Aidan Smith: Tears and cheers for London 2012 Olympics ceremony with human touch
I’M claiming the first record of these Olympics – the earliest-ever display of crying at an opening ceremony.
The official time was 8:57pm, three minutes before the start, when Elgar’s Nimrod surged (that always gets me). And I was blubbing near to the end when Muhammad Ali was too ill to acknowledge the cheers despite the coaxing of his daughter (“Wave, Muhammad!”).
So: British stiff upper lip noticeably absent. But in between, over three often gobsmacking hours spanning Bond to Bean, Danny Boyle’s five-ring circus managed to tell the world quite a lot about us, with madcap humour and no little panache.
The film-maker first showed us his flair for thrilling imagery – and indeed appreciation of athleticism – with Trainspotting’s opening sequence of smackheads “on the chorey” in Edinburgh’s Princes Street, shop security in puffy-faced pursuit.
For London 2012 Boyle had a £27 million budget and blew a chunk on a tableau of the industrial revolution, all the smoke, molten steel and clanging going into the manufacture of Olympic rings, a reminder of when we made things.
The night’s most-thrilling? There was stiff competition.
Green and pleasant lands had given way to dark, satanic mills. Then a celebration of the NHS with real docs and nurses frolicking between rows of beds segued into bedtime stories under duvets.
We’re still pretty good at terrifying the kids; at skiffle, too. From the Beatles to Dizzee Rascal via The Who, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, the Sex Pistols and Arctic Monkeys, our musical heritage was all over this production.
I bet Boyle as a hairy student grooved on headphones to the quadraphonic version of Tubular Bells.
His younger self can’t have imagined that he’d one day phone up Mike Oldfield, requesting the composer’s presence at the greatest show on earth – far less that he’d ask the Queen if she’d consider parachuting down from a helicopter with 007.
Boyle’s stagecraft was artful but the second-best thing about the ceremony was that we always seemed only 20 seconds away from something really bonkers.
Yes, it was a knockout show but it was also reminiscent of It’s a Knockout.
Boyle demonstrated his class in never quite resorting to reversing dogs or some such Britain’s Got Talent-style naffness, but the mirthful threat hung in the air like his fake fluffy clouds.
Scotland made its contribution through J K Rowling, Evelyn Glennie and Emeli Sande who sang the FA Cup final hymn Abide With Me. Later, Hazel Irvine thought she’d better amuse during the parade of 204 competing nations with fascinating facts (Bhutan: last to get TV!; Cambodia: longest alphabet!; Kyrgyzstan: only one vowel!).
But really we were quite happy waiting – for a train or a break in the rain, it’s what we do – until well past midnight when Sir Chris Hoy finally led in Team GB, unable to resist a wee greet himself.
And the best thing about the ceremony? Its humanity. If you were alive on this earth you were represented in a great blizzard of paper. If you were the lost loved one of an audience member your photo was flashed up.
The dead in all conflicts were remembered. Doreen Lawrence, mother of murdered Stephen, helped carry the Olympic flag.
The hard-hats who built the stadium formed a guard-of-honour. The volunteers were anointed the real stars of the show.
And after the spat over which golden great should light the flame, and the fears it might be David Beckham, the job went to some talented sporting youths already inspired by the Olympic ideal.
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