Diary of a London Games-maker: The Opening Ceremony

Monday July 23rd 2012

Cricket, geese, Kenneth Branagh, an abundance of drummers, two snippets of the Sex Pistols, giant smoking chimneys rising from the ground, a tree on a hill with Frank Turner playing on it, wireline Mary Poppins, Mr Bean and Simon Rattle do the Chariots of Fire theme tune with the London Phil, dancing NHS nurses, Beatles, steel drums, fiery gold rings coming from the sky, children in bed with Peter Pan and Great Ormond Street Hospital to keep them company, lots of dancing kids in garish colours, sheep, badminton, suffragettes, David Bowie (not in person), Mike Oldfield (in person), crazy lights, firestarters, the raising of the flag and the obligatory anthem sung by children, uncontrollable zorbs, headbanging to Queen, and an idyllic rural scene flattened by the Industrial Revolution.  All in all a fantastic spectacle, and one Danny Boyle should be immensely proud of.  I knew he wouldn't let us down.

They did miss a trick not including Shane Macgowan singing Dirty Old Town, though.


Those were my impressions immediately after getting home from the first technical rehearsal of the London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony.  I was one of the lucky few thousand who got a sneak preview of Danny Boyle's Isles of Wonder show four days before the real thing, and it was fabulous.

My seat was in the lower tier of the Olympic Stadium, and I was particularly pleased - given that I was volunteering at Lord's - to be in the corner where the cricket match was taking place.

I was less pleased that I hadn't brought a camera with me.  Thinking that security would be very strict, I'd left it at home, only to find that no-one was being stopped from taking pictures, just being told to #savethesurprise.  As such, I had to make do with trying to capture the scene with rubbish phone photos:

The cricketing corner of the Olympic Stadium.

Still, not to worry.  No-one's pictures did it justice, not even the TV company's when they broadcast the main event a few days later.  To get a true sense of what the ceremony was like, you had to be a cliche, and be there.

I saw only the rehearsal, with certain bits omitted, but even then the show was spectacular, and I was actually rather happy to be spared having to sit through the tedium of the athletes' parade.

Most spectacular of all was the Pandemonium section.  The sound of a thousand drummers yelling and thumping their way down the steps right past me was visceral and intimidating.  The dismantling of the green and pleasant land by Ken and his cronies was inspired, and the chimneys that grew from nowhere were astonishing. Then the stage-forged hoops rose into the darkening sky to forge into flaming Olympic rings, and that was simply breath-taking.

I loved the music, too. Underworld's new compositions were full of pomp and grandeur when pomp and grandeur were needed, and contemplative when contemplation was required. They weren't the slightest bit out of place in the company of Elgar or David Bowie.

The celebration of British music barely missed a beat either, and though I would hardly claim to be a Dizzee Rascal fan, his performance of Bonkers seemed entirely appropriate.


I didn't really enjoy the Mr Bean sequence at the time, thinking that it unnecessarily took the piss out of Chariots of Fire. Watching it again now, though, I'm a bit more forgiving. Rowan Atkinson is a brilliant performer and a London Olympic ceremony taking itself wholly seriously would have been quite wrong.

And anyway, I can simply transfer the blame for anything underwhelming onto the shoulders of Stephen Daldry.