. But the theme of the show pointed towards an entertainment spectacular that would not discriminate.
The theme? “This is for everyone.” And the world gathered in London’s Olympic Park – this magnificent bowl with its jagged Jaws underskirt and triangles of Toblerone floodlights floating on to witness the opening of the greatest show on earth with a fitting starter before the Games begin.
Queen Elizabeth declared the Games open, but it was the exhilarating performance of Boyle’s thousands of volunteers and their wildly enthusiastic audience that brought the true spirit of the games.
A general view of the opening ceremony last night. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
For all the tosh talked about “the Olympic family” by the suits who travel this traffic-choked city in their designated Olympic fast lanes, it was the light-stick waving fans, wonderful performers and fantastic athletes who brought this epic alive.
The atmosphere in the stadium was pulsating. Director Boyle said he wanted “a ceremony that celebrates the creativity, eccentricity, daring and openness of the British genius by harnessing the genius, creativity, eccentricity, daring and openness of modern London.” He succeeded with his thrilling, funny, gut-wrenching, slightly bonkers “Isles of Wonder”.
The show opened with fond memories of a lost Britain, a country of green and pleasant land. The stadium infield became home to a millrace and maypoles and meadows of hay. There were thatched cottages, wildflowers and a bee glade behind the orchard, churchbells and birdsong in the air – yes, children, real tweets – and cricket on the village green.
All that was missing was a murder in the parsonage. What with the cows and goats, geest and sheep, it was like the Ploughing Festival meets Thomas Hardy.
And so to Kenneth Brannagh in a stovepipe hat, standing on a hill from Middle Earth under a stately oak tree declaiming Shakespeare.
For it was pandemonium now — the industrial revolution.
And the birdsong gave way to crazy drumming and seven brick chimney roses from the ground belching black smoke.
It was an Omelette Arnold Bennett — everything thrown in, from iron foundries with rivers of molton steel and sparks flying everywhere until they became a dripping curtain of gold. Out of that curtain came the five Olympic rings, glowing orange from the furnace.
Political upheaval too, with the Jarrow marchers and the suffragettes. Then the Chelsea Pensioners bounced along with Pearly Kings and Queens and a few brigades of Beatles in Sgt. Pepper uniform.
Just before half nine, James Bond was welcomed by the queen to Buckingham Palace.
“Good Evening, Mr. Bond” sez she, and the crowd goes wild.
According to the notes, it’s “her first acting role.” HRH bagged the first OMG moment of the night.
Exit Bond, Her maj and two corgis to the helicopter on a flight across London to Olympic Park. Even Winston Churchill looks up in his bronze overcoat and waves.
Then the queen jumps from the chopper in a blur of pink sequins as the Bond theme rings around the stadium.
The most bizarre part of the night came with a hilarious tribute to Britain;s National Health Service — one huge hospital ward with dancing nurses pushing beds and poorly patients around a stadium infield of gleaming linoleum.
Following an exhilarating trip through the best of British pop culture, the parade of athletes took place. Mercifully, shorter than usual.
And there was Katie. Our Katie Taylor. Carrying the flag. She made us feel proud. The decibel level rose markedly when she entered the stadium.
Perhaps the saddest part of the evening came when the UN General Secretary spoke. “I call on all warring parties everywhere to lay down their weapons during the games” urged Ban Ki-moon. The applause was polite, but not hopeful. Let the games begin.