London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony – as it happened
• Immerse yourself in our Olympic Second Screen
• The best pictures from the opening ceremony
• Olympic Stadium in east London stages showpiece ceremony
• Danny Boyle-directed ceremony starts at 9pm BST
• Interactive: take a virtual tour of the Olympic Park
Let the Games (almost) begin
The London Olympics start right here, with the grand starting pistol of the opening ceremony. Danny Boyle’s £27m spectacular comes swathed in secrecy and swaddled in mystery. But tonight it shall be disrobed and paraded before a global TV audience that could potentially hit the 2bn mark.
It promises (stress: promises) to be quite a night and we shall be covering the whole thing, in real time, as it plays out before the eyes of the world. Think of this as our live coverage of a live filmed event. Assuming we don’t lap ourselves, eat our own tail or completely lose our marbles, we should be done by about half-past midnight.
Updated at 18:35 BST
Preambling (part one)
Let us not forget that the opening ceremony does not actually begin until 9pm. This leaves the audience ample time to settle down, kick off their shoes and speculate endlessly, endlessly about what the festivities might include.
Here, as a primer, is Owen Gibson’s tantalising foretaste of what may lie in store.
And here, for good measure, is Steve Rose’s excellent Guardian profile of the event’s creative director, Danny Boyle.
Updated at 18:58 BST
View from a bridge
My colleague Peter Walker mails from the outside world (aka London), where the excitement is building:
I just cycled over Tower Bridge and things are starting to look very festive. There’s big groups taking photos of each other with the giant Olympic rings as a backdrop, and a lot of people around, even for a mild summer Friday. You could say some semblance of Olympic mania has struck. Maybe Mitt Romney was the unintentional catalyst.
Updated at 19:04 BST
Down in the comments, @godforbidowright wades into the fray, frothing with patriotic rage and claiming that the Union Jack in our main picture has been hoisted UPSIDE-DOWN.
Is this the first big disaster of the London Olympics? Surely not. That would be this one.
Or possibly this one.
Preambling (part two)
Tonight’s opening ceremony plays out at the Olympic Stadium, dropped like a space-age mothership onto the wilds of Stratford. Once, so the promotional material would tell it, this was but a blighted Congo of towering undergrowth, infested by the rotting hulls of abandoned cars. Our giddying before-and-after slideshow shows just how much the joint has changed since then.
Is it inappropriate to shed a quiet tear over the fate of the old Bully Fen nature reserve – crushed and bulldozed and coated in steel? Ah well, there’s no arguing with progress.
Isle of Wonders
The Olympic opening ceremony is themed around the notion of the “Isle of Wonders”, referencing Caliban’s speech in The Tempest. That speech, if examined further, also raises the prospect of “a thousand jangling instruments”, “sounds and sweet airs” and clouds that “open and show riches”, all of which sounds just fine and dandy (although I’m not sold on that bit about the clouds opening. Does that mean rain?).
Danny Boyle, for his part, says:
The ceremony is an attempt to capture a picture of ourselves as a nation [and will] celebrate the exuberant creativity of the British
Bad news for visitors who first paid £2k for a ticket for the opening ceremony and then elected to travel via the Piccadilly line. Transport for London are reporting that a signal failure in the Arnos Grove area has just sent the entire line “completely kaka-cuckoo”. (admittedly I’m paraphrasing here)
Owen Gibson mails from inside the stadium:
Stadium is now four fifths full and atmosphere building nicely. Danny Boyle has been spotted downstairs speaking to some of the “famous Olympians” who will make up the sequence that BOA chief executive Andy Hunt let slip the other day. The so-called “mechanicals” (the stewards in Mario Bros style painter’s outfits) are handing out 3D glasses among the crowd, who are also looking with curiosity at the paddles attached to the seats behind them. Others are leading cotton wool clouds around the so-called “M25” – the track around the edge of Boyle’s green and pleasant land.
Enter the performers (though not literally)
Owen also adds that the first performers have just been led out onto the field of play. Two cows, two sheep. Happily, says Owen, they receive “a polite round of applause”.
