|Breaking barriers: Roger Bannister|
TONIGHT’S London 2012 Opening Ceremony gets underway at 9pm in Great Britain – 10pm in South Africa – with Danny Boyle’s lavish £27m production shrouded in secrecy.
Despite numerous rehearsals each witnessed by 60,000 people, the great event – and the identity of the torch-lighter – has been kept under wraps with those in the know proudly tweeting coded references with the hash-tag #keepthesurprise.
But utter secrecy cannot be ensured in the modern age of social networking when gossip crosses oceans faster than it used to cross the street. Especially when you have hundreds of nurses involved.
What we can say is that the ceremony will be packed with British cultural references which will completely bemuse those in South Africa and beyond.
There will be no jet-packed Ironman from Los Angeles 1984, nor the wall-running Superman from Beijing, the superheroes on show feature James Bond and Mary Poppins - though the visual effects from the superb South African 2010 World Cup opening will come in to play.
The production will start with Boyle, something of an anti-estblishment figure, dressing up the 65,000 capacity Stratford Stadium as England’s “green and pleasant land”. The grass and oak tree, plus traditional English rain clouds, are already in place. A 27-ton bell will get proceedings underway just hours after Big Ben five miles away bonged for ages to herald the games’ arrival.
We will see 12 horses, three cows, 70 sheep, three sheepdogs and a horse-drawn plough if the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals doesn’t get involved. Despite rumours from New Zealand, the wooly, four-legged types won’t actually be competing in the 30th edition of the modern Olympiad.
The “green and pleasant bit” also features families having picnics, milkmaids and, ironically considering it's not an Olympic event, a village cricket game with players in caps and braces.
All this will please the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall not to mention another 120 world leaders including Michelle Obama, Americans' first lady.
We were expecting to see invasions from horn-helmeted Scandinavian Vikings and Romans as Boyle takes us rapidly through a pastiche of British history… culminating in the 17th Century Industrial Revolution. All the while, expect to see pretty young things dancing around the traditional pagan maypole with ribbons.
At one end of the stadium we’ll see an oak tree on a hill representing the history Glastonbury Tor, at the other end, something from Last Night of the Proms with musical backing featuring The Jam’s Going Underground and Vangelis’s classic sporting anthem, Chariots of Fire.
The transition from medieval Shakespeare (some of the early bits are based on a passage called Isles of Wonder from The Tempest) to Frankensteinian dark Satanic mills will shake up the crowd as we hit modern times, the bit the Conservatives in the current UK coalition government are most worried about.
At this point, expect labouring weavers, miners, steel workers and engineers backed by Lionel Bart’s Food Glorious Food, the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction, and the Sex Pistols’ Pretty Vacant. Yes, the Sex Pistols. Punk rock, remember that?
The final segment revolves around two young girls going “out on the town” for a traditional Saturday night together. An army of real nurses – who have been rehearsing in a “Guantanamo-style” facility in dodgy Dagenham down the road – will lead a celebration of Britain’s National Health Service.
Then the iconic British references hit us hard and fast. Paul McCartney will sing “Hey Jude”, the great Beatles hit from the 60s, then the equally ancient pop group Mud will blast out Tiger Feet.
Expect to hear Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood and the late Amy Winehouse’s Valerie. And then witness “about 40” Mary Poppins figures, using umbrellas for parachutes, drop in to take on Harry Potter’s evil enemy Voldemort. Daniel Craig, who will be in the stadium, has pre-recorded a James Bond sequence for the Olympics, though there are some who believe David Beckham will leap out of the Bond-style helicopter live in the stadium.
The torch-lighting itself – which I believe will be carried about by Sir Roger Bannister, the 83-year-old who first broke the four-minute barrier for the mile in 1957 – involves a complex “fuse” mechanism which will burn a path along the hoardings to the permanent flame, which will be housed on the rim of the stadium roof at Stratford for the duration of both the Olympics and Paralympics for the next month.
Bookmakers stopped taking bets on Bannister blazing his octogenarian trail, though Queen Elizabeth II, King David of Los Angeles, decathlete Daley Thompson and Britain’s most successful ever Olympian Sir Steve Redgrave are also hovering hopefully with those boxes of very long matches.
And then, finally, the athletes enter. Caster Semenya will carry the flag for South Africa and Maria Sharapova will lead Russia as the 205 nations and most of their 100,000 athletes are encouraged to move swiftly around the track by a high-tempo march by Underworld, who featured on Boyle’s Trainspotting soundtrack. They've been politely asked NOT to delay proceedings by over-use of smart phones. Greece will lead the nations in, then everyone will be in alphabetical order until the hosts, Great Britain, enter last.
And, apart from a couple of speeches from International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge and London 2012 chairman Seb Coe, will be that.
The real start of the Olympics, the winning of the first goal medal, will take place tomorrow on The Mall, where the men’s roadrace ends after 250km involving multiple climbs of Boxhill in Surrey. Among the favourites? Mark Cavendish of Great Britain and Darryl Impey of South Africa, both fresh from the Tour de France.
Let the Games begin!