London: The 2012 London Olympic Games were officially opened Friday night with a spectacular ceremony which lasted nearly four hours and which covered many aspects of the life, history and culture of the British Isles.
The countdown to Danny Boyle’s magnificent showpiece began with an encounter with Ratty and Mole from the children’s book “The Wind in the Willows” on the Thames river and took people along the iconic London waterway until they reached the Olympic Stadium, where the countdown began, Xinhua reported.
The ringing of the giant Olympic bell by cyclist Bradley Wiggins was the end of the introduction and the start of the ceremony proper. It began in a ‘Green and Pleasant Land’, a representation of the English landscape — the land of sunshine, soft grass and white clouds.
But the idyll was literally torn asunder by ‘Pandemonium’, a section representing the arrival of the Industrial Revolution to the islands. The arrival of industry was reflected in the person of the great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the man who built railways, bridges and steamships.
Giant smoking chimneys rose out of the ground and they and the workings of industry, the ‘dark Satanic Mills’ of Blake’s Jerusalem, replaced the green fields in minutes.
Boyle’s show did not just focus on the benefits of industry, he looked at the impact of industry on ordinary lives. The growth of cities and the industrialization of war which allowed young men to be mown down by their millions in the battlefields of Europe.
The fallen from all wars were represented by the names of the ‘Accrington Pals’, who lost 500 of their 700 members in the battle of the Somme in the First World War.
That war led to social change — votes for women, a rise of the unions, all of which was enacted in the parade, which contained traditional Cockney Pearly Kings and Queens, newspaper boys, Chelsea Pensioners and a Colliery Band from Grimethorpe coalmine among others.
For many Queen Elizabeth II’s arrival in the stadium was the highlight of the night as the monarch showed her sense of humour in a spoof sketch with James Bond actor Daniel Craig, in which for a moment it appeared she had parachuted out of a helicopter to reach her destination.
The second segment of the show honoured two great British achievements, the creation of children’s literature, which includes so many characters still loved today, such as Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, the Queen of Hearts and more recently Harry Potter.
It seemed correct therefore when Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling read the opening lines of the story of the boy who never grows up, while following a spectacular chase, the most famous nanny of them all saved the day when the villains from our childhood invaded a young girl’s imagination.
The other great achievement for Boyle is the creation of the National Health Service (NHS) which assures free healthcare for all. That was celebrated with a spectacular bed dance carried out by volunteers from the NHS.
It would not be the Olympics without the film “Chariots of Fire”, and that British Oscar winning film was celebrated along with other greatly loved British movies, including Gregory’s Girl. Mr Bean also put in an appearance.
The final segment moved people to the present, to a typical British Saturday night, with mum and dad watching the TV, while the kids go out dancing and having fun. Boyle celebrated Britain’s rich pop heritage, the internet and the triumph of true love.
David Beckham was seen driving a speedboat down the Thames with the torch on board, before it was time to remember those who were unable to be at the Games because they had passed away.
They were honoured by a heartfelt “Abide with me”, before the athletes’ parade, which as usual was led by Greece and ended by the spectacular arrival of Team GB to the applause of fans.
Rock group Arctic Monkeys injected some extra energy into the ceremony.
All that was left then was for the official welcome with speeches from Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London Olympic Games Organizing Committee (LOCOG) and IOC president Jacques Rogge, before the Olympic flag was raised and the Olympic oaths were taken.
Then the final question was answered — who would light the Olympic cauldron.
Fittingly it was no single person, but a combination of seven young athletes who had the honour after legendary Olympian Steve Redgrave brought the flame into the Stadium.
Together they lit a cauldron formed of petals which came together to make a single flame.
The ceremony ended with an emotional Paul McCartney singing “Hey Jude” with just a little bit of help from the 80,000 people in the stands.
It was a perfect ending to an exhilarating show with the audience becoming part of the show, and Saturday morning, the action begins in earnest.