Advance word suggests that the opening moments of the opening ceremony will serve up a veritable Noah’s Ark of British livestock, herded in to help celebrate the history of rural Britain.
Reportedly booked for tonight’s event are 12 horses, three cows, two goats, 10 chickens, 10 ducks, nine geese, 70 sheep, three sheepdogs and a quartet of ravening crocodiles that will be released into the stands at random intervals as a means of encouraging audience participation.
It should be pointed out that the use of these animals has already faced criticism from a number of animal welfare groups. It should also be pointed out that I may have made up the bit about the crocodiles.
So anyway, Boyle wants animals to be a part of the show and is at pains to assure protesters that they will not be mistreated. He says:
Genuine care will be taken of the animals … who will feature only in the very beginning of the show during daylight hours and will leave the stadium shortly after the 9pm start and before any large effects or noisy sequences take part.
Animal welfare groups, however, have not been entirely mollified by this and remain concerned that the festivities may still cause distress. One is reminded at this point of the notorious incident of Krusty the Clown and the Alaskan timber wolf. “Loud?” says Krusty. “That’s our secret word of the day!”
Updated at 21:12 BST
Here’s one for the animals
With perfect comic timing, the Red Arrows have just roared overhead. The din is deafening. Loud? It seems that this is our word of the night!
If those cows produce yoghurt tomorrow, I’m guessing the farmer will know the reason why.
The Red Arrows fly over the stadium during the opening ceremony. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
Updated at 21:44 BST
Rob Booth mails from the stadium:
Really quite amazing to see the flock of sheep pour into an enclosure in the middle of the 21st century Olympic Stadium and their presence has switched on a crowd which has been gathering slowly over the last few hours and amusing itself with mexican waves. With the music pumping and then fading away to bucolic birdsong, its already clear that Danny Boyle is setting out to play with the audience. Curiosity is rising. Are the animals upset by the noise? It has to be said the
sheep do look a little more frisky than I remember from growing up in the countryside.
The sheep make their entrance. Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images
Updated at 22:05 BST
Live pictures. Live!
Be sure to check out the best of today’s pictures courtesy of our brilliantlive picture blog. I worry that the term “live” risks misleading some readers into believing that the pictures are actually alive and moving (and possibly talking) as opposed to being updated on the go as the night unfolds.
Rest assured that they’re not and almost certainly won’t be … unless you blur your eyes and wish it so. Tonight, more than any other night, anything is possible.
Acid house beach balls
Further word from the ground, courtesy of our own Owen Gibson. And it is at this point that this very British evening turns a trifle Haight-Ashbury:
Warm up folk trying to talk crowd through the various (fairly complex) crowd participation elements. Acid house beach balls, blue silk flags to be passed down the tiers. Now Frank Turner is providing the first musical turn of the evening singing a folk ditty. Feels a bit like Glastonbury, certainly looks as surreal. But posher.
Team GB (but not necessarily the A-team)
Rob Booth mails with news of the assembled guests:
Team GB are in the house – at least in a political sense. Just before the Red Arrows roared over the stadium, the VIP balcony filled up with an interesting tableau of British power. At the centre was the Prime Minister taking it all in with Samatha Cameron, along from them were William Hague, the foreign secretary and his wife Ffion Hague. Lord Coe was showing Princess Anne around his new place with broad sweeps of his arms while John Armitt, the chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority that built the Olympic park looked patrician. Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, bumbled out just in time to see the jets with his wife Marina Johnson. Former prime minster John Major, and Scottish first minister Alex Salmond stood centre stage. Ed Miliband, doing
nothing to dispel a reputation for awkwardness, stood alone a good five yards along from the rest of them. It was perhaps understandable given the Tory-bias of the balcony. Then Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary arrived, fresh from his bell-ringing blunder, and greeted the Labour leader warmly. All the scene needed was a holy man and out came Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who settled into a
conversation with Lord Moynihan, chairman of the British Olympic Association.
Don’t spook the sheep
“Rock and roll! Rock and roll!” sings Frank Turner, thrashing at his guitar at the base of what looks like an Iron Age hill fort sculpted out of Astroturf. “Who’d have thought, that after all, that something so simple as rock-and-roll would save us all?”
