Beijing’s awe-inspiring and spectacular Opening ceremony which featured a host of mesmerising acts ranging from hundreds of drummers to hundreds of gymnastic artists to hundreds of…well you get the idea, meant that everyone knew Danny Boyle had an immensely tough task to live up to the standards that were displayed in China four years ago. And let’s face it, turning up at the Closing ceremony in 2008 with David Beckham and a Red London bus was a hardly a stunning showcase of all things British.
London 2012 had been plagued with fears that it would not deliver the goods after a huge range of blunders leading to whispers and then screams of inadequacy and unpreparedness. First there was the shambles of the ticketing system, leaving many, like myself, feeling aggrieved at missing out on opportunities that would only come around once in a life time. Then there was anger over the Olympic lanes; roads reserved for London 2012 officials and athletes only. Nicknamed ‘zil’lanes after Soviet Moscow in which roads were specially built for Government use, cabbies and bus drivers alike were left fuming when they were threatened with a £200 fine for straying onto the wrong side of the white lines. Then there was the G4S security fiasco which led to 3,500 troops being called in to secure the games. It’s fair to say that most of us approached the Opening ceremony with an air of apprehension yet oddly, quiet confidence. This is Britain after all and we all love a bit of squeaky bum time. Provided everything turns out all right in the end.
And boy did it turn out all right. Boyle delivered a master class on how to display the best of Britain. The backdrop of Green Pastures and the greyness of the Industrial revolution was a mesmerising juxtaposition to start off proceedings. Forging a huge Olympic ring in the middle of huge chimneys gave the impression that the British were somewhat responsible for the formation of the Modern Games. We weren’t. That honour goes to a Frenchman called Pierre de Coubertin. But we love riling the French anyway.
The ceremony celebrated all things great about the U.K, including our beloved NHS. At 64 years old, most of us see the National Health Service in an oddly affectionate manner. Of course this meant that the rest of the world thought the Brits had an odd fixation with hospital sick beds. A Leading yet hugely misinformed US Sports Journalist Diane Pucin wrote in the Los Angeles Times “For the life of me, though, am still baffled by NHS tribute at opening ceremonies. Like tribute to United Health Care or something in US.” Clearly Diane Pucin does not understand that unlike United Health Care, the NHS doesn’t need to be paid with hundreds of dollars before they let you be seen by a doctor.
There were moments of real humour too. Rowan Atkinson’s appearance as the loveable Mr. Bean was recognised world over and proved to be a hit with the native crowd too. The Queen’s film debut in an unofficial James Bond scene starring Daniel Craig aka 007 was a real moment of delight for the audience, although none of us actually imagined her majesty would grace us with such a daring entrance! Boyle’s magnificent effort in maintaining a performance which encapsulated all the positive aspects of British history as well as having an appeal to the global audience made the evening stand out from other sporting opening ceremonies and has earmarked him as a truly world class producer.
After much public sparring between Sir Steve Redgrave and Daley Thompson over who should have the honour of lighting the Olympic flame, bequeathing the responsibility to 7 young athletes was the right thing to do. Redgrave and Thompson had been locked in a number of publicly brandished comments each downplaying each other’s achievements in the Olympic Games resulting in neither of them having the privilege of lighting the torch signalling the start of the 30th Olympiad. It also kept in touch with London 2012’s official motto, “Inspire a Generation”.
It would be interesting to discuss other aspects of the performance, but it is also important to mention that the ceremony was not to everyone’s taste. As outspoken MP Aiden Burley put it, the evening was full of “leftie multicultural crap”. A credible and obviously highly respected opinion from the man who was given a thorough dressing down by PM Cameron following revelations he had been a guest at a Nazi-themed stag do whilst in office. And let’s face it, although Paul McCartney is the epitome of modern ‘Britishness’, ending every major gig with ‘Hey Jude’ isn’t exactly exciting anymore. However, I think you’d find criticism few and far between following an absolutely wonderful performance by Boyle and his army of 15,000 volunteers.
The evening cost the British taxpayer £27 million although given that the entire cost of the games is said to be £11 billion, it seems like it was money well spent. Was it worth it? All I have to say is that I was more excited that Friday night watching Boyle’s extravaganza than I have been when watching Andy Carroll attempt to kick a ball for Liverpool all season. And he cost £35 million. Sorry Scousers; had to be said.
Truthfully, us Brits were never going to match the performance of the Chinese hosts four years ago. Their performance was an exotic and oriental mix of eclectic groups in sheer numbers creating a fascinating spectacle for the audience. But London took a different approach all together, and yet still created one of the most enthralling and diverse opening ceremonies I have ever witnessed. Everything that we Brits hold dear and value was put on show for the billion or so people watching all over the globe. The event was the perfect way to rouse our patriotism and inject us with Olympic fever as we get ready to welcome the world to London. China may hold the advantage in the medals table, but you know what, I think we’ve beaten them already.