As a country, we love a good moan. Along with queuing, it’s our national pastime – although, admittedly, recently there’s been an awful lot to moan about.

Our footy team got knocked out the Euros (predictably), the economy is still in decline and it hasn’t stopped raining for the past four months. Add to that the impending juggernaut of the Olympics rolling ever closer and we had a lot to gripe about.

But the Olympics was our favourite topic… With LOCOG acting like the Gestapo wherever a perceived infraction of their trademarks was spotted – be it a baker hanging up bagels in the style of the Olympic hoops or a pub advertising the event on a chalkboard, they were there, finger wagging.

Then there was the estimated overspend of £4 billion, a figure that seemed out of kilter with the austerity age we’re repeatedly told we’re in. G4S completely ballsed up the security and we had to get the army in to sort it out and the already fragile transport system in London being stretched to its weakest point. Plenty of good moaning fodder, then.

So there seemed to be a resigned air about the opening ceremony but also an undertone of “well if nothing else, it’s something we can complain about”. £27 million for a three hour show seemed an incredible waste of money in the same week that we’d be told the economy had shrunk by 0.7%. Even Madonna and don’t charge that much.

We’d begun to expect the spectacular, the set up of an English countryside was widely known but much credit has to be given to the volunteers for their “keep the secret” campaign. Very few spoilers were given, despite 7000 people being involved and two test audiences. That’s an incredible secret to keep, in this age of social media and camera phones.

And spectacular it was. The initial sniping on Twitter lasted about two minutes as the audience engaged with Danny Boyle’s Isle of Wonder, Bradley Wiggins fresh from his Tour De France triumph ringing the opening bell, Kenneth Branagh reading from The Tempest, the countryside giving way to towering chimneys and the industrial age.

It became clear early on that this was a show for Britain, this was a love letter about our country, the rest of the world might have found aspects absurd but the 26 million of us who watched – we loved it.

It had its poignant moments, when it paused to remember those who are no longer with us, and was genuinely humorous when James Bond and The Queen parachuted into the stadium. Beckham on a speedboat brought the glamour, Mr Bean the ridiculous slapstick and the NHS the dignity – and a massive two fingers up to the Government as nurses danced around in an tribute to our beleaguered health service.

Musically it was pitch perfect – Underworld was responsible for the score and it flowed through the ages, incorporating theme tunes, the Shipping Forecast, Mods, Rockers, Pop, Dizzee Rascal bringing some eastend Grime, and the Pet Shop Boys some West End Girls.

This was OUR house party.

And then the most clandestine element, the lighting of the flame. Hotly tipped to be Steve Redgrave, he did make an appearance but ultimately the responsibility was handed to seven young athletes who had been nominated by various members of the sporting elite. It was a beautiful sight and the most fitting tribute to an occasion that is about the talent.

Because that’s what has been lost in amongst the moaning – the actual reason behind the games. It’s about talent, hard work, young men and women who are so dedicated to their sport, so disciplined and focused that they have been working towards it their entire lives.

Birthday parties are missed, social lives forgotten, getting up at 6am to train before school, begging companies for important sponsorship deals – it would be so easy for them to jib it off and be “normal” but they don’t. They have a dream and the next two weeks is where this can be made for them.

After the ceremony last night there is a phrase being echoed around the country, “proud to be British”. And we’ve a lot to be proud of. Our NHS is worth fighting for, or literary greats still illuminate the imagination of the world, and our musical heritage is so laughable rich that we barely scratched the surface of it last night. Oh, and we invented the INTERNET so that people like me can bore people like you about my opinions.

And we’ve got some remarkable athletes to be proud of – Jessica Ennis is the world Heptathlon champion, cyclist Chris Hoy and his thighs of steel, the swimmer Rebecca Adlington, Louis Smith on the Pummel Horse and more locally the gymnast Beth Tweddle, swimmers Fran Halsall and Michael Rock, and in the boxing Thomas Stalker and Natasha Jonas – the latter making history as one of the first female Olympic boxers.

So for the next two weeks lets forgo the moaning. Let’s be proud to be British, proud of our history, culture and heritage and proud to support those sportsmen and women who have been training for this moment their whole lives. The opening ceremony was the shot of the adrenaline a lethargic country needed and long may it continue (or at least for the next few weeks eh?).

Stephanie Heneghan

15 Responses to “Review: The Olympic Opening Ceremony”

  1. Littoral

    In it’s muddled mediocrity, the opening ceremony did not do such a bad job of reflecting Britain and therefore in one respect was a success.

  2. Alan Carr

    Well done Danny Boyle – the Olympic Games opening ceremony was amazing! Highlights for me were the industrial revolution landscape with smoking factory chimneys, the forging of the five gold rings, the ‘doves’ (on bicycles) and the lighting of the cauldron. Wonderful stuff. The ‘Monkeys’ Come Together was great and I was so pleased that Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon featured during the pyrotechnics. Just fabulous! (It was great that young athletes, volunteers, construction workers, nurses etc were all involved too, and I suspect it is the last time we will see Muhammad Ali.)
    I wonder what they made of it outside the UK? Hopefully they will be as impressed as the Toronto Sun who reported “I think I’ve seen the most chaotic – but possibly greatest – entertainment event of my generation”. I think Danny Boyle would settle for that!
    If you missed it do try and catch up somewhere. Enjoy the London Games!

