LONDON — Kenneth Branagh, J.K. Rowling, a rendition of “Chariots of Fire” with Rowan Atkinson on the vibraphone, David Beckham, Paul McCartney and Daniel Craig as James Bond picking up Queen Elizabeth II for a helicopter ride to the Olympic Stadium — those were all part of filmmaker Danny Boyle‘s London 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony here Friday night.
At 9pm local time, the ceremony, which took the audience through the history of Great Britain, started with an introductory video that included a sign with the show’s title — “Isles of Wonder.”
The video continued with scenes of kids walking through fields and playing in a river, trains speeding through the countryside, geese and waving people and kids. Those scenes were followed by rowers, cricket scenes and the camera flying over the river Thames with glimpses of such sights as Big Ben, The Eye, Tower Bridge with the Olympic rings and the London tube.
As the camera moved closer and closer towards the Olympic Stadium, posters for former Olympics were shown on screen before people with the London 2012 logo and poster were shown inside the stadium.
The audience in the stadium then participated in a countdown from 10 to 1, with balloons with the corresponding numbers popping.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to London,” a voice welcomed everybody before introducing Bradley Wiggins, the first U.K. bicyclist to win the Tour de France who won that honor just earlier in the month. Wiggins waved and rang the biggest harmonically tuned bell in the world to formally kick off the opening celebration.
A kids choir in the audience then started singing as scenes from old rural Britain were acted out in the stadium, which looked a bit like the Shire from Lord of the Rings, including people throwing and catching apples and playing cricket.
Choirs in the different parts of the U.K., from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, were then shown singing such regional songs as “Danny Boy” with scenes from famous rugby matches featuring the respective territory, adding something for the audience to cheer.
The first Hollywood star then showed up. Kenneth Branagh, dressed in a top hat, recited a part of William Shakespeare‘s The Tempest. “Be not afear’d,” one of his lines said. “The isle is full of noises.”
Rural scenes then turned to heavy drum sounds to symbolize the Industrial Revolution. A tree was shown being uprooted and floating in the air in that portion of the show as were people dressed as factory workers and what the BBC said were 1,000 drummers. Huge smoking chimneys then rose from the ground.
After a sudden pause to honor the fallen from the two World Wars, the stadium next moved onto the next generation, showing off some 1960s flair, including people in colorful Sergeant Pepper-type outfits.
The still-burning industrial fire formed into the five Olympic rings that combined to the Olympic logo that dropped a rain of fire onto the ground.
After a brief break with much applause and many cheers, one of the biggest surprises of the show kicked off as a video showed Buckingham Palace, with a car pulling into its yard.
Daniel Craig in his role as James Bond got out of the car and walked in — only to be led to the room of Queen Elizabeth II. “Good evening, Mr. Bond,” she said. “Good evening, your majesty,” he responded.
They took off in a helicopter that flew over London as people on the ground – and even a statue of Winston Churchill – waved. The video then seemingly showed the Queen jumping out with a Union Jack parachute to the Bond theme.
The stadium loudspeakers then welcomed the Queen as she walked into the stands along with International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge. The Queen, who has now helped to open two Games after also appearing at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, earned a loud standing ovation.
After the Union Jack flag was raised by Armed Forces members in the stadium, the national anthem of the U.K. was performed by kids in pajamas.
Musician Mike Oldfield was then shown playing guitar as staff and patients of the U.K. National Health Service showed up on the stadium ground.
The next celebrity surprise was Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling who read from Peter Pan as kids were shown reading under their blankets. They were soon threatened by Potter baddy Voldemort and other bad guys, but Mary Poppins saved the day.
A hint of glory and classic comedy then combined as the London Symphony Orchestra played Chariots of Fire — with “Mr. Bean” Rowan Atkinson shown on the vibraphone. An iPhone, an umbrella, some sneezing, a dream scene from Chariots of Fire with Atkinson and a fart joke provided comic relief for the audience. The sequence earned Atkinson, whose work is known in many parts of the world, a standing ovation.
The next chapter of the opening ceremony focused on the digital revolution and pop age with a compilation of musical, film and TV hits from the likes of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, Sex Pistols, New Order, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Eurythmics and “Born Slippy” from Boyle’s Trainspotting musical partners Underworld taking the audience into the present. Britain’s Dizzee Rascal performed live after a kissing scene between two of the 2,500 volunteer actors in the stadium and kissing scenes from famous films and TV, including one from Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton and a kiss between two women.
After the greatest hits of British pop culture, the prevalence of social media was represented before the stadium welcomed Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web.
Scenes from the Olympic torch relay and nightly London, including a small firework on Tower Bridge, then led into the grand finale before the parade of nations as David Beckham was shown directing a speed boat towards the stadium.
Pictures on a “memorial wall” briefly showed loved ones of members of the audience who have died before the participating nations of the Summer Games walked into the stadium with their flags.
After many positive tweets from people in the U.K. throughout the ceremony, Boyle tweeted around 10:10pm: “I love you all!”
The final team to arrive was Team Great Britain. They walked in to David Bowie‘s “Heroes.”
The ceremony then got a concert feel as the Arctic Monkeys played live at the stadium amid a light show and fireworks. They even performed a rendition of “Come Together” while people on bikes with glowing wings rode around the arena and one rose straight into the night sky in an ET-like moment.
Former Olympic long-distance runner Sebastian Coe, the head of the London Games organizing committee than thanks his country and said to the world: “Welcome to London.” After loud applause, he added: “Welcome to the 2012 Olympic Games…I have never been so proud to be British.”
Touting London as “one of the greatest cities in the world” and the only city to host the Games three times, he said that each time the Olympics took place in London, the world was in chaos or uproar. “And each time the Games have been a triumph,” he said. “For each Briton, just as the competitors, this is our time. And one day we will tell our children that when the time came we did it right.”
After a speech by Rogge, the Queen officially opened the Summer Olympics. “I declare open the Games of London,” she said before a big fireworks display.
The TV audience of an estimated 1 billion around the world then watched a group of dignitaries carrying the Olympic flag, including United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. And Muhammad Ali made an appearance as an announcer lauded him for symbolizing the Olympic spirit.
Former star rower Steve Redgrave, who won gold medals for Britain at five consecutive Olympics, turned out to be the final famous torch bearer who ended up getting the hand-over from Beckham’s speed boat to light up the cauldron with the Olympic fire in the stadium. The identity of the final famous bearer had been the opening ceremony’s best-kept secret.
However, in a surprise twist, inside the stadium, Redgrave – in a symbolic passing of the torch – handed the torch to a group of seven young athletes, hand-picked by seven great British Olympians, who took the flame around the stadium. They then jointly lit copper petals that formed the cauldron with the Olympic fire to the sounds of Pink Floyd.
McCartney closed the opening ceremony with a performance of “Hey Jude.” The ceremony ended at 12:45am local time with McCartney saying “welcome to London.”
According to the BBC and tweets from people in the audience, famous audience members included Prince Charles, Prince Harry, Prince William and Kate Middleton, as well as British Prime Minister David Cameron and London mayor Boris Johnson.
Among heads of states and other political representatives from around the world, First Lady Michelle Obama was attending.