a city through the eyes of a girl who's not sure how she ended up here

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Let the Games begin: The 2012 London Olympic opening ceremony

I sometimes struggle to be proud to be British.  Oddly, tonight was not such a time.  Danny Boyle - an occasionally controversial British film director and producer - has just made our small island nation seem like rather an awesome place.  And our capital, London, my home city, made rather a glorious stage for the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games.  After several hours of build-up - well frankly, several years - and numerous pre-recorded montage spots of British Olympic hopefuls and live presenters blithering over each other, we were off!  Following numerous tantalising shots of the greenery-wrapped main stadium (and a cheeky spot of my blogging pal, Muriel, Tweeting frantically from Stratford) the opening ceremony cranked into action...

Whilst the Red Arrows zoomed overhead, the warm-up singers were ushered off the fake rural landscape that filled the brand-new stadium.  Ladies in bonnets milled around, there were some surprised looking sheep, a gaggle of geese, and a lone shire horse pulling a plough.  Large fluffy white clouds were moved around the stadium, controlled by people many feet below on the ground; gripping their strings like dog-walkers being dragged round a park by an out-of-control bloodhound.  And then the waiting was over, and the spectacular show began in earnest.

To the strains of children warbling 'Jerusalem', on strides Kenneth Branagh as Isambard Kingdom Brunel, orchestrating some sort of pillaging of England's green and pleasant lands, by a load of dirty chaps who appear out of the middle of a mechanical tree.  Men in stove-pipe hats appear to be doing some sort of dance to the beat of 1,000 drummers.  The lush stage is stripped, like a tour set at the end of a gig, by roadies surprisingly dressed in period costume.  Huge chimneys rise up out of the ground as the rural idyll becomes Stoke-on-Trent. Ooh, and here come some suffragettes! Yay.  (And some more stove-pipe hats...not being worn by the suffragettes I should clarify.)

And now a field of poppies, and stationary, silent soliders remembering fallen comrades; the stove-pipe hats are doffed.  After the whirl of activity of the first section, there is a moment's stillness. A pause.  And then industry marches on as the ever-growing towers reach further skywards.  Confusingly there are now a whole load of men dressed up like The Beatles, and a nod the first West Indian immigrants to land in the UK.  After that random interlude we're back to the Industrial Revolution, as sparks fly from rivers of molten ore, running into a ring in the middle of the stadium.  A group of Chelsea Pensioners stride proudly through the industrial chaos, as Kenneth Branagh-Brunel looks proudly on.  Four other molten rings fly in from above to join the newly-'forged' one in the centre of the stage.  Up it rises to join its fellows in the sky over the stadium.  Five gold rings.  Music soars and crashes; drums and whistling and strings. It is a total cacophony but glorious.  
Photo: Sky News
And now a wee breather for another pre-recorded sequence while the stage in the stadium is reset. We have James Bond.  In Buckingham Palace.  With corgis. Obviously. OH MY GOD IT'S THE ACTUAL QUEEN. Wow.  The entire nation has just had its mind well and truly blown.  Back in the stadium the un-recorded Queen takes her place overlooking proceedings as servicemen and women walk in the Union Flag.  And I sort of want to cry.  Our national flag is raised high above the stadium, before a country watching with open mouths.  We all had preconceived notions of what this opening ceremony would be like but it wasn't this.  This is seriously impressive.  

Mike Oldfield and patients and staff of GOSH open the second section of the ceremony.  Erm, ok.  It's an odd choice - the music from the Exorcist and sick kids but moving swiftly along...there are dancing doctors and nurses, pajama-clad children bouncing on beds, swing music.  Spelling out 'NHS' in lights is another questionable move, but anyway...Ooh, light-up duvets!  JK Rowling reads us some Peter Pan.  Spooky black hooded creatures with green eyes (oddly reminding me of the perpetrators of last year's riots), and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's child-catcher's van rumbles by, as the stuff of nightmares abounds.  Beds fly, monsters appear high above the stadium; Cruella de Ville, Voldemort, and some weird dancing horses.  The formerly friendly nurses get a little Nurse Ratchett.  But it's ok, here are lots of Mary Poppinses, to shoo away the horrid ghouls, and put the little children back to bed.

Oh god, Simon Rattle's conducting 'Chariots of Fire'! Now I'm going to lose it...oh no wait, Mr Bean is going to ruin any emotional potential.  Phew.  As you were.  There's a crackly radio montage; the Archers, the weather forecast, some news, some Sugababes (who in Britain hasn't been in the Sugababes by this point in time?!).  On comes a house and some people with mobile phones, doing some dancing.  Weird luminous worms twirl beneath a montage of television clips, and then we're whirling through 40 years of musical history.  Hundreds of dancers conga around the stadium, as the aural years roll by.  Eric Clapton, The Who, The Beatles (again!), some reggae, A MAN WITH A JET PACK! MULTIPLE MEN WITH JETPACKS AND GLITTER. Queen. THE TARDIS NOISE!  Bouncing punks on springs, New Order, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Soul II Soul, and we've reached the 90s...the Happy Mondays, Eurythmics, Prodigy, punks bouncing about again.  A little Underworld now as a nod to Danny Boyle's best known ouevre, Trainspotting.  A little clip of 4 Weddings & A Funeral, then a cringey kissing montage.  Dizzee Rascal (and many mentions of him being from East London, you know, where the Olympics is), and we're up to date.  A snatch of Muse (Oh god, please don't play that crap official Olympic song they've done).  And to the strains of Emeli Sande's Heaven the house on stage lifts up to reveal inventor of the internet, TIM BERNERS-LEE!  FFS.  If Danny Boyle brought back Elvis right now the crowd would go wild.

