It’s been over 72 hours now and I still can’t get over the marvel that Danny Boyle (he who of Slumdog Millionaire fame) churned out :-D Ah, it was British quirk at its best ‒ oh Danny, you mad, mad hatter! And I could go on watching the whole thing for… ! If you haven’t caught it yet, fret not, here’s a quick recap, or rather my fave bits from it ‒ hop on for a ride to the “Isle of Wonder” ;-)
The opening ceremony kicked off with a deftly-cut introductory video that takes you from Thames Head (the source of river Thames) in Gloucestershire to the Olympic Stadium, while showing images of contemporary British life with pastoral shots along the way, to the theme tune of Britian’s most popular TV show Eastenders, The Clash’s London Calling and Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen.
Bradley Wiggins, the British cyclist who won the Tour de France a few days ago, then rang the world’s largest harmonically tuned bell to signal the start of ceremony.
The sequence that came next, showing Britian’s social and economic development, took my breath away: so magnificent was the scale of production. A tableau vivant of the Glastonbury Tor was created in that stadium ‒ complete with live animals, for crying out loud! ‒ with a youth choir chanting the unofficial anthems of the four British constituent countries: William Blake‘s Jerusalem (England), Danny Boy (Northern Ireland), Bread of Heaven (Wales) and Flower of Scotland (Scotland).
Vintage London General Omnibus Company stagecoaches then arrived with men in Victorian dress and top hats. Led by the great Isambard Kingdom Brunel (played by Sir Kenneth Branagh, no less!), the British mechanical and civil engineer credited for revolutionising the country’s public transport landscape, the men got off the carriages to check out the land. Upon reaching the Tor, Brunel (Branagh) recited the ‘Be not afeard’ extract from Act 3, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest…
…for chimney stacks with accompanying steeplejacks to rise from the ground, astoundingly. Yep, you were witnessing Britain’s Industrial Revolution ‒ which I spent a whole bloody year learning in uni :[email protected] ‒ happen all over again, right there. Workers mimed forging what was to become the fifth Olympic ring. Fittingly, there was a minute’s silence remembering the lives lost in both the World Wars, featuring British soldiers and a field of red poppies.
Then, to the pounding of 1000 percussions performing Underworld‘s And I Will Kiss, led by the deaf Scottish percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, a parade took off representing the various groups that changed the face of Britian, such as the women suffrage movement, the Jarrow Crusade, the first Carribean immigrants that arrived in Britain on board the The Empire Windrush and The Beatles as they appeared on the album sleeve of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club, with real-life Chelsea Pensioners (retired members of the British Army) and Pearly Kings and Queens (a charitable organisation which has a uniform of suit covered with pearl buttons) taking part.
Then four Olympic rings were flown in, with the fifth hoisted up, to be ignited for a fire rain.
Up next was possibly my fave moment in TV history! The ceremony cut to Happy and Glorious, a short film starring James Bond (Daniel Craig) and… the Queen!!! The film rolls off with a tuxedo-clad 007 (he was in Tom Ford, btw :-D) arriving at the Buckingham Palace (yep, that’s the real thing) in a black cab to whisk Her Majesty off to a “special mission”. Bond was presented to HM by her personal footman (played by her real-life deputy personal secretary Edward Young) as she was writing a letter and training her corgis, Holly, Monty and Willow (yep, those are the Queen’s actual pooches), to roll over. Greeting him with an ‘Evening, Mr Bond’, the Queen, in a rose-pink dress, was escorted through the palace to a helicopter emblazoned with the Union Flag. The helicopter whizzed off over the streets of London and through the Tower Bridge to reach the Olympic Stadium.
Just as the film reached its climax, an AgustaWestland AW139 helicopter (yep, the one Karl Lagerfeld’s designing) was spotted hovering above the stadium. As the chopper steadied itself in the movie sequence, Bond was seen opening the door and appearing to hesitate. While he dithered, the figure of the Queen pushed past him and dove into the air, followed by Bond, with Union Jack parachutes streaming behind them. Meanwhile, from the real helicopter above the stadium, the same two figures appeared to jump off. And, with the Bond theme blazing in the stadium, the spotlight shone on the Royal Box where the Queen emerged wearing exactly the same dress as in the film! Genius, no?
