LONDON -- As if on cue, the sunshine disappeared Friday morning and the more familiar gray sky settled over the city just in time for the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremonies. It made the perfect backdrop for the idyllic British pastures that covered the Olympic Stadium infield for the first act of the three-and-a-half-hour, $42 million spectacle.
A television audience of 1 billion and a stadium crowd of 80,000 including Queen Elizabeth II, royal couple William and Kate, 120 heads of state, and Michelle Obama watched as the show shifted from what poet William Blake called Englands green and pleasant land to the dark Satanic mills of the Industrial Revolution to happy and glorious.
The extravaganza, the brainchild of Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle, was as moving as it was entertaining.
It had everything from music by Queen to The Queen making her acting debut in a James Bond flick to a fabulous Hey Jude sing-a-long with ex-Beatle Paul McCartney. The ceremony paid tribute to British history, literature, film and music. It featured stirring choirs from each of the British isles, Shakespeare poetry, 89 farm animals, giant inflatable yellow submarines, synthetic clouds, 32 Mary Poppinses flying into the stadium on umbrellas, 320 hospital beds, and a hilarious Chariots of Fire spoof by Rowan (Mr. Bean) Atkinson.
On a night of many surprises, the biggest of all was Queen Elizabeth II parachuting into the ceremony from a helicopter with James Bond actor Daniel Craig. Well, not exactly. It was a four-and-a-half minute film featuring Her Majesty and Craig getting into a helicopter at Buckingham Palace, and a pair of stunt doubles parachuting into the stadium.
The other well-guarded secret was who would light the cauldron and where. Unlike Olympics past, there was no cauldron structure in the stadium. The answer came after midnight. Soccer star David Beckham brought the torch to the stadium by boat from the Tower Bridge. Sir Steve Redgrave, the Olympic rowing legend, then carried the flame through 500 construction workers who worked on transforming the previously-run down East End into Olympic Park.
Seven British Olympic heroes including decathlete Daley Thompson ran alongside Redgrave and were joined by seven young athletes commemorating the future. Muhammad Ali then entered to join the ceremony. The young athletes moved to the center of the field and ignited a tiny flame on a copper petal each of the 204 delegations got one upon entering the stadium. That one flame ignited the 203 others, and created a giant flame of unity.
Seven years and $14 billion after winning the bid for these Olympics, Londoners finally got to relax, celebrate and forget at least for one night about the traffic disruptions and security concerns.
The day began with bells of all kinds ringing over Great Britain at exactly 8:12 a.m. to commemorate 12 hours until 20:12. Even Big Ben joined in, ringing its bell off schedule for the first time in 60 years. A light drizzle fell throughout the morning, but the weather cleared by mid-afternoon.
Ringing the bell
Cyclist Bradley Wiggins, who last week became the first Brit to win the Tour de France, rung a giant ceremonial bell at the stadium at 9 p.m. local time to get the festivities started.