  3. I loved it. The industrial part was just brilliant. The commissioned music by Underworld, too, was spot on all night.

    The second half was a bit of a mess (dull speeches and an even duller Paul McCartney), but the first half was great. The amount of work, choreography and determination to do something that huge gives me a headache just thinking about it.

  4. Littoral

    Danny Boyle is a mediocre director who creates mediocre movies and lives in a mediocre country. Last night’s fairly thin gruel with the odd crouton of not-bad-ness was exactly what we should have expected from him and London/Britain.

  5. I’m not really sure what people were expecting with this. A critical dissection of our country’s history? David Bowie on stilts reciting Shakespeare? It was big, showy, slightly campy, like every big event like this. But I loved the fact it was a bit all-over-the-place and celebrated the bits of culture that you’d never think to see in an opening ceremony: Coronation Street! NHS! Sex Pistols!


    It’s the first time I’ve ever sat through an opening ceremony for any sporting event.

    CND, NHS and a lesbian kiss beamed into millions of homes worldwide. Music from Underworld, Fuck Buttons and Pet Shop Boys. Abide With Me will never sound the same again.

    Far better than I could ever have expected. Well done Danny Boyle, Rick Smith and everyone involved.

  7. Mr nomad

    The world wide web is NOT the Internet. It is one of its many parts. Britain did not invent the www – a British man, alongside a Belgium and many others working for CERN, came up with the idea of accessing Interlinked hypertext documents via the Internet.
    As for the ceremony – brilliant beginnings which peaked with the forging of the rings. After that (mr bean, and the queen’s entry aside) it was all a bit of a boring mess.

  8. Don’t want to be too much of a pedant but we did not invent the Internet. The Americans invented the Internet. We invented the World Wide Web which is the universal coding system used by the Internet, There is a difference but it is far to long winded and boring to go into.

  9. I’m sure all the old folks and disabled people who have had their day centres shut and benefits cut were thrilled with this extravagance. At least Cameron had the best seat in the house to gloat from. Will us Northern plebs reap any of the benefits or will all the revenue go back into London?

  10. As someone who was not an olympics or sports fan, I watched the thing from start to finish, and found it totally compelling and inspiring. I normally can’t sit through a film of three hours, and couldn’t believe I had sat through four hours of pure “incredible”. Easily the best “show” I’ve ever seen, and I don’t expect to see one like it again.

    Aside from my personal enjoyment, I thought it was a cracking advert for the country, advertising the UK’s creativity, adaptability and resilience that words alone could never do justice to.

    Additionally, I felt proud of them that they never hid the tragedy of 7th July that was mixed up with the olympics. As someone who was personally caught up in the “drama” of that day, I found it a touching, emotional and fitting tribute and dedication that was thoroughly sincere, and an absolute yet dignified V sign to the likes of the murderers who would do such things, a message to them that they needn’t have bothered because we will go on regardless.

    To those who complain about the cost (and some seem to complain about spending money on anything, ever, that’s not “essential”), actually if money doesn’t get spent by the bucketload by someone (ie the govt), even more people become unemployed and homeless. It’s not capitalism, it’s Keynes-ism.

    To those that just seem to whinge and complain, and who often seem to wish that nothing ever happened and that we all lived in a world of grey, I simply say, stay indoors, draw the curtains, shop for your food online and just stop speaking to anyone if it all bothers you so much. You rarely seem to have anything constructive to say, no alternative ideas to the things that seem to irk you so, no one needs your misery, so keep it to yourself!

  11. Trust the nerds to jump on who invented the internet. Who cares… who cares who said who did? The Olympics act as a cathartic pill in a time of austerity and cuts. The power of any national ‘feelgood factor’ cannot be underestimated as it is that which restores confidence, that airy fairy thing that makes recessions happen in the first place, Stop the carping and snide remarks and enjoy it for what it is. The greatest sporting event there is. In MY country, during MY lifetime. Personally I thought the opening ceremony was compulsive viewing and those moaning about it have to be very odd to sit through so many hours of TV they didn’t enjoy. If they watched so they could criticize evry little faux pas and nuance then they need to switch off their TV’s (probably not invented by Baird) and get off the internet, (invented by Who Cares) and get a life.

  12. Obewan

    What a geat piece of positive writing about a great event, well done to the author, upbeat balanced and witty….just like the event which seems to have surprised everyone with how good it was. I actually watched it in a bar in Spain and everyone was enthralled, locals and tourists…cheesy I know but I was proud to be British. I hope we have more such reports about the success of Team GB

  13. Alan Carr – Come together was a Beatles track, a british band… Hence the relavance in song choice.

    I think it really portrayed britian to a T Proud of our historical revolutions such as Industrial Revolution, 20th century music, NHS, english literature, but coming to more modern times is no where near as exciting or ground breaking… Living off revolutions, something we are all proud of.

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