Oh, hang on, we're going back to last time we hosted the Olympics, 1948. We did the Games on a serious budget back then apparently.  There's some torch recap action going on...David Beckham's on a boat, with a hot young bird who's holding the torch. They both play football, they share a knowing smile (I'd be worried if I was Posh).  Who will it be who lights the torch?!  God bless her, but if it's the Duchess of Cambridge I'm going to be a weeny bit disappointed...maybe this is the moment for the ressurection of Elvis. Wait, he's not British...erm, the Queen mum?! John Lennon...

Another more peaceful section of the ceremony now follows.  A huge yellow sun, some creepy-looking dancers, a stray child.  Expressive dance to the sound of a heartbeat.  Eurgh, Boyle, you're loosing me.  Oh hell, 'Abide with Me'.  Where are the tissues?  Wow, but sung by Emeli Sande - love her.  She gets peace and quiet to sing beautifully, totally unaccompanied.  The stadium calms down once again.  The small stray child gets a hug and the dancers stand still.

And here, at last, come the athletes...to the strains of the Chemical Brothers.  Now, who's wearing the crappest outfits?  (The poor Queen looks a bit sleepy, bless her.)  It all gets a bit Eurovision at this stage in the proceedings... L'Albanie! Dix points!  Oh dear, and now there's an awful lot of countries to get through...204 nations.  Brazil's trousers are hilarious. Or horribly offensively bright.  (I'm in two minds.)  The presenters stumble over the pronunciation of the capital of Burkina Faso.  Trevor Nelson says he loves this part of the ceremony...although he also says he loves it 'every year' so he may be mistaking it for something else.  Eurovision probably.  10.40pm and we've made it to countries beginning with 'C'.  The Czech Republic athletes are wearing some shiny blue wellies that make them look like they're off on a field trip.  I'm done with the countries by Denmark. You get the picture.  And many, many hours later, at midnight, here comes Team GB, looking a little bit like they're dressed as members of a huge, chavvy street-dance crew BUT THAT'S NOT THE POINT!  There are many fireworks and a serious light display, and for some reason, the Arctic Monkeys, who don't sing 100% in tune.  But sod them, because there are people riding bicycles with light-up wings!  And they are way better than a somewhat incompetent cover of 'Come Together'.  Particularly when one of them flies up into the sky, in a confusing ET homage, that's not very British but is extremely ace.  Sebastian Coe makes an unexciting, unimaginative speech, but the Olympics belongs to Danny Boyle now.  A knighthood is probably in the works.  

There is the official raising of the Olympic flag, carried by some outstandingly amazing people (all of whom could've given a more interesting and coherent speech than Lord Coe).  The lighting of the torch is done by up-and-coming athletic talent in a nice twist away from a single celebrity.  The torch sculpture assembles itself, lifting the flame high up into the centre of the stadium into a bouquet of copper flowers.  There are more fireworks, that I watch on a muted television so I can hear their boom across London, out of the stadium and in through my open window.  And then, because we're British and there's an open-air, public entertainment situation, Paul McCartney is wheeled on to sing 'Hey Jude'.  And we're all done; the Games are officially open.  It's been a long evening but I'm hugely proud right now (and only a little bit tired).  London, you're shining.  Britain, you are great.

10 comments:

  1. I'm still waiting for my turn to be in the Sugababes!

    I missed the opening ceremony, it was on here at 5am and I tried to stay awake with friends but didn't make it past 3 :(. I must find it on youtube!

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    1. Definitely rewatch it if you can, NeonRaine...BBC iPlayer has it, but there are clips on YouTube too, including an amazing video of the first section shot from a secret camera on one of the performer's costumes!

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  2. A great description, brought it back to me after a week - I feel proud to be British too. Even more so, to see the wonderful arrangements all over the capital. Although a bit sad that the West End is as empty as a Sunday morning!

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    1. Thanks, Jenny! There is something a bit weird about how empty the middle of the city is right now, isn't there? Sad (and surprising) for all the businesses banking on a business boom over these weeks.

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  3. What a great opening ceremony! I still have goosebumps thinking about it. It was simply fantastic. I am definitively becoming British!

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    1. I was very jealous of you being there to experience it in person, Muriel. Bet it was amazing to watch it live in the Olympic Stadium. Interesting that it made you feel very British...I wondered whether much of the rest of the world was watching thinking 'huh?! what the hell is happening?'.

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  4. This is an amazing recap - thank you !! I watched this with JB who is French (remember, Paris almost hosted the Olympics?) and I have to say i was exceptionally proud to be British in that moment!! Even JB admitted we did a great job. Although he is not happy with GB being ahead of France in the medal table : ) I share your love of Emeli Sandé and thought she did an amazing, haunting rendition of Abide with Me...As you mentioned, there were a few "what the heck" moments, but all in all, a great opening ceremony!!

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    1. I did wonder how Paris was feeling watching London 2012, LouLou - a little bit relieved when it looks at the budget I reckon! But also, I wonder whether France could've topped Danny Boyle's masterpiece...

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