Meanwhile running hither and thither all around, go the sheep. Pity the sheep. Are they traumatised by this caterwauling? Are they all on the verge of suffering major coronaries? Or are they merely in mild agreement with Mr Turner that yes, it was rock’n’roll that saved us all. And yes, whoever would have thought it?
Curiously, my colleague Kath Viner points out that Frank Turner, who sings like a beered-up Billy Bragg impersonator, actually “went to Eton”. Whoever would have thought it?
The final countdown
We are now just seconds away from “the greatest show on Earth”. Can it possibly live up to our expectations? Will it top the opening ceremony in Beijing, with its ranks of goose-stepping soldiers and the lip-synching little girl who moved her mouth through You and Me?
Here’s a quick recap while we wait. No pressure, Danny Boyle. No pressure at all.
Let the ceremony begin …
London 2012 officially gets underway with a whistle-stop montage of everyday life in the British isles, darting from cricket greens to scurrying geese to the London Eye to the thunderous opening bars of the Clash’s London Calling and a sneering snippet of John Lydon singing God Save the Queen. And with that, we have touchdown. We land, slap-bang in the centre of the Olympic stadium as the balloons pop and Bradley Wiggins takes to the stage, resplendent in his yellow jersey.
From the Champs-Élysées to the Olympic stadium: Bradley Wiggins acknowledges the crowd after ringing a giant bell to start the ceremony. Adrian Dennis/AFP/GettyImages
Updated at 23:04 BST
“And was Jerusalem builded here, among those dark satanic mills? sings a lone choirboy, before a gaggle of other singers segue into Danny Boy (perhaps a wry reference to the event’s creative director?). A horse-drawn carriage trundles about the fringe of the stadium and hey-presto we’re back to Jerusalem again with its arrows of desire and chariots of fire.
‘Be not afeared’
Here comes Kenneth Branagh. He hops out the carriage, immaculate in the garb of a Victorian gentleman. It turns out that he is reciting Caliban’s speech from The Tempest while disguised as Isambard Kingdom Brunel. I’m confused.
It seems that this bit is a celebration of the industrial revolution, but Branagh has me bemused. He’s like a rattlebag of British cultural references out there. I’m now half-expecting Kate Winslet to come out dressed as Sid James and start crooning her way through All You Need is Love.
Just to be clear, that’s Kenneth Branagh playing Sir Isambard Kingdom Brunel playing Caliban out of The Tempest. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Updated at 23:08 BST
Crushed by the wheels of industry
Smokestacks rear out of the ground. Factory workers pull on levers and miners crawl on their bellies. It is a time of dark satanic mills, a time of hardship and toil, all presided over by the perpetually grinning Kenneth Branagh.
Now here come the suffragettes. They are brandishing placards and marching to glory. All of a sudden Sir Isambard Caliban Branagh doesn’t look quite so pleased with himself and this, I feel, can only be a good thing.
Performers scale factory chimneys during a sequence marking the industrial revolution. Yang Lei/xh/Xinhua Press/Corbis
Updated at 00:03 BST
The great emancipator?
Rumours currently abounding that several American commentators are assuming that Ken Branagh has come on as Abraham Lincoln.
Just to confirm: Kenneth Branagh is playing Sir Isambard Kingdom Brunel playing Caliban out of The Tempest. Is this REALLY so hard a concept to take on board?
The rings are alight
Five interlocking circles blaze bright orange as the fireworks ignite and the audience in the stands seem to catch their breath as one. I think this means that the London Olympics are now properly under way.
Olympic rings ablaze above the opening ceremony. Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images
Updated at 22:20 BST
An audience with James Bond
We cut to a pre-prepared film of James Bond (as played by Daniel Craig) visiting Buckingham Palace to see the Queen (as played, rather astoundingly, by the Queen). Bond, it seems, has come to escort Her Majesty to the Olympic Park and they opt to travel via helicopter.
