The Olympics opening ceremony: my review
It’s now four full days since the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games, sufficient time to give an objective review.
It was fucking awesome.
It started at 2059 BST, with a 60 second countdown. Each number gave an insight into London or the UK. The 43 bus to London Bridge; the 30mph speed limit sign; £22-worth of mini-orchids (ouch!); the 12 in the top-left quadrant of the dartboard; eleven and a half Fournier Street (an art gallery in the east end); Number 10 (natch); ending with street signs for EC2 and N1.
Then, a dragonfly’s journey from the source of the Thames near Kemble all the way past the Olympic stadium and past the Thames Barrier.
Starting beneath the water, it makes the brave leap into the air, past the river’s source marker stone, past children happily splashing, ratty, a field of poignant poppies, river boats, trains with ketchup aboard, Olympic rings carved beautifully into rape fields, ducks. All of this interjected with great, Great British sporting accomplishments from days gone by.
Through Putney and past rowers, village cricket, on past Battersea Power Station and the accompanying flying pig (from the cover or Pink Floyd’s Animals), past parliament and Big Ben (yes, the bell).
Across to the London Eye and the South Bank (with accompanying music from the Show), rapidly under six bridges before flying through Tower Bridge complete with its resplendent Olympic rings (now to the tune of the Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen), a quick look back to the Shard before rising high and mighty above London and orientating itself ready for the nine drum beats at the beginning of the EastEnders theme tune.
Back down to river level beyond the Thames Barrier, and back upstream, into the docks north of the river and mysteriously into the Underground system (Jubilee line), a Victorian-era tunnel under the Thames, the Blackwall Tunnel (I think), back above ground to the docks, through ceremony preparations into the Olympic stadium (now live) ready for another countdown, this time from ten, each number struck off to the exploding of numbered balloons to the sheer delight of the children holding them.
We’re over six and a half minutes in, and there has been nothing but delightful imagery, pulled heartstrings and ear-to-ear grinning. And we’re not even started yet!
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to London, and to the Games of the thirtieth Olympiad. To open our ceremony, Olympic cyclist, member of Team GB and Britain’s first winner of the Tour de France, Bradley Wiggins.”
Bradley, sporting a delightful yellow t-shirt, rings a huge bell, and a few understated helium balloons rise into the air.
“And did those feet in ancient times…”
Oh Jesus Christ. If you weren’t already proud and blubbing, you are now. Humphrey Keeper, selected only ten days ago, pipes in, completely unaccompanied. He’s also wearing yellow, surrounded by fellow choristers in block 248, high up in the cheap seats. This is epic.
During this flawless and goosebump-laden performance, British village scenes play out in the centre of the grassed stadium.
Verse one gives way to a choir on Giant’s Causeway for a verse of Danny Boy, then Flower of Scotland from Edinburgh Castle, and Bread of Heaven from the Welsh coast. “Feed me ’til I want some more.” All interjected with footage of historic rugby moments. (I can’t help but feel that Scotland lost out on the melody stakes here.)
Then back to the stadium for the yellow-shirted choir to sing verse two of Jerusalem. Jonny Wilkinson’s 2003 World Cup–winning dropkick prompts the first audible sound from the audience as a cheer interjects the beautiful melody. (No harmonies, making it all the more powerful.)
Sir Kenneth Branagh makes his way rather smugly into proceedings, and I’m uncertain whether the smugness is his or that of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, FRS, the part he is playing.
Eight and a half minutes in.
“Be not afeard: the isle is full of noises….” Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act III, Scene 2.
Branner, sporting sideburns rivalling those of Wiggins, gives a rousing rendition from partway up a huge grassed hill, to a group of top-hatted men below, all listening intently, all to the backdrop of the powerful chords of Nimrod. I only hope they can move it all in time for the start of the athletics.
“I cried to dream again.”
