Olympics opening ceremony: great in parts, but surprisingly parochial


The opening ceremony was a bit of a grab-bag, wasn’t it? I thought some of it was great, some was rather bad and quite a lot of it will mystify the foreign TV viewers (95 per cent of the audience) who it was supposed to dazzle.

Things I liked: Thomas Heatherwick’s Olympic cauldron, a brilliantly imaginative reworking of the old flame. The Queen allegedly parachuting from a helicopter. The Mr Bean turn in the Chariots of Fire sequence – nicely self-mocking and also very translatable. The forging and coming together of the Olympic rings.

Some of the rest was bitty and disjointed; the sub-mobile-phone advert style of the digital section was particularly weak. It was more political than I expected. Voldemort loomed over the NHS. Tonight marked perhaps its final transformation from a healthcare system into a religion. Dancers made up the CND symbol. The Royal Family looked bored, but the new Right-On Royal Family – Doreen Lawrence and Shami Chakrabarti – got to carry the Olympic flag.

The NHS segment in particular underlined how surprisingly parochial this ceremony was. The idea of the Health Service as a beacon for the world is, bluntly, a national self-delusion. Most other Western European countries have better state healthcare systems – and healthier people – than we do. Does the average Chinese person even know what the letters stand for?

But I suppose the whole Olympics is in a broader sense parochial. Three weeks ago, I was in Libya witnessing that country’s first free election in sixty years: an end, or at least a beginning of the end, to decades of madness and tyranny which killed tens of thousands and blighted the lives of millions. To borrow the words of tonight’s over-excited TV commentators, that really was an inspirational and historic moment. Tonight, by contrast, was just a show.

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