Royalty rocks Olympics
LONDON—Shaken and stirred.
James Bond and the queen, making her film-acting debut, teamed up on Friday to give London a wild Olympic opening like no other.
And creative genius Danny Boyle turned the Olympic Stadium into a jukebox, cranking up world-beating rock from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and The Who to send the planet a message: Britain, loud and proud is ready to roll.
To kick off a 17-day festival of sports, this was brilliant and cheeky. Now over to you, athletes.
Queen Elizabeth II, playing along with movie magic from director Boyle, provided the highlight of the Oscar-winner’s high-adrenaline show. With film trickery, Boyle made it seem that Britain’s beloved 86-year-old monarch and its most famous spy parachuted into the stadium together.
Daniel Craig as 007, the queen, playing herself, and her royal corgis starred in a short movie filmed in Buckingham Palace.
“Good evening, Mr. Bond,” she said before they were shown flying by helicopter over London landmarks and then leaping—she in a salmon-colored dress, Bond dashing as ever in a black tuxedo—into the inky night over Olympic Park.
At the same moment, real skydivers appeared as the stadium throbbed to the James Bond theme. And moments after that, the monarch appeared in person, accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip.
Organizers said it was thought to be the first time she has acted on film.
“The queen made herself more accessible than ever before,” Boyle said.
Boyle sprang another giant surprise by giving seven teenage athletes—unheralded youngsters instead of established sporting greats—the supreme honor of igniting the Olympic cauldron. Together, they touched flaming torches to trumpetlike tubes that spread into a ring of fire and then joined elegantly to form the cauldron.
Organizers said the cauldron would be moved on Sunday night to the corner of the stadium where a giant bell tolled during the show.
With a sing-along of “Hey Jude,” Beatle Paul McCartney closed the spectacle that ran 45 minutes beyond its scheduled three hours.
The show never caught its breath with a nonstop rock and pop homage to cool Britannia. The soundtrack veered from classical to irreverent. Boyle daringly included the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant” and a snippet of its version of “God Save the Queen”—an anti-establishment punk anthem once banned by the BBC.
The encyclopedic review of modern British music continued with a 1918 Broadway standard adopted by the West Ham football team, the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” by still another Queen, and other tracks too numerous to mention, but not to dance to.
The evening started with fighter jets streaming red, white and blue smoke and roaring over the stadium, packed with a buzzing crowd of 60,000 people, at 8:12 p.m.—or 20:12 in the 24-hour time observed by Britons.
Boyle, one of Britain’s most successful filmmakers, who directed “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Trainspotting,” had a ball with his favored medium, mixing filmed passages with live action to hypnotic effect, with 15,000 volunteers taking part in the show.
Giant representations of famous villains from English literature, including J.M. Barrie’s Captain Hook, J.K. Rowling’s Voldemort and Ian Fleming’s Childcatcher, rose from their beds. They were quickly vanquished by dozens of Mary Poppins characters descending from cables crisscrossing the stadium roof, carrying brightly illuminated umbrellas.
Actor Rowan Atkinson as “Mr. Bean” provided laughs, shown dreaming that he was appearing in “Chariots of Fire,” the inspiring story of a Scotsman and an Englishman at the 1924 Paris Games.
Headlong rushes of movie images took spectators on wondrous, heart-racing voyages through everything British: a cricket match, the London Tube, the roaring, abundant seas that buffet and protect this island nation, and along the Thames, the river that winds like a vein through London and was the gateway for the city’s rise over the centuries as a great global hub of trade and industry.
Wearing his yellow winner’s jersey, newly crowned Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins rang a 23-ton Olympic Bell from the same London foundry that made Big Ben and Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell. Its thunderous chime was a nod to the British tradition of pealing bells to celebrate the end of war and the crowning of kings and queens.
The show portrayed idyllic rural Britain—a place of meadows, farms, sport on village greens and picnics—that then gave way to the industrial transformation that revolutionized the nation in the 18th and 19th centuries, the foundation for an empire that reshaped world history. Belching chimneys rose where only moments earlier live sheep had trodden.
The Industrial Revolution also produced terrifying weapons, and Boyle built in a moment of hush to honor those killed in war.
“This is not specific to a country. This is across all countries, and the fallen from all countries are celebrated and remembered,” he explained to reporters ahead of the ceremony.
“Because, obviously, one of the penalties of this incredible force of change that happened in a hundred years was the industrialization of war, and the fallen,” he said. “You know, millions fell.”
The final act, starring hundreds of young nightclubbing dancers, was a breathtaking journey through popular British culture over the last five decades featuring music from everyone from the Sex Pistols to Queen and the Jam to The Who.
Olympic organizers separately rejected calls for a moment of silence for 11 Israeli athletes and coaches slain by Palestinian gunmen at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Parade of nations
The parade of nations featured most of the roughly 10,500 athletes—some planned to stay away to save their strength for competition—marching behind the flags of the 204 nations taking part.
Greece led, as the spiritual home of the Games, and Team Great Britain was last, as host. Prince William and his wife, Kate, joined in thunderous applause that greeted the British team, which marched to the David Bowie track “Heroes.” A helicopter showered the athletes and stadium with 7 billion tiny pieces of paper—one for each person on Earth.
Bahrain and Brunei featured female flag-bearers in what has been called the Olympics’ Year of the Woman. For the first time at the Games, each national delegation includes women, and a record 45 percent of the athletes are women. Three Saudi women marching behind the men in their delegation flashed victory signs with their fingers.
“This is a major boost for gender equality,” said the International Olympic Committee (IOC) president, Jacques Rogge, overseeing his last Games as head of the IOC before he steps down in 2013.
Rogge honored the “great, sports-loving country” of Britain as “the birthplace of modern sport,” and he appealed to the thousands of athletes assembled before him for fair play.
“Character counts far more than medals. Reject doping. Respect your opponents. Remember that you are all role models. If you do that, you will inspire a generation,” Rogge said.
The queen then said: “I declare open the games of London, celebrating the 30th Olympiad of the modern era.”
Last month, the nation put on a festive Diamond Jubilee—a small test run for the Games—to mark her 60 years on the throne, a reign that began shortly after London’s last Olympics, in 1948.
Former world heavyweight champion and 1960 Rome Olympic gold medalist Muhammad Ali was cheered when he appeared briefly with his wife, Lonnie, before the Olympic flag was unfurled.
Some 8,000 torchbearers, mostly unheralded Britons, had carried the flame on a 70-day, 12,800-kilometer journey from toe to tip of the British Isles, whipping up enthusiasm for a $14-billion Olympics taking place during a severe recession.
The Olympic torch was driven in a speedboat up the River Thames by former England soccer captain David Beckham and handed to Britain’s most successful Olympian Steve Redgrave.
He then passed it on to the final torchbearers, the seven youngsters whose identities were kept secret until that moment—remarkable given the scrutiny on these, the first Summer Games of the Twitter era.
The seven youngsters were Callum Airlie, Jordan Duckitt, Desiree Henry, Katie Kirk, Cameron MacRitchie, Aidan Reynolds and Adelle Tracey.
Boyle’s challenge was daunting: To be as memorable as Beijing’s incredible, money-no-object opening ceremony of 2008, the costliest in Olympic history.
“Beijing is something that, in a way, was great to follow,” Boyle said. “You can’t get bigger than Beijing, you know? So that, in a way, kind of liberated us. We thought, ‘Great, OK, good, we’ll try and do something different.’” With reports from Reuters
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