Evelyn Glennie comes in to lead some 1,000 drummers, an introduction to the Industrial Revolution. The turf is methodically uplifted as landscape makes way for industry.
Six chimneys rise from the ground. Trevor Nelson starts speaking, asking us to turn up the volume on our remote control. Oh the irony.
Branner/Brunel grins manically, cigar in mouth. The Suffragists enter. The grass has made way for the chimneys and a hugely detailed map of London that would have been lost on most. The rousing whistled tune of Underworld’s And I Will Kiss takes us into the next stage. Magical.
An army of Sgt. Peppers enter to bring vibrant colours to proceedings. And then HMS Windrush. The Chelsea Pensioners. The Pearly Kings and Queens. All the while, industry behind them is forging an Olympic ring, steam billowing from the molten steel. Branner continues to be smug.
Four more Olympic rings are brought into view from above. The one forged at ground level is lifted skyward and the rings are slowly moved into place to form their familiar logo, lighting up with understated fireworks descending from their still glowing edges.
Huw Edwards witters on. As does Hazel Irvine.
Then video footage. To the Palace. Buckingham Palace. An old-style taxi (an LTI FX4, I believe) carries the besuited (indeed betuxed) Daniel Craig into the grounds. Bond, accompanied by a couple of corgis, is escorted to a large drawing room. A back shot of someone that looks like it might be the Queen at a writing table. The audience expects it not to be her. Either it’s not going to move beyond a back shot; or it’ll be one of those imitations. Dame Helen Mirren, maybe.
She turns round. Jesus. It’s her. It’s only Lizzie Windsor! “Good evening, Mr. Bond.”
“Good Evening, Your Majesty.”
The pair of them take off in a helicopter, past Nelson, over Whitehall, past a rather creepily waving statue of Sir Winston Churchill, St. Paul’s, a speedy fly-by of champagne-popping bankers (bankers) atop 1 Poultry, and our second pass through Tower Bridge. The helicopter stops to hover over the Olympic Stadium, lit in deep blue. Bond opens the side door. After a slight smirk from Craig, the Queen leaps out, followed by Bond.
Union Flags are the order of the day, their red, white and blue forming the basis of both the parachutes and the lit audience. The Queen makes her way to her seat. God, smile woman! (Sorry.) Members of the armed forces carry a Union Flag up the grassy mound ready to be hoisted.
And now we have our National Anthem. Performed by the Chaos Signing Choir for Deaf and Hearing Children. All wearing pyjamas. Unaccompanied. And putting 99.8% of us to shame by singing the second verse. Danny’s objective is clearly to make people blub. And God is he doing just that?
The opening bars of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells kick in as members of the NHS and Great Ormond Street Hospital enter the stadium, together with children on wheeled beds. Bedtime reading gives way to swing dancing and on-bed leaping (much to the joy of my daughter—a special late-night treat for her to watch this), and then soothing music and the children sleep.
JK Rowling reads some of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan and then there is a rather scary (and arguably unnecessary) sequence involving Voldemort (from Harry Potter) and some rather scary creatures (Death Eaters?)
“I really like the use of children in the show so far. Obviously going to hospital might be quite scary for kids. So there’s quite a dark side to the ceremony. But the light around the hospital beds is like a big contradiction.” Insight right there from Trevor Nelson. (Shoot me now!)
Oodles of Mary Poppins fly down from the sky to rid the world of he who shall not be named. Trevor Nelson continues to talk utter bollocks.
And so ends the period of leftie multicultural crap, as defined by Aiden Burley MP.
A short pause and the mood becomes serious as Simon Rattle begins conducting the London Symphony Orchestra playing Chariots of Fire. The opening bars kick in. Beautiful strings. In comes the monotonous beat of the electronic piano, played by Mr. Bean. The mood lightens gloriously. I hate Mr. Bean with a passion, but the comedic sequence works absolutely beautifully.
“Frankie and June say thanks, Tim.”
