The London Olympics in 2012 earned a place in the country’s collective heart, as the feel good summer of sport spilled over into national pride at the delivery of such a monumental event.
The XXXth Olympiad, the first to be held here since 1948, was initially awaited with some trepidation. Naysayers predicted a dreadful, embarrassing opening ceremony.
They could not have been more wrong.
The decision to bring in film director Danny Boyle (Steve Jobs, Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting) as Artistic Director proved inspired, as his Isles of Wonder captivated not only us, but the rest of the world.
The brief from the IOC is pretty straightforward - choreograph welcoming speeches, the hoisting of the flags and the parade of athletes, followed by an artistic spectacle to showcase the host nation’s culture.
“Breathtaking. Can’t put it into words. Spectacular, clever, charming, moving & awe inspiring. Made me so proud” - Christopher Golds on Twitter
Beijing’s big budget display could not be surpassed, so Boyle and his team were freed, creatively, to design a love letter to Britain. The London opening ceremony was poignant, entertaining and humerous, inspired by the Industrial Revolution, Shakespeare and GK Chesterton. Honouring the overall themes “This is for Everyone” and “Inspire a Generation”, it involved many children and young people recruited from across East London.
Featuring montages championing the NHS, children’s literature, music and the digital revolution, the ceremony also celebrated our renowned sense of humour: Mr. Bean joined the London Symphony Orchestra live on stage, while the filmed cameo of Queen Elizabeth being escorted to the ceremony by James Bond, culminating with *her skydiving into the stadium was surely the TV moment of the year.
“Tonight I felt an unfamiliar sense of national pride for what it means to be British. I felt surges of poignant emotion, laughed at moments of typical self-deprecation, almost welled up on at least two occasions and rode a rollercoaster from mind-boggled amazement to slightly sarcastic silliness.” - Ed Gillespie blog
The creation and raising of those flaming Olympic Rings is an iconic image that will live with us forever, as is the lighting of the Eternal Flame, a cauldron comprising 204 individual petals, representing each of the nations taking part.
Much of its success was attributed to the thousands of volunteers who took part, taking to heart Boyle’s plea to #savethesurprise.
Actress Emma Dewhurst, who edits arts and culture magazine WOW Kent, was one of the volunteer performers and says the experience is one she will treasure for the rest of her life.
“I’d decided that 2012 was going to be my year. When I saw a tweet calling out for performers - having failed to get tickets for the opening ceremony - I told my friends: If I can’t watch it, I’m going to be in the damn thing!”
Two auditions later and Emma was among the 7,500 volunteers being inspired by Danny Boyle and his team, rehearsing in typical British weather which created a whole array of technical issues. Sodden turf, for example, needed removing from the Green and Pleasant land to allow the Industrial Revolution chimneys to rise but became almost impossible to lift. The volunteers were rewarded by Danny Boyle declaring that they were the ceremony’s heart. The heart of a beautiful, eccentric, totally British tribute to the nation’s spirit and endurance.
Finally moving to the Olympic Stadium from their Dagenham rehearsal space, there were three exceptional dress rehearsals, each one with a bigger audience than before. The final one had a near capacity crowd, to give an idea of how it would feel on the night itself. Emma, the lovely lady front left below, says:
“Nothing could really prepare you for the once-in-a-lifetime buzz of stepping out onto the field of play, backed by one thousand live drummers, for the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games. Those scenes will play with me for many years: it’s not often a project exceeds every expectation imaginable.”
Almost 27 million people tuned into the BBC’s coverage on July 27, 2012, an estimated 900 million worldwide. Rio may not speak to us in the way the London ceremony did but permission was granted 4 years ago to truly embrace a national culture - so it should be quite a party!
The opening ceremony of the XXXIst Olympiad begins tonight on BBC1 at 11.40pm, with a preview show at 8.30pm.
Photo credits: Emma Dewhurst.
*Just in case some people *coughs*NBC*coughs* think it was really HM, it wasn’t.