Tuesday, 26 July 2016
Isles of Brexit
Everyone said the show would not be as extravagant or spectacular as Beijing in 2008. It wasn't.
The press also uniformly said it would be embarrassingly awful. It wasn't.
Instead the director of Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire delivered a show that was quirky, creative, amusing, touching and progressive.
After Bradley Wiggins rang the great bell, the Industrial Revolution literally burst out of England's Green and Pleasant Land to the sound of a thousand drummers. It brought with it a new industrial working class, the Suffragettes, the horrors of Great War and immigration on the Empire Windrush, until the fifth Olympic ring rose out of the smoke, seemingly forged in the sweat and blood of two hundred years of history. It was an immensely powerful moment.
James Bond and a stunt double made the arrival of the Her Majesty interesting, for a change, in a section that is worth watching again if only for the look on Daniel Craig's face when he appears to be wondering what the hell is going on. A choir of deaf children sung God Save the Queen, then, to the theme tune of The Exorcist and narration by J K Rowling, a host of villains from children's fiction appeared to threaten the staff and patients of the NHS. Mary Poppins drops in to rescue everyone, and then it was Mr Bean helping the London Philharmonic play Vangelis' theme tune to Chariots of Fire.
Next we had a medley of pop and rock hits from the sixties to the noughties, complete with pogoing
punks, twisted firestarters and all, as a background to a story of multi-racial romance during a night out on the town, which in turn was just a prelude to introducing to the world Tim Berners-Lee, the man who invented the internet, and then gave it away for free.
There was more: a spectacular modern dance to an acappella version of Abide with Me, the Arctic Monkey's, flying bicycles, David Beckham and a starting attractive female footballer on a boat, Paul McCartney and the amazing 204 piece Olympic Torch. Somewhere along the way some athletes came in too, but I went to get some supper at that point.
London had welcomed the world to the biggest party of the year. With the help of 9000 volunteers we had celebrated being the nation that had given the world an industrial revolution, a musical revolution and an information revolution. We had shown we were at peace with our history, comfortable with diversity and proud of our health service, our popular music and our children's stories.
Everyone was happy.
Or almost everyone. Conservative MP Aidan Burley, a man who likes to attend Nazi-themes parties, called it "leftie multicultural crap", but he was a lonely voice on Twitter that night.
Fast forward four years and though, and that summer evening seems like it took place in a different country.
Events like these move to a different rhythm to the electoral cycles. Just as New Labour inherited the Tory's Millennium Dome, an empty shed which they filled with an exhibition designed by a committee, so it was the ConDems that inherited the event that Labour had brought to London. They tried to remove the NHS section and replace it with fighting Hitler, but Boyle stood his ground. Boris's intervention gave the Olympics a White Elephant of a stadium and erased the affordable houses. Finally infamous private security company G4S cocked up big style and the army had to be brought in to provide security.
When it all ended, with an almost equally amazing steampunk and Druidic paralympic closing ceremony, spending £9 billion pounds playing games in east London didn't seem quite as mad as it had done a month or so earlier.
But whatever the benefits to the nation were, they have been totally swallowed by the austerity that followed. At the top level English sport is doing well, but at the bottom our schools are home to some of the least fit, and least happy, children in the world. The NHS is in crisis.
Then there was Brexit. Outside of London, it appeared, a majority of people would prefer to wallow in hubris of lost imperial glory rather than have an immigrant for a neighbour.
Poor old Danny Boyle. He had pulled off a blinder, an artistic event that will be remembered when the sporting triumphs are forgotten, but alas neither art, nor sport, can really change the world.
Progress will continue, I hope, but England has left the party.
Watch the ceremony in full here.