Today marks five years since the epic 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony in London. Five years since the world tuned in their TVs to watch one of the finest, quirkiest shows on earth – the perfection exploration of British history, culture and humour. It was a night that brought the UK together and gave those of living here a warm glow and a smile on our face. Even the deep republicanism I embody and was surrounded by that night raised a respectful smile as The Queen welcome James Bond into her home and then jumped out of a helicopter over the Olympic stadium; what great TV!
It was an extraordinary night – made extra special for us by hosting a great party in our home in Chiswick, west London, were some of our family and friends gathered to watch proceedings together. It was an evening filled with pride, wonder and some of the biggest laughs I can remember. Danny Boyle’s inspired and inspiring “Ilses of Wonder” production was like nothing I had seen before or since and epitomised all that is great about these islands. It was a masterpiece and rightly resulted in him being lauded around the world. What a statement. What a gift to the nation. It was rightly desired as a “love letter to Britain”.
The ceremony lasted over four hours and was beamed to an estimated television audience of over 900m worldwide. What made it so special? Why it is so memorable? Why are we still talking about it today. I have a view.
It is five years on and no-one has found a better way of describing what it is to be British. Despite many politicians’ best efforts, no-one has told a better story about ‘British values’. Passionate about the things it cares about; its history, its music, its sport, its NHS and all done with a typically British understated cheekiness, tongue in cheek, self-depreciating humour and yet deeply proud and confident. People talk a lot of the British values of fair play, justice, tolerance, respect of the law and all that as defining aspects of its psyche but this four hours of art is the greatest statement of what it means to be British. If anyone wants to understand Britishness and the UK then simply need to watch that opening ceremony.
Five years on I can still remember so much of that extraordinary night – not the usual smoke and noise of fireworks and light shows but the coolest, smartest way of articulating what it means to be apart of this country. Anyone who has lived here or visited here during their life could surely recognise this wonderfully funny and insightful characterisation of the UK. It lives longer in the memory than most of the games themselves and longer in the heart than any platitude-filled statement about British values. Whatever legacy the games had – something that obsesses the IOC – the legacy of the opening ceremony is beyond question. It still lives on and will for years to come. It was truly the best of British.