The famous six pips of the top of the hour introduce the next part of the ceremony. A white mother drives her Mini into the stadium to the Archers theme tune, parks and grabs her shopping, letting her mixed-race son out of the back seat. His head is buried in his DS. The car’s registration: TBL 2012.
They make their way to a house that’s just been built in the middle of the stadium. Michael Fish gives his famous 1987 weather report quashing rumours of hurricanes, while a cloud unleashes its fury on the house, the mother rushing inside.
Family life gets underway indoors, while the boy chooses to sit on the doorstep with his DS. The Sugababes’ Push The Button kicks in. Choon.
Harry Hill’s TV Burp gives way to video footage bringing in social media: Facebook-style status updates flicking across the screen. Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark chime in. The kid is dragged indoors by his mum.
Oliver! Charlie Slater extolling the virtues of fish pie. Wallace and Gromit. Victoria Wood. Fawlty Towers. The Kumars. Blackadder. Corrie (Rosie Webster is “going nowhere dressed like that, young lady!”) Desmonds. A montage of the best of British is projected onto the outer walls of the house.
And the Rizzle Kicks’ When I Was A Youngster accompanies the two girls of the house out for their night out. And there follows a musical journey from the 60s to present day.
The Jam’s Going Underground. Neon, dancing and youthful exuberance, giving way to Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight, the last song of the night? Not tonight.
Gregory’s Girl. Charlie Chaplin. One of the girls drops her phone, picked up by a boy who desperately searches for her. The Who’s My Generation. The Stones’ Satisfaction. Millie’s My Boy Lollipop. The dancers form the CND logo. The Beatles’ She Loves You.
Kes. A Matter of Life and Death. The boy connects with the girl who’s lost the phone. Mud’s Tiger Feet. The Specials’ A Message To You Rudy. Bowie’s Starman to the backdrop of men shooting into the air on jetpacks. Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody complete with Wayne’s World footage and much air guitarage. The songs are all too brief but their resonance and importance is there for all.
The Sex Pistols’ Pretty Vacant. After all, the Queen is present now. New Order, Blue Monday. Lots of luminescence. Lots. Frankie’s Relax. Soul II Soul’s Back To Life. Sheer joy. The Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams. The Prodigy’s Firestarter.
Trainspotting, Four Weddings. The boy and the girl finally meet to the tune of I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles. (Are West Ham moving in after all?)
They kiss. There’s a montage of kissing. Charles and Diana. The spaghetti kiss from Lady and the Tramp. Beth Jordache and Margaret Clemence from Brookside.
Oh, and here comes Dizzee Rascal live on stage singing Bonkers. Can this *get* any better?
The whole stadium is now alive with colour, lights and sound. The kids go back home for a house party while Amy Winehouse chimes in with the beautiful melody of Valerie. Muse’s Uprising. Tinie Tempah’s Pass Out.
Suddenly the house rises from the ground to leave a calm fella sat at a desk tapping away at his keyboard. The caption reads: Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Inventor of the World Wide Web. Apparently Al Gore was busy. “This is for everyone” flashes across the crowd.
A short video interlude now. To the first relay of the Games: the torch relay. To the sound of David Holmes’ I Heard Wonders. It was an event that was met initially with much traditional British cynicism, but that later gained momentum as the crowds came out in force and many deserving people got to live out a dream.
First, brief footage of its 1948 journey to Wembley, its cauldron lit by John Mark. Then to 2012. From Greece to Westminster, Edinburgh to Liverpool. Union Flags à gogo. Princess Anne. David Beckham. Michael Johnson. Schoolchildren. Oodles of them. Stonehenge. Jack Charlton.
Lifeboats. Horses. Whitewater rafts. Zipwire from the Tyne Bridge (safely making it to ground level). The Queen. Communities coming together. A marriage proposal. To Hyde Park and the Red Arrows. Army helicopters. Denise Lewis.
