Arise Sir Daniel. The Boyle done good at the Olympic Park on Friday. And what with DB’s opening ceremony and the torch relay that preceded it, a lot more of us feel part of London 2012 now – something we might not have imagined just a few weeks back.
While dear old Madge and the DoE looked a little nonplussed at Boyle’s party piece, you really can’t blame them. With a combined age of 177, this was after all just another late night in what’s been a pretty hectic summer … reign, rain or (occasional) shine. But what a triumph that ceremony proved, and what a marvel in this day and age of instant techno gratification that no one let on what was going to unfold.
From Frank Turner’s frankly thankless task as warm-up amid the sheep and milkmaids for the pastoral scene and Tour de France hero Bradley Wiggins’ tolling of the bell, there was hardly a chance to draw breath on Friday night.
What followed was sublime, the strains of the LSO treatment of Elgar’s Nimrod giving way to Evelyn Glennie leading 1,000 drummers through Underworld’s And I Will Kiss while a lone voice led us through Blake and Parry’s Jerusalem, followed by Danny Boy, Flower of Scotland and Bread of Heaven from choirs elsewhere – need you think this was all just about England.
That musical legacy later included among others Bowie, Clapton, The Jam, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, New Order, Queen, Sex Pistols, The Specials, The Who, and even Mud and The Prodigy. I for one was captivated. Lest we forgot where we were, there was Forever Blowing Bubbles too. And it wasn’t just Emeli Sande’s gloriously-understated Abide With Me – alongside a visual memorial to the 7/7 victims – and a frail Muhammad Ali’s appearance that tugged at the heart-strings.
Even after the admittedly-long but cleverly-managed parade of competing nations, that climactic cauldron moment and the official speeches – with Seb Coe clearly touched – we still had Paul McCartney’s apt finale of The End and Hey Jude, in what proved a ringing endorsement for a truly great Britain.
What the rest of the world (there was a staggering 26.9 million tuned in here alone) made of it all is a mystery. But so what? Radcliffe-raised director extraordinaire Dan was given the task, and got it spot on as far as I’m concerned. You couldn’t fit 2,000-plus years of history into one stage show, but he came damn close. And anything that questionable Tory MP Aidan Burley doesn’t like is alright by me.
A few months ago the negative reaction to London 2012 outweighed the positive, and few saw how a Games based in the capital could bring this nation together. But it has. the Olympic torch relay seeing to that from day one down in Land’s End. And there was more of the same in the opening ceremony to suggest this isn’t just another opportunity for the far right flag-wavers to try to steal our national identity.
Boyle was accused of left-wing sympathies for the subjects he chose. Well, fair play to him. Much of what he featured I’m proud of – multi-cuturalism, inclusivity, a free health service for all, and a celebration of great music, literature, film, sport and history – all delivered with a delicious British sense of humour.
Even the rain couldn’t thwart us this time, and was quickly repelled before Boyle’s Isles of Wonder film was truly underway, a mass of pertinent images following on and off screen. From the first TV soap gay kiss to – I kid you not – Pot Black, The Archers, Corrie, Fawlty Towers and Oliver, we also had action from iconic films like A Matter of Life and Death, Gregory’s Girl, and Boyle’s own Trainspotting, certainly crossing the UK cinematic spectrum. From casual nods to Milton and the Mini and from Sgt. Pepper to Churchill, the marching Chelsea pensioners and the Suffragettes – at an event where women of all nations will be represented for the first time – all life was here. And all the time those drums sounded.
It’s difficult to tell a nation’s history in short form, but Boyle’s choices seemed to tick the more pertinent boxes. There was Kenneth Branagh for starters as a particularly-smiley Isambard Kingdom Brunel (seemingly at odds with his Wallander persona) reading from Shakespeare’s The Tempest as we toiled through the Industrial Revolution amid smoking chimney stacks and the forging of those iconic five rings. Then there was the impact of the Great War, Trade Unionism, the Jarrow March, and a NHS celebratory dance-along, enough to have David Cameron squirming in his seat.
There was also the arrival of the Empire Windrush and all that led to in our modern multi-faith and multi-cultural history, right through to a cameo for web visionary Tim Berners-Lee and his simple but effective ‘this is for everyone’ message.
We also had the championing of children’s lit (I suspect Boyle collaborator, esteemed screenwriter and author Frank Cottrell Boyce had a hand in that), not least a Mary Poppins invasion, Voldemort, and JK Rowling’s reading of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan.
Hard as it is for this ageing new wave fan, I even enjoyed Mike Oldfield’s involvement, a world away from the Arctic Monkeys, their Lennon & McCartney cover Come Together accompanied by a sea of glowing moths on bicycles – like a Velodromatic version of ET. I think even Kate Middleton thought she was tripping by then. That humour was always there, and not just in the more obvious form of Rowan Atkinson’s Bean-esque tribute to Chariots of Fire. As star turn Dizzee Rascal himself said, Bonkers.
After the Queen’s splendid cameo alongside Daniel Craig and that genuinely shocking parachute moment, it was clear we hadn’t seen the last of British icon James Bond. But while Craig was perhaps Connery, the Roger Moore alternative was on this occasion London 2012 ambassador David Beckham, his speedboat entry to the party just a further touch of genius.
I was so proud that my girls made it through this three-and-a-half-hour spectacular, although my youngest was battling with her eyelids by the time Guam were proudly waving to the crowds, let alone Zimbabwe. At one point it seemed that even Devon separatists Torquay had sent a team, but it turned out to be the moon and star of Turkey instead. But eventually – 205th out – there was Chris Hoy and his fellow Brits too, to the strains of David Bowie’s Heroes, and we could finally find out who was going to light that cauldron.
That was a genuine surprise of course, Steve Redgrave passing the torch to those seven young amabassadors. It was an inspired move, and another master-stroke on a night full of them – and no more potent a message that this global event should not be about celebrity endorsement but the legacy of the Olympic spirit and a bright future for all.
Postscript: This should have been on-line by Saturday morning, but the Olympic road race thwarted my attempts. So is this what I’m to expect this coming fortnight? I had good intentions but pretty soon had a call from my sister to let me know where they were stood as Cavendish, Froome, Millar, Stannard, Wiggins et al attempted to get Team GB off to a winning start. Pretty soon I was revelling in the glorious Surrey Hills backdrop as the race took shape, somewhat homesick and certainly proud of my old stamping ground in a perfect event to get the blood pumping. Our boys were ultimately upstaged by Kazakhstan rider Alexandre Vinokourov, but that’s not the full story and nor should it be. My godson was sporting his BW sideburns, and the streets were thronged as the nation turned out in force at the road and lane side. This wasn’t just about sports buffs either, as illustrated by an exchange between my family and a woman who asked them which one Bradley Walsh was, and would he be wearing his yellow hat. And if that doesn’t sum up the fact that the UK is getting behind London 2012, I’m not sure what would.