~ Posted by Ian Leslie, July 27th 2012
In 2008, Beijing's Olympic opening ceremony took the world's breath away. Ten thousand dancers moved in perfect synchrony to the beat of 2,000 drummers, and 35,000 fireworks illuminated the air above the stunning Nest stadium. It was universally considered to be the most spectacular Olympic ceremony in history.
In Britain, as soon as people got their breath back, they started shaking their heads. "Oh dear. What will we do?" Painfully aware that we had neither the manpower nor the financial resources of the Chinese, we anticipated a national embarrassment in 2012. In our nightmare, Seb Coe was standing on top of a double-decker bus in a half-empty stadium, waving a sparkler and wielding a rusty megaphone.
The gloom failed to dissipate even when Britain's Olympic organisers made the bold move of appointing the widely respected film director Danny Boyle to run the show. In 2011, after the British government reluctantly agreed to Boyle's request to double the ceremony's funding (to a fraction of the Chinese budget), the most common response in the media was "Why bother? We'll never compete with Beijing."
I predict that tonight such qualms will be put to shame. Of course, Britain's ceremony won't be as monumental in scale as China's. To compete on those terms would indeed be futile. Instead, going by the tantalising snatches of information we've had about what's in store, Boyle and his team are aiming for something different—something smaller, but distinctively British in flavour.
In London, the required Olympian elements of spectacle and bombast will be blended with qualities largely absent from Beijing's ceremony: mischief, self-deprecation, sentiment and wit. Where Beijing showcased the wonders of co-ordinated obedience, London will celebrate individual eccentricity. Where Beijing set out to blow the world's mind, London will seek to move, amuse and delight it.
By playing to our strengths, Boyle and his team will probably produce a richer statement of modern Britishness than all the fine words that have been expended on that topic this year. When it comes to originality, intelligence and imagination, Britain can still be a gold medal contender.
Ian Leslie works in advertising, is the author of "Born Liars" and tweets as @mrianleslie His pieces for Intelligent Life include In search of serendipity and Non cogito, ergo sum