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July 30, 2012

London 2012: The story of a nation

London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony. Photo credit, Nick Webb.

Danny Boyle, Oscar-wining director of Slumdog Millionaire fame, is said to have spent £27 million on his opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic Games. But was it worth it?

As one of the world’s biggest storytelling opportunities, the 4 hour spectacle surely allowed room for everyone to find something that they liked. An audience of 26.9 million tv-watching Brits can attest to that.

Using live animals for the opening was not a first for the modern games (think Sydney 2000, and galloping whip-cracking stockmen). Perhaps though, was quoting Shakespeare. Boyle’s vision for the ceremony, which he titled Isles of Wonder, came from a passage in Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. Using stalwart British actor Kenneth Branagh to impersonate Sir Isambard Kingdom Brunel who was portrayed as playing Caliban to recite a passage from said play was certainly enough to baffle most people as to why, but none were as miffed as the Americans tweeting live on Twitter, who were further confused as to why he should also be dressed as Abraham Lincoln.

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises…
(Shakespeare, The Tempest, (III.ii.135)

Visual tales of pastural elegance opened the scene based on romantic poet William Blake’s Jerusalem – and never was there a more image-inducing piece of music to represent England. As children sang, peasants worked fields, men played cricket, and maidens gamboled beneath a maypole. A huge tree on top of a grassy mound speckled with real wildflowers lifted into the air, and hundreds of volunteers streamed out to depict the Industrial Revolution. Billowing smoke stacks rose from the belly of the stadium, men wiped sweat from their brows, actors acted, and dancers danced. Molten metal looked like it was flowing. Five rings were created. Five rings were joined. Five rings were hoisted skywards, and the people cheered for the spirit of it all.

Good on the Queen of England for being such a sport (pun intended), and getting involved. Imagine pitching the idea: “Ma’am, you’re going to jump out of an aeroplane with James Bond, and parachute into the stadium. The corgis, as we’ve unfortunately discovered, are scared of heights, so I’m afraid they will have to stay at home.”

London 2012 Opening Ceremony. Photo credit, Matt Lancashire

A lot of focus was placed on a teenage romance, and whilst not clear if these were characters from a UK television series, their being featured really did start to drag on. It would be fair to say that most other British cultural references would have been understood by the viewing public around the world, especially the celebration of the UK’s influence on music. The 60’s flower power, punk rock 70’s, garish 80’s, and hip trippin’ 90’s were celebrated with happy dancing exuberance. Sir Paul McCartney led the world in singing the internationally bonding lyrics of Hey Jude’s chorus, “Na na naa naaaaa…”. And Rowan Atkinson celebrated British humour by depicting his signature Mr Bean-style chaos during Simon Rattle’s conducting of Chariots of Fire.

Whether it was a strong suggestion given to Boyle or truly a tie-in with the Great Ormond Street Hospital featured as a living lift-out from the pages of Peter Pan, the British government used the ceremony as an opportune PR exercise for the National Health Service. Facing their demons head-on to show the country cares about the NHS, despite its massive problems, certainly was a clever tactical move.

But it was the story book characters and iconic images of nightmare-enducing villains from great British authors that resonated strongly. A huge Voldermort rose up to scare children on their hospital beds, Cruella De Ville snarled at dancing dalmatian dogs, and a Noel Fielding lookalike dressed as The Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang screamed past on roller skates. And all were thwarted by a fleet of Mary Poppinses who floated in via umbrella to efficiently manage the situation and thankfully save the day.

Yet this, after all, was not only the story of the host nation, but the Olympic Games themselves. After witnessing 15,000 volunteers and celebrities (who rehearsed more than 200 times) performing such an invigorting spectacle, you would be forgiven for forgetting the actual point of the whole thing – the welcoming of the international athletes and the lighting of the cauldron.

As is traditional, Greece entered the stadium first. And the host nation, last. The excitement and happiness on the faces of the British team were priceless – in white and gold tracksuits, which anywhere else might have seemed vulgar – as hosts of the Olympic Games it was fitting to have some bling.

David Beckham and Arsenal women’s footballer Jade Bailey motored the Olympic flame up the Thames in a speedboat. Tears started to form and lips quivered as all the brass conches representing each nation caught alight, and were raised to the night sky in tribute to something bigger than sport.

Storyism of the Olympic Games. A story of the world in peace and fellowship. A story we should all be proud of.


About the Author

Evon Koprowski
Brand storyteller, creative strategist, content marketer and all round bon vivant at Red Fortune Media where I growth hack projects for the arts, culture, tourism, technology and social sectors. I'm freelance - if I can help you, get in touch.

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