Praise be: at no point does the Queen attempt to push Bond from the chopper. At no stage does she confess that she’s actually a deep-cover KGB agent with a wicked plan to take over the planet from her base in Balmoral. Instead she graciously allows herself to be escorted right into the heart of the Olympic stadium. And at this point she leaps out and floats down with a Union Jack parachute.
It must be said that the Queen plays the Queen rather well (possibly better than Branagh playing Brunel playing Caliban). That said, I’m not quite sure it was really her doing the parachute stunt.
The stadium does a mass double-take as a strangely familiar woman with a regal bearing makes a spectacular entrance. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
Updated at 22:31 BST
The view from abroad
As the kids sing and sign their way through the national anthem, John Hooper mails from a place called Rome:
The commentator on Italy’s state-run RAI network: “Danny Boyle … as unpredictable as the people here”
I’m suspecting that the commentator must be speaking from bitter personal experience. Was he maybe jilted by a British woman? Said she’d love him forever; ran off the following day with some bloke from the Czech Republic.
All hail the NHS!
Reports suggest that culture secretary Jeremy Hunt was opposed to a full-scale song-and-dance celebration of the National Health Service (what with it being privatised under our noses and all). But, thank heavens, Danny Boyle pressed on regardless.
Out on the lawns come “the staff and patients from Great Ormond Street hospital”. They emerge to the strains of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells and promptly start leaping on beds and tending to the sick and frail. And look: here’s JK Rowling on hand to read a tribute and usher us off to see Lord Voldemort, Mary Poppins and the Child Catcher out of Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. Why, exactly? Again, I’m a little vague on the relevance but who cares? It’s a rousing, moving piece of choreography; a great yawping salute to the abiding joy of the NHS.
It also provides a possible answer to the ongoing question of what became of all those NHS beds. By the look of things, a fair number of them are down there in the Olympic park, getting leaped on by dancing nurses.
The ceremony celebrates the NHS. Photograph: Jae C. Hong/AP
Updated at 22:56 BST
Richard Williams mails with grave concern:
I’m waiting for the bit where a giant ship comes in, everyone in the crowd is subjugated and/or enslaved before the stadium’s natural resources are plundered.
Chariots of Fire
“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Sir Simon Rattle,” booms the voice in the sky. Do we detect a note of pleading there? Is the Voice perhaps worried that the audience won’t welcome him. Has there maybe been a previous incident when they didn’t? When they booed and hissed and threw tomatoes from the stands?
If so, those worries turn out to be unfounded. The audience welcomes Sir Simon Rattle, who is here to conduct the London Symphony Orchestra through a rendition of the Chariots of Fire. Rowan Atkinson provides the comedy, dabbing away at the keyboard in practised Mr Bean mode and then shamelessly tripping his rivals during the classic beach-running montage that follows.
Rowan Atkinson joins the London Symphony Orchestra’s rendition of the Chariots of Fire theme. Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach
Updated at 22:55 BST
Out comes a gaudy conga-line of British youth. They are running round in circles, full of life and hormones and stuff, as the montage drags us from OMD’s Enola Gay through the Jam’s Going Underground to the Who’s My Generation to the Beatles’ She Loves You. Along the way, there is just time for some bizarre detours into films such as Gregory’s Girl and the peerless A Matter of Life and Death.
And still the music keeps on coming. It’s the Specials’ A Message To You, Rudie. No, wait, it’s Starman by David Bowie. No, wait, it’s Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s Pretty Vacant!
Down in the stadium, the kids form themselves into a gigantic peace sign and then follow that up by forming themselves into a giant star. Those crazy kids! You have to love them, with their wild nuttiness, squirting hormones and youthful exuberance. Come graduation, they’ll all be sitting in a wine bar discussing property prices and listening to Norah Jones.
Young performers arrange themselves into a peace sign. Photograph: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters
Updated at 22:44 BST
More reviews from abroad
Jonathan Watts mails:
Brazilian commentator just described The Jam’s ‘Going Underground’ as ‘the theme tune from that John Travolta dancing film in the 70s.