Then came another heart-warming sequence: celebration of the national treasure that is the NHS (I’ll never tire of vouching for it, I underwent an expensive treatment a couple of years ago ‒ but I didn’t pay a penny!) to the strains of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. Out on the lawns came the staff and patients from the Great Ormond Street Hospital (affectionately known as GOSH), an ace children’s hospital run by the NHS. After a dance sequence by them, a celebration of children’s literature by British authors began. Of course JK Rowling had to play a part, who read a section from Sir James M. Barrie’s Peter Pan (from which GOSH receives royalties).
Inflatable representations of children’s literature villains such as The Queen of Hearts (Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland), Captain Hook (Peter Pan), Cruella de Vil (101 Dalmatians), Lord Voldemort (Harry Potter!), Child Catcher (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) floated in the middle of the park, to be deflated by a gaggle of Mary Poppins who came down on flying umbrellas.
Ah, another stroke of genius by Danny! “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Sir Simon Rattle,” said the voice in the sky. The highly acclaimed English conductor did come, to take the London Symphony Orchestra through a rendition of Vangelis’s Chariots of Fire. But in the orchestra was… Mr Bean (Rowan Atkinson)!!! He was dabbing away on the keyboard in true Mr Bean fashion until…
…he wandered off into a dream sequence in which he joined the runners from Chariots of Fire (the 1981 film on the 1924 Summer Olympics), beating them in their iconic run along West Sands at St Andrews (Scotland) by riding in a car and tripping the front runner!
The comic relief was followed by a sequence concerning British pop culture. A mother and son drove up in a Mini to a house at the center of the park, whose each sides served as a projection screen showing clips from various British films, television programmes and music videos. A battalion of dancers (wearing costumes by up-and-coming British designers Christopher Shannon, Michael van der Ham and Nasir Mazhar, in case you were wondering…), centred around a boy and girl flirting on the phone, performed to a medley of hit British singles from the 60s through to current times, arranged chronologically, ending in a live performance of Bonkers by Dizzee Rascal.
Towards the end of the sequence, the house was raised to reveal Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the British computer scientist who invented the world wide web, working on a NeXT computer. He tweeted: “This is for everyone”, instantly spelled out in LED lights held by 70,500 people in the audience. What came next…
…had my heart stop beating! The ceremony cut to river Thames where a muy jefe David Beckham, clad in Thom Sweeney of Savile Row, was shown steering the speedboat ferrying the Olympic torch ‒ which was safe in the clasp of footballer Jade Bailey ‒ in the last leg of its journey. I. Died.
Going back to the Olympic Stadium, in tribute to the victims of war and the 7/7 train bombings in London (which happened right the day after London was awarded the 2012 Olympics), Scottish singer Emeli Sandé (wearing Jonathan Saunders, btw :-D) chanted the hymn Abide with Me, to which a group, choreographed by British-Bangladeshi (!!!!) dancer Akram Khan, performed a poignant dance routine depicting life’s mortality, while the screen showed a montage of the departed. What a beautiful memorial it was, which was made all the more special *for me* by the participation of a Bangladeshi :-)
The athletes’ parade and the speeches were proper snooze-fests, to be honest.
But sandwiched between them was a live performance by the popular British indie band Arctic Monkeys, who sang their breakout number I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor and a version of The Beatles’ Come Together.
Shaking me out of the stupor was the sight of my Goldie Becks who had arrived at the nearest dock to the Olympic Stadium. He passed on the flame to Sir Steve Redgrave, a six-time Olympic rowing medallist for Britain, who carried the torch to the stadium through a guard of honour formed by construction workers who built the Olympic Park ‒ what a lovely gesture, right?
At the stadium a team of seven (note the number, which is in remembrance, again, of the train bombings) young athletes, each of whom was nominated by a famous British Olympian, was waiting for Sir Steve. The seven youngsters would go on to light the all-important Olympic cauldron, an act which beautifully conveyed the 2012 Games’ aim: to inspire a generation.
The ceremony finished off with a truly embarrassing performance by Sir Paul McCartney, who sang the eminently croonable Hey Jude.
So, that was it. Hope you managed to get to this part ‒ and that you enjoyed Danny Boyle’s witty, charming, self-assured and decidedly British show!
P.S. In case you want to watch the whole thing in one go, here’s the link… :-)