I feel like I should write SOMETHING about the Olympics, even though I don’t really follow sport at all. All the same I am excited for the Olympics and pleased to see a lot of people getting into the spirit of it. Well, apart from the columns of newspaper coverage about empty seats, which frankly I couldn’t care less about.
So if I’m not writing about sport, I must talk about the opening ceremony. Which is fortunate because it was amazing and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The BBC pre-amble buildup was rather awful, and firing dramatic orchestral music at me to get me excited is a bit of a tired old trick now. However all that was forgotten when it got going.
A VT introducing London via the rural source of the Thames river was a little trippy but did psych me up for the big show. I was very wary of the fields and general “ye olde” farming activities going on, until the Industrial Revolution segment kicked off. Those rising chimneys looked solid and striking, and the gradual removal of the greenery was very effective.
More effective was the forging of a mysterious ring of molten metal, which rose in the air to link with four others to form a dazzling Olympic logo in a rain of sparks. I think for me that was the enduring image and biggest “WOW” moment of the ceremony (but only just).
Rowan Atkinson’s “Mr Bean”-esque comedy sketch to “Chariots of Fire” was well-timed and steered the tone of the ceremony well. As did the real WTF moment of James Bond meeting the Queen at Buckingham Palace and having a rather surreal skit with her, culminating in them both parachuting out of a helicopter over the arena.
Despite this light-hearted moment, The Queen didn’t seem too interested in the ceremony, at one point apparently doing some crochet, like she was sitting in from of Midsomer Murders or something. I must admit my attention drifted in places too, such as the apparently-touching but rather indecipherable dance section to “Abide with me”, the unwelcome performances by an unnecessary Arctic Monkeys and Paul McCartney – seemingly trying to keep up the idea that he is the only surviving Beatle (or perhaps was the only Beatle to have ever existed).
Oddly, the section on British music left me totally cold, basically wallpapering over any pop music we may have created in favour of more ‘real’ stuff with guitars etc. My formative years were mostly in the 90s, and I raised an eyebrow at this decade only being represented by The Prodigy, Blur and Underworld. The very “Q-Magazine” tracklist of the whole evening couldn’t even ironically play a Spice Girls song seemingly! In fact even the “today’s music” section looked more like a “down with the YOOF” rundown of London-born acts like Dizzee Rascal and Tinie Tempah. I didn’t feel very represented in the section I should have related to most of all.
I did enjoy the flag procession, as long as it was, and thought it was handled well (though please tell me the Germany dignitary in the audience didn’t give the Nazi salute that I thought he gave) . The ladies with the country names suspended over their heads were a nice touch, and I loved the intrigue of the copper “petals” that accompanied each delegation one-by-one. The hill seemed like a rather odd thing to have in the stadium, but looked marvellous at the end once all the flags were planted in it. It was these little touches that weren’t shouted about – just left for the audience to appreciate the thoughtfulness of them – that really gave a shine to an already accomplished show.
Those who stayed up until nearly 1am got the payoff though. In a break from tradition, 7 young athletes – chosen by famous British athletes of the past – lit the big flame in the arena with their own torches. The ungainly array of copper petals slowly caught light, and when they were all aflame, they ascended unexpectedly, closing up like a flower until they formed the “cauldron” that held the Olympic flame. I think it was an inspired idea, and that was one of the other incredible moments of the ceremony for me.
I felt quite touched in a strange way by the Olympic flag being carried by people representing various noble facets of the Olympic movement, including the Secretary General of the UN, Ban-ki Moon, and a heartbreakingly bewildered-looking Muhammad Ali.
All in all, I was so proud and pleased at how the ceremony went. Beijing dazzled the world with its astonishing choreography, and London wisely chose not to compete on those terms. The ceremony we got was full of humour, heart and some incredibly striking images and ideas, and while the rest of the world might have found some sections baffling (God knows, I did too), I am overjoyed that many other nations enjoyed it too.
Now… just need to win some gold medals, don’t we?