This sentiment – about how it suddenly felt to be British – was bouncing round Twitter in the small hours of Saturday morning, and there was a sense that Danny Boyle had made everyone feel exactly the same. Not with bombast, or grandeur, or the sheer weight of micro-choreographed manpower, but by simply, beautifully uncovering the core of the country.
As much as the perfection of the drummers & dancers in Beijing so gracefully reshaped Chinese history & culture for a global audience, there was no sense of gift. The 2008 ceremony said “Here is what China has done and will do.” It felt like an exercise in exclusivity. Last night, by comparison, was all embracing.
“At some point in their histories, most nations experience a revolution that changes everything about them. The United Kingdom had a revolution that changed the whole of human existence.”
This is what Danny Boyle wrote in his introduction to the Olympics Programme. He meant his ceremony to symbolise the possibility of a truly shared world. A Jerusalem for everyone. And at the centre of that, he suggested, could be Britain, and the gifts it keeps giving the world – gifts that it doesn’t close guard, or deny to anyone.
The skyscraping smokestacks of the Industrial Revolution – dramatically underpinned by a brilliant Kenneth Branagh channelling Prospero via Isambard Kingdom Brunel – were just the first such gift, and Boyle piled them up, layer on layer, as the night went on - cultural earthquake after cultural earthquake – from The Beatles and Harry Potter, through the concept of universal health care, to James Bond.
Yes, I’ve never seen an Olympics ceremony in which the host nation has so ripped the piss out of itself, right down to the Head of State. But then that was Boyle’s plan. It was never supposed to be a flawless spectacle drilled to within an inch of lifelessness. It was more of an open invitation into the British psyche.
But the one that got me – even more than the five olympics rings forged in the dark satanic mills, sparking & steaming as they merged overhead prior to exploding - was the Digital Age. It started quietly, with a family house onto which was projected the Film & TV moments of the last few decades – Corrie, Fawlty, Gregory’s Girl, and even Kes – as outside a love story played out between the daughter and a young man. Text windows & Social Network updates flew around their heads as they got together the 21st century way, their eventual final kiss triggering a frenzy of projected televisual activity, right down to the lesbian kiss from Brookside. And, as the images died away, the house was lifted from the ground to reveal the man who had made all that possible: Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, sitting at his screens typing four words that lit up the audience:
This is for everyone.
It was about the gifts, and the self-deprecating spirit of genius & generosity that we’re all going to need a lot more of to survive. Thanks, Mr Boyle, for encapsulating all that wonderfully enough to convert this sporting cynic into a weeping Olympics evangelist. And thanks to the thousands of volunteers – including colleagues Don Gummerson and Stephen Bulfield – for making it possible.
Go Team GB!