Stylist.co.uk’s Online Editorial Assistant Lauren Smith went along to the Paralympics Opening Ceremony and left feeling moved, dazzled and inspired.
Like most of the country, I ended those two weeks of Olympic fever feeling proud (especially of our medal-winning women) emotionally broken (from all the crying), hoarse (from screaming at the TV), and a mix of confusion and despair (What was I going to watch obsessively now? Could I ever get Jess Ennis’s abs? Could I somehow find a way to befriend Clare Balding?). I become a fully-fledged Olympic addict, going to bed at 2am every night after watching the BBC’s amazing iplayer coverage, timing my triathlon training trips to the gym with major events so I could watch as I ran or cycled, and hurling a shoe at the TV with disdain once it was all over and all I was left with was Celeb BB and TOWIE.
But I knew sporting salvation was at hand – there would be plenty of inspiring athletes, moving stories and great TV to watch – I just had to wait two whole weeks for the Paralympic.
So you can imagine how happy I was when I found out that a) My parents had got me and my boyfriend tickets to the athletics and b) I would be going to the Opening Ceremony, with tickets courtesy of Glacéau vitaminwater, the worldwide partner of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, as an official sponsor.
Despite my Olympics obsession, I didn’t bid for tickets because a year ago I thought the ticket system was insane and I didn’t have enough money in my account to pay if I ended up with 30 top level tickets to the women’s beach volleyball. So I had never even been to the Olympic Park. I was excited, and made my boyfriend get there ridiculously early so we could soak up the atmosphere/realise I was freezing and would need to buy a Team GB hoodie, stock up on drink and food, and get through security (which took approx. 2 minutes – I over-estimated somewhat on that).
With a tasty Spinach and Feta pie and cider in hand, and not an empty seat in the stadium, we were lucky enough to watch the whole four hour gala on the theme of ‘enlightenment’ (in science, art and our perception of disability) uninterrupted by the adverts that were enraging my twitter feed.
You’ve probably seen the ceremony already, and if you haven’t – do try and watch it on catch up! So instead of recounting the events word for word, here are my personal highlights, as a spectator in the crowd, from the night:
The athletes’ parade
A lot of people went off to get food and snacks during the hour-long athletes’ parade. We stayed in our seats to enjoy guessing which country was going to come out next (turns out there a lot more countries at the beginning of the Alphabet), think up different dance moves to each song on the DJ set (an excellent way to keep warm) to give an extra-large cheer for teams with only one athlete, and the legend from the Brazil team who was taking pictures from his wheelchair with an iPad and a Guide dog getting a lift around the track by a Belgian team member in his wheelchair. When Team GB came out, the roar was deafening, and the combination of seeing our team so excited, Heroes pumping out on the sound-system and confetti falling from the sky meant my Olympic tearfulness came flooding back. Best of all, they had the parade early on so all the athletes had a front row seat to the main part of the show.
Behind every seat was a little screen of pixels – which we were told to call “Para Pixels” for the ceremony –which created an amazing light show.
Upon entering the stadium, everyone was given an apple, which we made the mistake of ignoring for a better place in the pie queue. Little did we know the apples were part of the enlightenment theme, honouring Sir Isaac Newton and his method of testing the theory of gravity. Apples were everywhere – inflatable ones were thrown around by dancers, a huge one, spinning in the centre of the stadium, was ridden by a performer in a wheelchair, and the whole crowd was instructed to take a bite of their apples to create the 'world’s loudest apple crunch'. A cleverly interwoven theme, and a nice alternative to pies, fish and chips and McDonalds.
The Bond alternative
Yes, the Olympics had the ‘Queen’ and James Bond skydiving, but the Paralympics had Lance Corporal Dave Rawlins, a British Army officer recovering from wounds suffered in Afghanistan, and trained to fly by disability charity Aerobility - who we saw on the TV screen, and then in real life as he flew a twin-engined Tecnam P2006 light aircraft over the stadium to mark the start of the ceremony.
Sir Ian McKellen reading Shakespeare, Stephen Hawking taking centre stage as a scientific genius, a 430-strong deaf choir singing God Save the Queen, an aerial ballet starring an amputee and Tanni Grey-Thompson being lowered from the ceiling in a golden wheelchair, Beverley Knight’s moving rendition of I am What I Am (which the audience were taught to sign along to) – I hope Boris was dancing as emphatically to this as he did to the Spice Girls.
A huge shout out must go to the volunteers, who tirelessly danced in the aisles, with the athletes during the parade and as we were running for the tube. They waved glow sticks, displayed impressive choreographed dance moves (that involved some basketball shooting and the ‘cardboard box’ stacking dance manoeuvre) with endless energy and they played “So long, farewell” from The Sound Of Music as we left. Truly amazing.
The torch lighting
I knew the torch lighting section of the ceremony was going to be impressive, but to have Former Royal Marine Joe Townsend (who’d had his legs blown off in combat) lowered through the air carrying the Olympic flame, followed by David Clarke (the five-a-side footballer who taught David Beckham how to play blind football), and THEN the torch itself lit by Margaret Maughan ( the winner of a gold medal in the first Paralympics in Rome )– it was the fitting end to an unrelenting, action-packed show.
Marc Quinn's Alison Lapper Pregnant
Our whole row took a huge breath when this striking, huge recreation of the sculpture was revealed at the end of the gala. Co-artistic director Jenny Sealey had said of the ceremony that it was a chance for disabled people to “not be hidden any more” – this sculpture was that statement writ loud and large.
"Prepare to be inspired, prepare to be dazzled, prepare to be moved” was what Sebastian Coe said in his opening speech to huge cheers from the audience. Those words are certainly fitting for the ceremony, which did exactly what it should – celebrate disabled people and their abilities. The budget was smaller, the spectacle no less impressive. No wonder a billion people from around the world tuned in, and Channel 4 got their best ratings for 10 years. I was privileged to attend, and I am even more excited for the Games to begin.
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Picture credits: Author's photos and Getty Images