Saturday, 28 July 2012

The opening ceremony: spectacular and triumphant

I’ve woken up feeling extremely proud. That was the first time I’ve ever sat through an entire opening ceremony from start to finish, and boy was I rewarded. As the countdown got nearer, I could feel myself getting butterflies, hoping that everything would pass off smoothly, hoping that there’d be no major, obvious, glitches, and most of all, just hoping we wouldn’t embarrass ourselves in front of a worldwide audience of FOUR BILLION!

I needn’t have worried. It was simply spectacular. A four hour British triumph. Danny Boyle has pulled off a masterstroke. I think we all know who’ll be heading up the New Year Honours List.

I had a strange feeling before it all began. Armed with a bottle of plonk and a tub of Pringles, I thought to myself: “right, this is it. It’s been a long seven years. So much has happened since we won the right to host the Games.” That awful day after still firmly fixed in my mind. What a cruel turn of fate.
And then the wait was finally over. The opening scene, that quintessentially British one, the countryside, giving way to the industrial revolution, war, the swinging sixties, an homage to the NHS (bet the coalition loved this sequence!) modern day Britain, accompanied by music from some of our greatest ever artists. Boyle pulled out all the stops. Some of the biggest names in British culture made an appearance, from Kenneth Branagh, to J.K. Rowling to Sir Paul McCartney, to...the Queen!

Possibly the highlight of the night for me: Daniel Craig, as James Bond, pays a visit to Buckingham Palace, and meets her Majesty. Well, at first you see the back of a Queen. None of us really believing it would be the Queen. Oh, bet it’s Helen Mirren, my wife said to me. That would be great if it was, I replied.  And then she turns round with a “Good evening, Mr Bond.” Hilarious!  Off they both go to catch a helicopter where they are then (this is where the stunts take over) “parachuted” into the Olympic stadium.
My overriding view was that this ceremony was a lot of fun. It was deliciously quirky. It had the all important self-deprecating sense of humour. At times it was slightly bizarre, and I wasn’t always sure what was going on, but that didn’t really matter. Most importantly, it was a celebration of all things British. Not English, but British. I defy anyone across all corners of the island not to have been bowled over by at least a section of it. The organisers have always maintained that whilst London is naturally the focal point, the Games will take in all of Britain.  Everyone is to feel included.

I realise that much of last night’s ceremony was probably (okay, definitely) lost on the rest of the world, or those not au fait with the ins and outs of our culture, but that didn’t matter. The spotlight was on us. The world came to London. This was the best four hour ‘Visit Britain’ video anyone could ever make. Labour Councillor and New Statesman columnist Rowenna Davis summed up the mood perfectly for me when she tweeted:
“Danny is having one giant in-joke with the whole of the UK. Awesome.”

Never before I have felt so patriotic, so proud to be British. I’ll admit, I’m not the Royal Family’s biggest fan, so whilst I still enjoyed the Jubilee, and Kate and William’s wedding more so (don’t ask why!), this was on another scale. This really was a monumental coming together, with the whole world invited. We don’t do patriotism well. It makes many of us cringe and feel slightly uneasy, a most British reaction. But last night, the stirrings of patriotism came to the surface like never before. What a night. What a triumph. Now, can we please win lots of medals.
This comment piece was first published by Speaker's Chair on Saturday 28th July 2012

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