Queen Elizabeth II declared the London Olympic Games open at the end of a spectacular ceremony early Saturday.
The declaration came at the end of a rip-roaring three-hour show designed by British director Danny Boyle for 60,000 people at London’s Olympic Stadium.
The Games run through August 12.
“In a sense, the Olympic Games are coming home tonight,” said IOC president Jacques Rogge.
“This great, sports-loving country is widely recognized as the birthplace of modern sport. It was here that the concepts of sportsmanship and fair play were first codified into clear rules and regulations. It was here that sport was included as an educational tool in the school curriculum.”
The opening ceremony was an innovative, breathtaking portrayal of 250 years of British achievements in propelling civilization forward, evoking most of the country’s top cultural exports.
The initial stages could have hardly been more British, marked by a flyover from the Red Arrow aerobatics team followed by a 90-second shower.
The show was split into three acts: a “green and pleasant land” theme based on the William Blake poem “Milton” that segues into the industrial revolution; a celebration of Britain’s government-funded National Health Service; and a modern-day love story championing British pop music and Internet inventor Tim Berners-Lee.
After the stadium was rocked by British band the Arctic Monkeys, Paul McCartney marked the lighting of the cauldron with choruses of the Beatles classic “Hey Jude.”
Seven young torchbearers moved toward the center of the field and ignited a single flame within copper petals on the ground. The flames spread to more than 200 petals and gently rose to converge on what organizers called the “flame of unity.”
Boyle dedicated the show, first and foremost, to the 15,000 volunteers required to keep it running.
“Our show, this is the volunteers’ show. It absolutely is. They really are the best of us. If you want to judge us as an island, or a series of islands, these people are the best of us.”
“We tried to grow something organically, we didn’t try to tick any boxes,” Boyle said.
He said the fact that he had less than half of Beijing’s reported budget in 2008 was a plus.
“You can’t get bigger than Beijing, and in a way that kind of liberated us. We thought ‘great,’ we’ll try and use our resources in a different way.”