A chance sighting of Christine Lagarde and impromptu interview by NBC were mere accents to the greatest show on British soil. A week after the Opening Ceremony, we are still buzzing about that amazing night.
See photo gallery
The O.C. (sic) was equal parts awe-inspiring, humorous, deeply touching and, at times, an endurance test. The atmosphere in and around the Olympic Stadium was actually very relaxed and upbeat. Dress code was largely casual, security was friendly, efficient and a piece of cake. The run up was largely uneventful with two notable exceptions: we walked past Christine Lagarde with her small entourage - nice tan - and an NBC reporter grabbed me for an interview, trying unsuccessfully to get me to comment on whether Trainspotting would be mentioned during the ceremony – very cheeky.
Most of the Olympic Park was, wisely, closed off for the O.C., which left thousands of folks standing around looking for places to sit – resulting in mass ‘plunking down’ on the pristine, new pavement outside the stadium. Getting in, around and out of the stadium was extremely efficient. Following advice to arrive early meant no wait at the huge bank of airport-style security scanners, which was staffed by the fine men and women of the Royal Air Force. Required to be in our seats 90 minutes prior to broadcast, it seemed likely, and indeed was the case, that Danny Boyle would address the crowd, and that we would receive some pre-show instructions.
Boyle emphasized in his few, brief words that this event was just the ‘warm up’ for the Olympians, and that for him the night was all about the volunteers, performers and staff alike. Quasi aerobics-instructor volunteers, Mechanicals, followed Boyle and attempted to direct everyone on how to wave on queue the digital ping-pong paddles that were installed behind every seat. Acting as cheerleader coaches, with their brightly colored matching baggy-trouser uniforms, the Mechanicals directed us on how to follow basic formations (left-right, down-up) and when to put on our 3D glasses, which were handed out upon entry.
The glasses ended up being more exciting in concept (“3D ceremony?”) than practice, and the 60,000 attendees behaved more like excited cats than a well-trained unit, which of course we weren’t. If some of the fan participation didn’t quite work out, it didn’t detract one smidgen from the evening, and actually added a bit of gleeful mischief to the night.
Rings of fire
Central to the night was of course the 90-minute parade of Olympic athletes. Watching the world’s best athletes in one place, setting aside politics and doing their countries proud, was endlessly intriguing. There were huge cheers for Team USA and explosive roars from the partisan crowd for Team GB. A touching moment, early on, was the series of children’s choirs from every U.K. country, singing representative hymns. But the biggest crowd-participation was Sir Paul's ‘na na na’ sing-along caper, which was doubly impressive considering the crowd had been (mostly) in their seats for six hours.
You didn’t have to be in attendance to realize that the Olympic rings flying in from the eves were other-worldly, or that the industrial smokestacks climbing out of the ground were extremely impressive. It was fitting and appropriate, though, that O.C. highlights included the small moments, whether of Mr. Bean, Bond or Butterfly (as in ‘Float like a…’). What isn't apparent on your TV screen, is that the stars of the show, and indeed of the Olympics, are the 70,000-strong Games Makers volunteers. They were posted throughout the grounds and stadium, and really set the positive, almost ebullient tone. Where ever you go in tourist and Olympic London, their purple and ‘Grenadier Guards red’ shirts ensure that a smiling, helping hand is never more than a few feet away.
Music to our ears
Music has always been an integral piece of Boyle’s cannon, and he was true to form with his O.C. selections. Classical, teeny-bopper, pop, punk, arena rock, you name it. Personal highlights included New Order’s genre-defining dance hit Blue Monday, two (!) tracks from the Sex Pistols, the Jam, the Kinks and Beatles - inspired choices, all. Mike Oldfield playing his hit Tubular Bells sent me right back to Sue Sasso’s class at Addison Elementary, when we all crowded around the record player imaging what the Exorcist looked like (hehe). All the other live performances were thrilling: Dizzy Rascal, the Arctic Monkeys and of course Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra with their somewhat ‘bonkers’ special guest.
London on stonking good form
With the first week of the 2012 Olympics in the bag, the resounding consensus, based on our experience and that of our friends attending Olympic events and public festivals, is that London is functioning very smoothly and more than rising to the occasion. The medal table is well and truly filling up, with records being set at a rapid pace and controversy, badminton notwithstanding, kept to a minimum. When asked which country I support, I fall back on the parents’ prerogative: I couldn’t possibly choose a favorite. Between my homeland and my country of residence, I thankfully haven’t had to do too much choosing. Amidst following Team USA, it’s worth highlighting that Britain is threatening to exceed their record, set in Beijing, of 19 Olympic gold, and that yesterday they enjoyed their biggest ever one-day gold medal haul, behind ‘Golden Girl’ Ennis. These are truly proud days for London and Great Britain.
I look forward to reporting more on London 2012, and to further reflections on being a Palo Alto expat in this fine land.
Posted by Brit, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Aug 6, 2012 at 4:35 pm
Thank you for your comments.
Perhaps you would like to inform us how good the tv coverage by the BBC is as well as online. I understand that there are 25 channels of tv broadcast live every day as well as the BBC iplayer. There is no registration required and for most people they are able to enjoy all the coverage without any problems or charges.
Unfortunately, NBC is not doing as good a job and we are suffering from knowing the results before the event is aired even when the event is happening in times which could be broadcast live here even on weekends.
It would be interesting to see your comments on how the games are being viewed by the average couch potato in Britain.
Posted by DJV, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Aug 7, 2012 at 12:39 am
Thank you, Brit. I've noticed your seperate posting re: U.S. TV coverage. It indeed sounds very different from UK coverage. The Beeb is streaming all competitions live or on-demand after the fact via their website, with up to four channels at one time on the tellie.
Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford, on Aug 7, 2012 at 5:54 pm
Nora Charles is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
Thanks so much for your report from the front. I loved the opening ceremony, but was very disappointed that NBC chose to cut the memorial for 7/7 and various other bits for airing in the U.S. Also, viewers have commented that they much preferred the Beijing opening, but this was very British--whimsical, eccentric, imaginative, etc., and I say well done! Hats off to all involved in such a magnificent feat.
Posted by Brit, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Aug 7, 2012 at 7:50 pm
Here's an article explaining what BBC is doing Web Link
Posted by John C, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Aug 8, 2012 at 10:08 pm
Love the profile of the O.C and the feeling of getting swept along with a great event, thanks for the commentary Dave. Not to drag your reporting into tabloid territory, but how's The City holding up with surely the copious medal celebrations? Keep it coming!