Olympics Opening very British with Queen, Mr. Bean, Sir Paul
London • To be quintessentially British, you must start with the Queen and throw in a Bean.
Oscar winner Danny Boyle's ambitious and majestic Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics indeed incorporated both Queen Elizabeth II, as well as actor Rowan Atkinson (aka television's Mr. Bean). And there wasn't a whole lot else in the British canon Boyle left out, either, in front of a crowd of 80,000 including most of the 12 Utahns competing at the Games and an international television audience of an estimated four billion.
Boyle's sweeping, $41 million performance told the history of Britain's rise through the industrial revolution to the technological age, and incorporated elements of literature, music and, almost as an afterthought, sports.
Former Beatle Paul McCartney sang, reclusive "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling read from "Peter Pan" and, well, did we mention the Queen? She was introduced first in a video that showed her being escorted from Buckingham Palace by James Bond Craig, Daniel Craig and parachuting to the stadium, which of course, was a bit of camera trickery.
With an emphasis on youth this time around, London officially became the first city to host the Olympics three times. The first, in 1908 was after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius forced them out of Rome, and in 1948, on the heels of World War II.
"Each time we have done it," said Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London organizing committee, "the world has faced turbulence and trouble. And each time the games have been a triumph."
In the weeks leading up to the opening, British tabloids were at full-force projecting various aspects of Boyle's creation, which met a social media resistance, the movement to "#savethesurprise."
The greatest mystery was of who would light the Olympic cauldron. Sir Steven Redgrave was a leading candidate, as was Roger Bannister, the first man to run a mile under four minutes. In a twist, Redgrave, a five-time rowing gold medalist, carried the torch into the stadium, but passed it off to seven young athletes, who represented the future of Britain. They each lit a copper rose petal at the center of the stadium, which grew to a circle made up of petals representing each country. Those, then, lifted up to form one giant flame.
Muhammad Ali, who lit the cauldron at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, was one of nine bearers of the Olympic flag, before speeches from Coe and International Olympic Committee President Jacque Rogge.
It was certainly a go-big-or-go-home production, which it almost needed to be after the dazzling ceremony in Beijing at the 2008 Olympics. The Olympic bell, which was rung by recent Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins, was made by the same foundry responsible for the Liberty Bell and Big Ben and will reside in the park for 200 years before it is returned to the foundry for a tune-up.
With a history like Britain's, 200 years isn't too early to begin planning.
By the time the Parade of Nations began at 10:20 p.m. local time, observers had already watched Olympic rings be carried into space by balloons, a pastoral farm scene deconstructed into a Dickensian industrial wasteland, a screen of pixels in the audience portraying the Union Jack as the British flag was hoisted as well as children doing flips on trampolines disguised as hospital beds. That bit honored the National Health Service and a popular children's hospital.
It was there that villains from British children's literature Captain Hook, Lord Voldemort were expunged by an army of Mary Poppinses.
As for Atkinson, his role came during a performance of "Chariots of Fire" by the London Symphony Orchestra. As Bean, er, Atkinson, aided the effort by playing one note on the keyboard, he slipped into a coma of boredom. He thumbed an iPhone, blew his nose and, fittingly, ended the number with a flatulent noise.
And, oh, how the cheeky Brits loved it.
What must the Queen have been thinking? Not only after Mr. Bean's emission, but during the rock and roll party that featured music from The Doors, Queen and a live performance from the Arctic Monkeys?
Before the performance began, Boyle reminded the crowd that the performance was a "warm-up act for the athletes."
Well, everyone got good and sweaty during it, with dizzying scene changes and a pulsing soundtrack. The athletes, who entered after most of the hoopla, seemed impressed.
"That was THE COOLEST THING EVER!!!!" Michelle Plouffe, a University of Utah women's basketball player who also plays for Team Canada, posted on Twitter. "Unreal experience. So incredible to be a part of this thing called the OLYMPICS!"
Plouffe is one of three former Utes who plays for the Canadian women. She, Kim Smith and Shona Thorburn all marched, then left the ceremony because of their 11:15 a.m. game against Russia on Saturday.
The ceremony last 3 hours and 46 minutes, the final seven of which featured McCartney, playing piano and singing, "Hey Jude."
Then, as the final message of the first step of these Games, McCartney stood at his piano and yelled, "Welcome to London."
And the flame burned.
London 2012 At a glance
An estimated television audience of 4 billion watched Oscar winner Danny Boyle's Opening Ceremony, which lasted 3 hours and 46 minutes.
About two-thirds of 12 athletes with Utah ties marched during the Parade of Nations.
The production cost an estimated $41 million.
British luminaries such as Paul McCartney, J.K. Rowling and Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, appeared.
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