2012 Opening Ceremony Thoughts and Opinions

A few days ago I was lucky enough to spend a few hours in the Olympic Stadium watching the 2012 Opening Ceremony. As someone who would dearly have loved to Produce the ceremony, what did I think of it?

I’ll admit now that many years ago I was eager to be the Executive Producer of the 2012 Ceremonies. Despite making the shortlist and going through the whole process, it sadly wasn’t to be. Was I disappointed? Yes – there isn’t really a bigger canvas on which you can practice our art, so as a spectator what did I make of it?

Opening Ceremony day started early, I was a guest of an International Sports Federation I’ve been working with and supporting. We travelled to the park together and like all great events, half of the excitement is the anticipation. Surrounded by the Olympic Family in the posh seats though, many of those I was with had witnessed numerous ceremonies before and were clearly less excited than I.

Enough details had leaked prior to the ceremony both through the media and through acquaintances that the rolling hills and farmyard scenes were no great surprise, but what did surprise me was some of the attention to detail. Designed for close up shots, this was clearly something that was first and foremost a television event. Rightly so in my view.

What followed, I have to admit was a pretty clever few hours, with both soul and humour. From a professional perspective the highlight was the industrial revolution. The logistical challenge, the staging, the rings flying through the air and a truly incredible soundtrack all combined, in what I think was a great example of how so many different disciplines come together at once. I doubt many casual observers will realise just how much likely went into getting that looking, feeling and sounding as perfect as it did. It was epic in so many ways. The “I’ve seen all this before” faces on those around me had vanished too. Everyone was loving it.

Bond and Bean I thought were also clever, less difficult to pull off (with my professional hat on), but clever and they worked perfectly.

The rest of the ceremony I thought was somewhat formulaic. This is not a criticism. Pulling anything off of this magnitude deserves praise. To do so with the compliance, committees and pressure that comes with this sort of occasion would thwart many. The highlight though was certainly the industrial scene.

Personally, work aside, there was something strangely surreal about being on my feet dancing to a Bee Gees number just 20 feet from Team GB walking in – which in a strange way was a personal highlight!

I left with a sense of sadness, not with the ceremony, just that I didn’t have the opportunity to play a part in such a phenomenal occasion. But what would I have done?

Bear in mind when I went through the process of trying to convince people to let me take the ceremony’s reigns it was 2007 and the Beijing Olympics hadn’t even happened yet.

My vision was clear, I wanted to do two things.

Firstly I wanted to create a story, or a narrative as we like to call it. In the same way you tune into the first episode of a new drama on TV, you are then drawn in, and soak up every episode. The series then ends with a dramatic season finale.

The handover ceremony in Beijing was going to be my season opener, the rest of the series would have encompassed all the stories and activity over the following four years with the narrative building to the season finale – the Opening Ceremony. What the story was – well I never got to create it, but it would have provided a compelling narrative to glue all the ceremonies together, the PR, the torch relay and everything else going on. I suspect too that the mascots would have been a product of this narrative.

Secondly, I saw a real need to truly innovate this whole ‘ceremony’ thing. London is a city with amazing architecture and culture. Faced with tight budgets and having to compete with Beijing’s efforts I had proposed we take the ceremony to the streets of London.

Far more people could have witnessed what was going on. It would have been a world first and my mind was boggling with ideas. We would likely have ended up in the Stadium for the athletes entrance and protocol, but the streets of London would have been my theater – both the stage and the audience.

There would have been all manner of security, risk and operational reasons why this would have been difficult, but with a city as incredible as London and with most major events and ceremonies around the world being created by people from the UK, it could have been an even greater showcase for London and UK PLC.

The team at LOCOG had some formidable challenges, but within the framework they decided to work in, Danny Boyle was, in my view, both a clever and inspired choice – after all the ceremony was witnessed by most, and will be remembered for years to come, on film and television – Danny Boyle’s medium. Thanks for an unforgettable few hours.