London 2012 Olympics: A night of colour, noise and stunning pandemonium
The world was watching London – and, my, how London delivered.
On a night of sheer bonkerdom, a night of colour and noise and unadulterated joy in a city in the grip of the Games, the Olympics were launched, sent on their way with a ceremony that stirred the blood and moved some to tears.
This was the Green and Pleasant Land of Danny Boyle’s brilliantly overactive imagination. Unforgettable, uplifting; the greatest show on earth.
From the Industrial Revolution to the worldwide web; from Shakespeare to Voldemort; from Blake and Milton to Peter Pan and Mary Poppins, this was every bit the extravaganza we were led to believe it was. It cost £27 million, not that anyone here was of a mind to count.
They were too busy marvelling at the weirdness in front of them, a surreal spectacle that began just after 8pm when a load of sheep were led on to pasture, past the water mill on the left and the maypole on the right, just across from the cottage and beside the pen with the horse-drawn carriage.
In his programme notes, Boyle set out of his vision: “We hope that through all the noise and excitement you’ll glimpse a single golden threat of purpose – the idea of Jerusalem – of the better world, the world of real freedom and true equality, a world that be built through the prosperity of industry, through the caring nation that built the welfare state, through the joyous energy of popular culture, through the dream of universal communication. A belief we can build Jerusalem. And that it will be for everyone.”
Jerusalem wasn’t built last night, and it is equally hard to realise another dream, that of United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, that all warring nations lay down their arms for the duration of the Games. But what we saw here was special and emotional, or, as one old spectator put it, “mental”.
Something for everyone Boyle had promised. The essence of Britain. And so, on the stroke of 9pm, a man in a yellow jersey walked out on to the stage and rang a giant bell to signal the beginning of the show. Bradley Wiggins was in the house.
The eras intertwined at a frenzied pace. There was Jonny Wilkinson dropping the winning goal in the 2003 World Cup final, and now there was choir of children singing Jerusalem and Danny Boy, Flower of Scotland and Bread of Heaven. Then a carriage appeared. It made its way around the stadium and came to a halt by a tree that would soon levitate, workers from the Industrial Revolution spilling out from underneath.
In the carriage was Kenneth Branagh. He read a passage from The Tempest. “Be not afeard: the isle is full of noises.” The isle was full of noise, indeed. No fear, just awe. In a segment of the show called Pandemonium, Britain’s industrial past was recreated.
Time moved on. The Suffragettes appeared, among their number Helen Pankhurst, the great granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst. Time moved on again. The world wars. Soldiers walked by in a parade and Branagh lifted his top hat in recognition of the fallen. Onwards and onwards. Bewildering and transfixing. Soon the Beatles arrived, an array of characters done up as Sgt Pepper. Stunning.
When it ended, the actors in Boyle’s shire applauded the massed ranks in the stands and the massed ranks in the stands roared their appreciation for the actors in the shire.
When Pandemonium ended, it gave way to Happy and Glorious, a hilarious and utterly mad segment featuring a video of James Bond (Daniel Craig) marching into Buckingham Palace to see the Queen.
“Good evening, Your Majesty,” said Bond.
“Good evening, Mr Bond,” said Her Majesty.
The two then departed in an AgustaWestland AW139 helicopter, swooping over London, receiving a salute from a statue of Winston Churchill come alive. If this was acting, it was the first time the Queen has acted. And it was fitting, too. For this was a night of firsts.
We paused for the national anthem on the arrival of the Queen and then the craziness resumed. A celebration of the National Health Service; hospital beds around the stadium; nurses and patients from Great Ormond Street and then a riot of dancing medics and children jumping on beds.
Lord only knows what the world made of all this. The response from inside the stadium was unmistakable, though. When they weren’t gasping, they were applauding, and when they weren’t applauding, they were just sitting in silence watching the history of the land unfold in front of their eyes.
And they were moved, no question. When JK Rowling appeared and a segment on Britain’s history of childhood literature began it was moving stuff. Thrilling and frightening and utterly, utterly memorable, a night of nights to launch the Olympics. We’ve had the party. Let the Games begin.
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