Lord alone what they will make of Dizzee Rascal, who has just bounded on stage. “Jay Leno is in the house and he’s lost a lot of weight!”
Dancers go bonkers for Dizzee Rascal. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
Updated at 22:41 BST
“Ladies and gentlemen, the inventor of the world wide web,” announces the voice in the sky. “Sir Tim Berners-Lee!”
Thanks heavens for Sir Tim Berners-Lee, without whom there would not be this here liveblog of this here live Olympic opening ceremony. Where on earth would we be without him?
Please feel free to send all your complaints and hate mail to Sir Tim Berners-Lee.
Lights around the Olympic stadium read ‘This is for Everyone’, referring to the world wide web as its inventor, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, joins the festivities. Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Updated at 22:47 BST
Beckham on a boat
Splashing up the Thames comes David Beckham. He is steering a speed-boat and the prow of the speed-boat contains the Olympic torch. The torch is on its last leg of the journey. It is coming ever closer. It is drawing ever nearer. But who will be the one who lights the Olympic flame?
The smart money seems to be on Sir Roger Banister. Some, however, have suggested that the honour may fall to Bradley Wiggins, Daley Thompson or even the great Muhammad Ali, who lit the flame in Atlanta back in 1996.
Here’s how he did it.
Abide with me
The Olympics pay tribute to the war dead and the victims of the 7/7 terrorist attacks in London. This is a hushed, respectful, gently moving interlude; a pause for breath amid the frantic festivities.
The athletes arrive
“Algeria!” shouts the voice in the sky as the Algerian representatives take to the track.
“American Samoa!” she shouts. “Andorra!” she shouts. At this rate we may be here for a while.
I think I may pass the time by revisiting Alan Partridge’s immortal Olympics commentary from days gone by.
Have we moved on to the Bs yet?
“Austria!” shouts the voice in the sky. It turns out that we haven’t.
Basketball player, Lauren Jackson, leads in the Australian team. Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters
Updated at 22:57 BST
Outside the stadium
“Belize!” shouts the Voice. “Benin!” And so it continues.
In the meantime, we are receiving alarming news of protests and arrests outside the Olympic stadium. Fear not: it seems that the protesters were the outriders from a “pro-cycling group” and it is doubtful that they are armed.
A number of cyclists were arrested during scuffles with police close to the Olympic Stadium as the opening ceremony got under way inside.
The incident happened on the outskirts of the Olympic Park on one of the main thoroughfares to the venue.
A spokesman for Scotland Yard said police intervened when participants in a monthly cycling event breached regulations restricting their route.
Police vans headed off scores of people from a pro-cycling group as they rode in formation close to the park.
Officers blocked off their route and some were forcibly removed from their bikes as others tried to break through a cordon.
The spokesman for Scotland Yard said: “A number of people in breach of regulations imposed on a monthly cycling event have been arrested.”
“Bulgaria!” says the voice. By the time we reach Chile we’ll probably have found out all the names of these protesters, quizzed them about “Their Favourite Cycle Route” and possibly fitted all their bikes with a new set of tyres.
“Cayman Islands!” We’re getting closer.
A Critical Mass bike protest outside the Olympic Park is broken up by police. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Updated at 23:22 BST
The athletes, moving
Owen Gibson mails from the grounds:
Danny Boyle said he was going to get Underworld to compose a score with a fast bpm to keep the athletes moving. Looks like he wasn’t joking. IOC have also told them not to dawdle and limited the number of officials to 40 in a bid to ensure that they keep to time. We’re supposed to get through all 205 countries in an hour and a half.
Comoros? It shames me to confess that, until now, I didn’t even know there was a Comoros.
“Three volcanic islands” apparently. Their team comprises of two athletes and a swimmer.
My colleague Jonathan Watts will not be pegged down to one lone location. He is omniscient, all-seeing, and mails with the view from both China and Brazil:
It may be 5:30am but I am told China’s micro blogs are buzzing with positive vibes about London’s opening ceremony. Biggest online respect is for Tim Berners-Lee, the British ‘inventor’ of the world wide web, who has made a huge difference to people’s access to information in China.
