In the seven years of preparation I have always seen the Olympic Games as an expensive nuisance to the city rather than an honour. Costs went three times over budget and funds allocated to local sports facilities and the arts had been cut to feed the money sucking beast called the Olympic Games. Then someone decided to use the most uninspiring scribble ever to be designed as the logo for London 2012. The country went into recession while the preparation of the most expensive show on earth continued. The ticket lottery seemed a silly operation as a large proportion of tickets were alllocated to corporate sponsors and many ordinary people were left out. Then one day en route to work in a strategic part of the City leading to Tower Hill and further east, the Olympic lanes were taken into operation and a line of poles had been placed in the middle of the road with the result that I was stuck in traffic like I were a common motorised vehicle. That was truly taking the biscuit. Cyclist stuck in traffic, what is next, Boris Johnson becoming a socialist?! The 70-days torch relay could by no means get me into to the mood and G4S’ cock up and looming strikes of border and train staff were not helping either. But then on one hot summer’s day the Olympic flame past through my Hood. Everyone was so excited and it gave a perfect vibe of what my neighbourhood and this part of my beloved city has got to offer and why I love it so much. Was I about to catch the Olympic bug- finally?
Then Friday came, the day of the opening ceremony and I thought to feel a vibe of anticipation and excitement throughout the city, but maybe that was just me. The Big question was if London could truly match the spectacle we had witnessed in Beijing four years ago. An hour past midnight, more than four hours after the start of the opening ceremony I seemed to understand what they meant with the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’. It was spectacular, off-beat, funny, rock-and-roll, moving, inclusive, inspiring and just incredibly entertaining. The show led us from rural, pre-industrial times, to the achievements and pains of the Industrial Revolution with giant chimneys raising out of the ground and workers forging the five Olympic rings that rose up into the air and rained fireworks, continuing with the time of the suffragettes and the arrival of the Windrush. A tribute was paid to the NHS and British children’s literature, while agent double 0 seven, Mr. James Bond picked up the queen- played by herself!- from Buckingham palace to escort her by helicopter to the Olympic Stadium where she arrived by parachute while a choir of deaf kids sang the national anthem. Then there was David Beckham, too cool for school, cruising the Thames on a speed boat with young footballer Jade Bailey holding the Olympic torch. A musical medley featuring fabulous British tracks from across the decades was the soundtrack to a celebration of modern culture and our digital age with a tribute to the inventor of the world wide web Tim Berners-Lee. Rowan Atkinson had his moment as Mr. Bean and there was a moment of commemoration by means of a beautiful choreography of those who had passed over. As these people were unspecified it could have referred to those who lost their lives in the 7/7 bombings the day after London won the bid or the athletes who died in terrorist attack during the Munich Olympic Games in 1972. The Arctic Monkey’s brought some edge and rock and roll to the spectacle while Paul McCarthy brought the show to a close with the Beatles’ sing-along Hey Jude.
The parade of athletes was long, yet I was entertained by the outfits and I was pleasantly surprised about how good-looking many athletes are, while every team was accompanied by a young person holding a mysterious copper petal.
The flame was carried into the stadium by Steve Redgrave who ran past a guard of honour consisting of those responsible for the construction of the stadium. The lighting of the Olympic cauldron was truly remarkable. Seven young athletes who had been nominated by veterans like Kelly Holmes and Lynne Davies took over the flame from Steve Redgrave an ignited the copper petals that were now part of a beautiful work of art. Once all 204 petals representing the competing nations were ignited they rose and converged to form a cauldron containing the Olympic blaze.
Perhaps The Games are a big conspiracy between corporate enterprise, the government and the IOC at the expense of the woman and man in the street. Perhaps the ‘great honour’ is nothing but an illusion most of us bought into and which is costing us dearly. However, especially in these challenging times we need to be inspired, entertained and feel good about ourselves. The opening ceremony was a fabulous party showing us and the world that it is our diversity, our humour, our literature, our music, our film, our quirkiness, our edge and our athletes that make London and Britain great. I hope the Prime Minister and his croonies have paid attention and have been inspired too as current policies go against the celebration of inclusivity and acknowledgement that the future lies with the next generation.
Last night I was entertained, inspired and very proud to be a Londoner and as a non-Brit very proud to be part of British culture.