David Walliams. Ade Adepitan. Open topped buses. David Cameron. William and Kate. Eddy and Patsy. The London Eye. Amelia Hempleman-Adams. Tower Bridge.
Back to David Beckham, racing up the Thames in a Bond-esque speedboat, jets of water shooting from either side. Accompanied by 16-year-old future footballing star Jade Bailey. David driving, Jade carrying the torch. Under the partially opened Tower Bridge, alight with fireworks.
A pause to remember those who are no longer with us. (At this point, NBC cuts to adverts, just as we would have done for a 9/11 memorial, I expect.) Faces of regular people zoom out gracefully in a short montage. In part, a tribute to the terrorist attacks on London on 7 July 2005.
Back to the stadium, and a burning sun. Silent dance. (Not my favourite.) Emeli Sandé comes in with Abide With Me. A cappella.
Calming. Soothing. Poignant. Eighty thousand people in the stadium. And you could hear a pin drop.
Trevor Nelson talks some more shit.
[Here follows one hour and 40 minutes during which the Olympic athletes enter the stadium, country by country, in alphabetical order. I won't bore you with the detail.]
The Arctic Monkeys kick off a celebration for the athletes to enjoy with I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor while fireworks light up the night sky. Red, white and blue lights up the audience. They then slip into Come Together, altogether unnecessary in my opinion.
Illuminated human doves enter the stadium riding bikes. (You read that correctly.) They circle the stadium’s inner perimeter, the athletes all gathered in the centre. One of the bikes lifts off into the air. Spielberg calls his lawyers.
Enter Sebastian Coe and Jacques Rogge. Coe welcomes the world to London, in front of the 204 flags of the nations that entered the stadium. Then it’s Rogge’s turn. A dedication to the Games’ volunteers. Rapturous applause and cheering. An announcement that all participating teams will have female athletes increases the rapture.
The Queen formally opens the Games of the Thirtieth Olympiad.
The Olympic flag is carried into the stadium carried by: Doreen Lawrence, Haile Gebrselassie, , Sally Becker, Ban Ki-moon, Leymah Gbowee, Shami Chakrabati, Daniel Barenboim and Marina Silva. Muhammad Ali joins the flag to represent athletic virtues. And to the Olympic anthem as the flag is carried further up the grassy hill to be hoisted alongside the Union Flag.
Back to Beckham on board the boat. Beckham is no longer driving, but assists with the transfer of the flame to the torch held by Sir Steve Redgrave on the dock. He sprints up some steps, all a little too fast for my liking, torch aloft.
The Olympic oath is read out by British Taekwondo athlete Sarah Stevenson. Similar oaths are read on behalf of judges and coaches. The word “Olympism” is used, much to my utter disappointment.
Redgrave enters the stadium, witnessed by 500 of the people who built the Olympic park. He hands the torch to Cameron MacRitchie, who accompanies six fellow young athletes for the last few legs of the relay, each nominated by a British Olympic hero from the past.
MacRitchie lights torches for each of the seven young athletes. They gather around one side of a huge circle of spokes, the ends of which are formed by the 204 copper conches brought in along with each of the Olympic teams. They light the conches and the flame spreads around its perimeter.
The spokes slowly lift from the horizontal to form a cauldron up high. Quite beautiful.
Footage shows from key moments of historic Olympics. And the footage ends with five gold rings floating above the earth.
And there ends the ceremony.
Or at least that’s where the ceremony *should* have ended. Instead, Paul McCartney is sitting at a piano. The great bell is struck again to introduce him. Hey Jude. Kill me now. There’s a problem with the opening bars, as he’s out of time with his supporting backing vocals. He looks like a jowly dog. Not in a good way. Na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na. Jesus wept.
“Just the women. Now everybody together.” What the fuck just happened here?
And we’re done. Three hours and forty-four minutes of blissful Britishness, heartstrings, pride, joy, tears. Followed by seven minutes of Paul McCartney.