London 2012 Opening Ceremony
The opening ceremony sets the tone for an Olympiad, or it tries to. As we in Britain heard about the mounting cost of the planned extravaganza that would herald the London 2012 Games we wondered would it be worth it. Yet in the end of all the elements that made up the £9 billion admitted as the cost, the true total suspected by some as far higher, the £27 million spent here was surely the best value.
It is hard not to make comparisons with Beijing’s version. There every effort had been directed at synchronised movement, unison, clockwork precision that almost removed the human element. Thousands of drummers in perfect time the enduring image (and, so we were told, those drummers in nappies during endless rehearsals with no time for loo-breaks the enduring horror). In London you could see Kenneth Branagh beaming at what was going on around him once his moment in the spotlight was done, and many of the volunteer participants were clearly visibly moved – the human was very evident.
In the same vein, can we imagine the Head of the Chinese Communist Party taking part in gentle self-mockery before billions of the world’s population? No. But the Queen , with a bit of help from James Bond ( Daniel Craig ) did so with evident glee. That sequence from Buckingham Palace to the Olympic Stadium was the jaw-crop moment, not for technical complexity but for involvement. And it said so much about our sense of humour, our inability to be serious for too long. Even for confirmed republicans it was terrific.
Danny Boyle , who put the ceremony together, crammed a vast number of elements into the thing, but then our history is crowded with change and achievement. The heart sank at the opening pastoral idyll with fears that it would be one long list of clichés, but the humour began to shine through, and the drama. We had lines from Shakespeare’s Tempest from Sir Ken, the Industrial Revolution brought to life with huge inflatable chimneys; and nods to the greats of our children’s literature – Alice, Mary Poppins and Harry Potter among them. What the world made of the Archers and Eastenders references we can only speculate; the bit with the NHS beds and giant baby we don’t need to speculate, it was the one aspect that fell flat.
And then there is the music. The Stones, Macca, Bowie, Queen, Elgar, Jerusalem, Chariots of Fire (with Mr Bean in a starring musical role), Handel, the wonderful Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells and the man himself playing In Dulci Jubilo, the Jam, Dizzee Rascal’s Bonkers, Pink Floyd... aural snapshots of Britain through the last few centuries. And the films – from David Lean’s Oliver through to the burbling of Hugh Grant.
It speaks volumes about the rest of the affair that the fireworks at the end, however beautiful, were far from a highlight. They were something that has been done before and will be again. Thomas Heatherwick’s cauldron by contrast was a thing of beauty that was totally new: it was clever, stunningly lovely, and perfectly engineered, a reminder to the world that we may not do cheap but we can do brilliant, the 204 flames on slender stalks and copper petals representing the same number of countries competing at the 2012 Games. To push that message home about our technical creativity we had a fleeting moment of Tim Berners-Lee , creator of the web. Heatherwick’s cauldron bypassed with wit one of the problems of planning the ceremony – who would light the stadium’s flame? Daley Thompson and Steve Redgrave had been favourites with the bookies, but in the end it was a bunch of children representing both the future and the past as they had been nominated by great Olympians from previous eras.
There was so much to admire about the ceremony, so much noise and fire and sparkle, but it was a pity that 40 years on from the slaughter of 11 Israeli team-members at the Munich Games a moment could not have been found to remember them in silence.
As noted above, the Opening Ceremony sets the tone for an Olympiad. London 2012’s had humour, it was well organised, technically advanced, and worked perfectly. Much against our expectations the rest of the Games followed, with London’s transport system holding up well, smiling volunteers who were involved not coerced, and the British flag held high. Little wonder then that the GB and Northern Ireland team went on to have their most successful Olympics since 1908 (when the host city was... London).
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