‘You should be proud. This opening ceremony is sweet and cool and hilarious’, said one friend in Beijing. A biased view to be sure. But better than I expected.
In the beach bar in Rio, where I am now, the view is understandably that the flag-and-athlete parade is a bit old fashioned and needs to be livened up in 2016, perhaps by making it naked. ‘That would get my vote’, said Pamella, the woman running the bar.
Updated at 22:57 BST
Endless bowls of alphabet soup
“Equatorial Guinea!” shrills the voice the sky.
Lost in translation?
Chris McGreal reports from Washington DC where US commentators are apparently still trying to twist their brains around the quirks of these “Isles of Wonder”:
The British ambassador to the US, Sir Peter Westmacott, made a fleeting appearance on a Washington TV news station a few minutes ago flagging up to Americans that they’re being kept in the dark far longer than the rest of the world about the delights or otherwise of the Olympic opening ceremony.
NBC has delayed the start of the broadcast here until it’s all but over in London in order to show it at prime time and pull in all those advertising dollars.
Westmacott was relieved that the show hadn’t proved to be the washout that afflicted the Queen’s jubilee a few weeks back.
“There’s a great deal of excitement, partly because they’ve managed to keep the details of tonight’s ceremony under wraps. There’s all sorts of speculation and funny little stories of cows mooing on the grass to James Bond parachuting in from outer space. We don’t actually know. We don’t. They do,” he said.
But when the spectacular finally does appear on American television in a few hours, Sir Peter is opening the doors of his palatial official residence to 700 guests many of whom are likely to need some guidance on the bits of British history popping up on the screen. But his challenge for the evening will be to bat away the subject of Mitt Romney.
“Jamaica!” shouts the Voice and out steps Usain Bolt, the three-time gold medalist and one of the undisputed titans of the 2012 Olympics.
“Jordan!” We’re getting there. Slowly.
The Jamaican team arrive with flag-bearer, Usain Bolt, out in front as usual. EPA/Jonathan Brady
Updated at 23:33 BST
Sappho goes to Saudi
Twitter currently electrified by the suggestion that Danny Boyle may just be (indirectly) responsible for the first lesbian kiss ever to be broadcast on Saudi Arabian TV. I’m not sure this was quite the legacy he was anticipating, but it is surely still a milestone of sorts.
Updated at 23:24 BST
“Bring back Red Arrows!”
It seems safe to say that Tory MP Adrian Burley has not been a fan of the opening ceremony. He’s as mad as a Saudi Arabian TV executive and he’s damned if he’s going to take this lying down.
He tweets (as @AidanBurleyMP):
Thank God the athletes have arrived! Now we can move on from leftie multi-cultural crap. Bring back the Red Arrows, Shakespeare and the Stones
(My thanks, by the way, to Mark Newitt for forwarding the Burley tweet)
Updated at 23:33 BST
From Swaziland to Sweden
And still the athletes keep on coming.
Team India enter the stadium. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Updated at 23:48 BST
Ghosts of Olympics past
Rob Booth mails from the park:
Spain have come out in a huge long snake and are now taking up a good 200m of the track and the organisers seem to have sent out a bunch of drummers to sweep them along, but they are not really having any of it. In other news: Torvill and Dean are in the house (at least I spotted them around the VIP refreshment zone) – ghosts of Olympics past.
The 530 athletes of the United States of America take to the track, warmly applauded my Michelle Obama in the stands. The US, of course, are the most successful nation in Olympic history and will doubtless be adding the trophy cabinet over the next run of weeks.
The procession of athletes trail on and on. It leaves humble Uruguay dawdling on the sidelines, patiently awaiting their moment in the spotlight.
View from abroad
Alex Michaels mails from far, far away:
I’m watching this in a bar in Antigua, Guatamala, and people are cheering their countries out. Ironically there was a power cut when Guatamala came out, and for a minute there we thought there was going to be a coup! Proud to be British.
The parade of 204 nations swells to its finale with the arrival of Team GB. Sir Chris Hoy, the first ever cyclist to carry the flag, leads the athletes onto the field to the strain of David Bowie’s Heroes.
