LONDON (eTN) – The London Olympics 2012 got under way with a spectacular opening ceremony viewed by an estimated 27 million people in the UK and one billion worldwide. A commentator described the curtain-raiser, directed by award-winning film director, Danny Boyle, as bold, British, and bonkers. This probably sums up most accurately the epic three-and-a half-hour extravaganza, which cost 27 million pounds.
The show traced the main stages of Britain’s history beginning with an idyllic pastoral scene featuring live horses, cows, sheep, goats, and other farmyard animals. A cricket match was shown before the theme shifted to the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century. The green countryside was replaced by giant factory chimneys which rose from the ground. There was clamor and noise as miners and other laborers worked furiously to build up the country’s industry. There were references to the suffragettes, the Beatles, and the swinging sixties. A whole section was devoted to the National Health Service in which real nurses and other health professionals were among the dancers. Next came the development of the Internet and social media.
The opening ceremony was laced with humor and surprises. The Queen stole the show by making her acting debut in a sequence with James Bond, actor Daniel Craig, who was filmed greeting Her Majesty in Buckingham Palace. To gasps and cheers, the Queen, who by this time had been replaced by a stand-in, was shown parachuting from a helicopter to the stadium. This was timed to synchronize with the arrival of the Queen herself accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh. The Queen’s willingness to act as an unlikely Bond girl, at the age of 86, endeared her even more to sections of the public already won over by the extensive celebrations to mark her Diamond Jubilee less than two months ago.
A succession of celebrities and Olympians, past and present, popped up at various points to the delight of audiences. Thousands of volunteers took part in sequences which included references to well-known children’s books such as Peter Pan and the Harry Potter series. David Beckham arrived dramatically on a speedboat along the Thames, bearing the Olympic torch on the final leg of 70-day journey. Seven young athletes lit the magnificent cauldron, the location of which had been another closely-guarded secret.
There were performances during the evening by the Arctic Monkeys and other popular music groups. After the Queen formally declared the London 2012 Olympics open, dazzling fireworks exploded around the stadium.
The headlines the next morning were glowing, describing the opening ceremony variously as “the greatest show on Earth,” “magical,” and “flaming fantastic.” There were, however, one or two dissenters. One Member of Parliament attracted universal condemnation when he dismissed the show as “leftie multicultural crap.” After a deluge of complaints, he sent out another Tweet saying he had been misunderstood.
A writer and historian, Justin Wintle, was also underwhelmed by the show but for different reasons. His beef was with what he regarded as Danny Boyle’s threadbare grasp of history. “There was no gripping development. Very little of what my country has had to offer the world was represented. Instead of Isaac Newton, David Hume, Charles Darwin, we got the barest smidgeon of Shakespeare and a bigger smidgeon of the Sex Pistols.” In his view, all that the opening ceremony did was extend the sentimentality of Little England to Little Britain. He felt that the greatest show on Earth was actually painfully parochial.
However, in the days preceding the start of the Games, much of the country was already in the grip of a new word that has been coined, “Olympomania,” with a series of celebratory events.
The World Olympians Association hosted a reception at St. James’s Palace, the residence of the Princess Royal and other members of the Royal family. The Princess and Prince Albert of Monaco were among the dignitaries present. Most other guests were Olympians who had taken part in past Games and recalled the days when athletes received no payment at all and were grateful for a free drink of Bovril.
The head of the World Olympians Association, Mr. Joel Bouzou, said it was important to understand that the Olympics was not just about winning but how victory was achieved. He declared, “Once an Olympian, always an Olympian.”
On the eve of the Olympics, the Rotary Club in London hosted a cruise on the Thames on a paddle steamer. Guests were in a celebratory mood as they were wined and dined. Some posed for photos holding an Olympic torch, and in return they were required to make a donation to one of the many charity projects sponsored by Rotary. Cameras flashed as the brilliantly illuminated, Tower Bridge, opened to allow the boat to sail under. Subtle lighting on other landmark buildings along the way gave them an ethereal glow.
Earlier criticism of the preparations, complaints about the traffic, and a mess-up over security arrangements, were swept away by a feel-good factor generated by Danny Boyle’s imagination and vision. There was broad agreement that the opening ceremony captured the essence of what made Britain Great. It is now up to the athletes, who have put in a lifetime of training, hard work, and discipline, to shine.