Britain’s Olympic show to star drizzle and jams

Olympic volunteers admire a model of the opening ceremony © Getty Images

Spectacular plans for London’s Olympic opening ceremony have finally been unveiled. Cows, nurses and motorways all feature – but should Britain be showing off such an eccentric vision?

With less than fifty days to go, plans for a spectacular Olympic opening ceremony have been revealed. The £27m extravaganza will celebrate the very best of Britain – and cows, sheep and chickens will be the stars of the show.

In a three hour ceremony watched by more than one billion people, the Olympic stadium will become the countryside, complete with real soil, grass and farmyard animals. Maypoles, cricket teams and a Glastonbury-style mosh pit will evoke the British summer. In case it doesn’t rain, a specially-created raincloud will ensure traditional drizzle.

As the show goes on, the rural idyll will make way for the buzz of urban Britain. A troupe of NHS nurses will take centre stage, and as athletes parade around the stadium, their route will reflect the flow of the North Circular – a famously traffic-packed road skirting central London.

If this vision of Britain seems unusual, the audience can thank the man behind it – film director Danny Boyle. He thinks it is impossible to display a unified national identity in a three hour show. Instead, his ceremony has something for everyone – a playful pick of the best of British.

Boyle’s real inspiration comes from the opening words of The Tempest – ‘be not afeard; the isle is full of noises’. The Shakespearean line evokes the beauty of an island’s different voices – and celebrates the exciting variety of modern Britain.

But the eccentric vision has a lot to live up to. Four years ago, the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics was hailed as the greatest ever seen. Over 14,000 performers – many recruited from the army – played out the entire course of Chinese history. A human Great Wall made way for a parade of the nation’s greatest inventions, and a 16-tonne globe, tumbling with acrobats, represented the country’s achievements in space exploration.

This was much more than entertainment. China is a superpower on the rise, and the Olympic ceremony was a chance to assert its might and sophistication to the world. With the ceremony’s spectacular fireworks display, Beijing marched on to the world stage.

A grand vision?

Some think London’s eccentric plan will not live up to Beijing’s show. The ceremony, they say, should celebrate world-changing inventions, glorious military victories and artistic geniuses. These great achievements create a real sense of national pride. A few cows and a rain-soaked motorway do not.

Others disagree. National identity, they say, comes from things people experience every day. Rainy bank holidays, friendly cornershops and a dry sense of humour make Britain unique. The opening ceremony should celebrate this quirky reality – not a grand vision of power and heritage.

You Decide

  1. Should the Olympic ceremony celebrate everyday Britain, or bold, glorious achievements?
  2. What things give your country its ‘national identity’?


  1. Plan your own Olympic opening ceremony. What parts of national culture and identity do you choose to celebrate.
  2. Read the opening speech fromThe Tempest. In groups, discuss how the words might relate to modern Britain.

Some People Say...

“Britain has nothing to show off about.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Sounds great! How do I get tickets?
Unfortunately, no tickets are available from the official Olympic ticket shop – and only very expensive hospitality tickets can be found elsewhere. Tickets for the closing ceremony and a few sports, like football, are still available.
Can I volunteer or perform?
Rehearsals are already well under way. Over 10,000 volunteers will help out at the games; and 15,000 performers have already taken part in a total of 157 rehearsals
Can I watch it on TV?
Absolutely. The live broadcast of the ceremony will begin at 9pm on July 27th. All over the UK, it will be broadcast on big screens – similar to those that showed the Jubilee concerts and processions. One billion people watched Beijing’s ceremony – and the team behind London hope to increase that.

Word Watch

Every year, thousands of people flock to Worthy Farm in Somerset, England, for Glastonbury – an annual festival of music and arts. Hundreds of acts perform, and headliners have included Beyoncé, Radiohead and Stevie Wonder. Today, over 150,000 people attend each year; organisers are taking a break for 2012, but the party will return in 2013.
Danny Boyle
The man responsible for the opening ceremony rose to fame as the director of Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire. The films were praised for their powerful visual evocations – of the council estates of Edinburgh and slums of Mumbai. Boyle has compared the process of planning the opening ceremony to directing a film – he says he hopes to create a ‘cinematic’ experience, with the display unfolding like a film.
The Tempest
One of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, The Tempest tells the story of a remote island, populated by strange characters and full of mystery and magic. The ‘isle of wonders’ speech is made by Caliban: an outsider and slave who has a deep and complicated relationship with the island.
Nation’s greatest inventions
China has made an incredible contribution to human development. Gunpowder, paper, the compass and typesetting – a process of storing and designing fonts which led to the development of printing – were all invented in China. All were spectacularly celebrated in the Beijing 2008 ceremony.


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