Everyone is galvanised. Everyone is on their feet. Everyone, that is, except the Queen, who appears to have momentarily dozed off.
Great Britain won 19 gold medals in Beijing and finished an impressive fourth on the medals table. We shall be hoping to do even better this time around.
Sir Chris Hoy leads in Team GB. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Updated at 00:31 BST
Elvis is in the building
The Arctic Monkeys take to the stage, rattling at speed through Bet You Look Good On the Dance Floor. If this racket doesn’t snap the Queen to attention, lord alone knows what will.
The Arctic Monkeys slip into a silken cover of the Beatles’ Come Together and out from the wings ride the Amazing Flying Bird Cyclists, their wings flapping, their pedals going up and down. The cyclists glide round and round the stadium. They look like credit-crunch Nazgul, who have mislaid their horses and opted for a low-cost mode of transport. Yet there’s something weirdly mesmerising and graceful about them all the same.
A winged cyclist flies through the air. EPA/Kerim Okten
Updated at 00:23 BST
Sebastian Coe takes to the podium to welcome the world to London. “I have never been so proud to be British and to be a part of the Olympic movement,” he says. The Olympics, he adds, is here to “celebrate what is best about mankind”.
His speech is smooth and confident – moving without being mawkish. The audience applaud him warmly.
Sebastian Coe welcomes the world to London. EPA/Ian Langsdon
Updated at 00:35 BST
The birthplace of modern sport
Now it is the turn of Jacques Rogge, president of the IOC. He thanks London (“the birthplace of modern sport”) for hosting the games, and pays tribute to the thousands of volunteers who have made it possible. He adds:
For the first time in Olympic history all of the teams have female athletes – and this is a major boost for gender equality
Rogge reminds the competitors that they are all role models. If they remember that, he says, “you will inspire a generation”.
Let the games begin!
“I declare open the games of London,” declares the Queen, kicking off an explosion of fireworks and the arrival of the flag, which is carried by (among others) Doreen Lawrence, Shami Chakrabati and Ban Ki-moon. Muhammad Ali awaits at the summit and his introduction prompts what is arguably the biggest cheer of the night.
Updated at 00:32 BST
Who takes the torch?
David Beckham rolls in from the Thames. At the dock he passes the torch to Sir Steve Redgrave, who won Gold at five consecutive Olympic Games. Does this handover clear up the last remaining mystery of tonight’s opening ceremony?
The Olympic flame
Steve Redgrave jogs into the stadium, the torch held aloft. But significantly, the torch is then used to light the flames of a band of younger, as yet un-garlanded athletes – a fitting end for a ceremony that began by celebrating Britain’s past and ends by pointing to its future. The choir is singing; the torches move back and forth.
Sir Steve Redgrave holds the Olympic torch aloft before handing it to the seven young athletes who will light the flame. EPA/Hannibal
Updated at 00:47 BST
Seven small sparks, one great flame
So in the end, the cauldron is not lit by a lone Olympian from the past, but by seven teenagers whose days of glory are surely yet to come. The torches ignite the copper petals; the petals in turn ignite the cauldron. It is a masterstoke, a dazzling end to a night of wonders and a glorious salute to the democratic spirit of Olympics; enshrining these games as a collective endeavour and a celebration of emerging talent.
And all at once the cauldron is blazing and the games have begun.
The Olympic cauldron ablaze. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Updated at 01:11 BST
Good night, good night
All that remains is for Paul McCartney to sing us off to our slumbers. It’s been a terrific night, a glorious ceremony, a rousing history lesson and far and away the best film that Danny Boyle never made.
Thanks for sticking with me. Apologies for the typos, the pauses and the moments of pure, slack-jawed wonder and bemusement. Stray too close to the cauldron and you’re liable to be dazzled.
So that’s it from us on a night that darted from Bond to Bean, Shakespeare to smoke-stacks. The Isle of Wonders have done us proud. The games that follow have a lot to live up to.
Paul McCartney brings a dazzling evening’s entertainment to a close. EPA/Jonathan Brady