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British brilliance: With royalty and rock, Britain opens its Olympics

Published: Thursday, July 2 2015 9:10 p.m. MDT

North Korea's Olympic team circles the arena during the Opening Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Friday, July 27, 2012, in London.  (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man) (Associated Press) North Korea's Olympic team circles the arena during the Opening Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Friday, July 27, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man) (Associated Press)

LONDON — The queen and James Bond gave the London Olympics a royal entrance like no other Friday in an opening ceremony that rolled to the rock of the Beatles, the Stones and The Who.

And the creative genius of Danny Boyle spliced it all together.

Brilliant. Cheeky, too.

The highlight of the Oscar-winning director's $42 million show was pure movie magic, using trickery to make it seem that Britain's beloved 86-year-old Queen Elizabeth II had parachuted into the stadium with the nation's most famous spy.

A short film showed Daniel Craig as 007 driving to Buckingham Palace in a black London cab and, pursued by the royal corgis, meeting the queen, who played herself.

Fireworks explode above the iconic Tower Bridge over the River Thames in central London on Friday. (Associated Press) Fireworks explode above the iconic Tower Bridge over the River Thames in central London on Friday. (Associated Press)

"Good evening, Mr. Bond," she said.

They were shown flying in a helicopter over London landmarks and a waving statue of Winston Churchill — the queen in a salmon-colored dress, Bond dashing as ever in a black tuxedo — before leaping into the inky night over Olympic Park.

At the same moment, real skydivers appeared as the stadium throbbed to the James Bond theme. And moments after that, the monarch appeared in person, accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip.

Organizers said it was thought to be the first time she has acted on film.

"The queen made herself more accessible than ever before," Boyle said.

In the stadium, Elizabeth stood solemnly while a children's choir serenaded her with "God Save the Queen," and members of the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force raised the Union Jack.

A giant figure during the Opening Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Friday, July 27, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev) (Associated Press) A giant figure during the Opening Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Friday, July 27, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev) (Associated Press)

Boyle sprang another giant surprise and picked seven teenage athletes for the supreme honor of igniting the Olympic cauldron. Together, they touched flaming torches to trumpetlike tubes that spread into a ring of fire.

The flames rose and joined elegantly together to form the cauldron. Fireworks erupted over the stadium to music from Pink Floyd. And with a singalong of "Hey Jude," Beatle Paul McCartney closed a show that ran 45 minutes beyond its scheduled three hours.

Organizers said the cauldron would be moved Sunday night to the corner of the stadium where a giant bell tolled during the show.

Boyle turned the stadium into a giant juke box, with a nonstop rock and pop homage to cool Britannia that ensured the show never caught its breath.

The high-adrenaline soundtrack veered from classical to irreverent. Boyle daringly included the Sex Pistols' "Pretty Vacant" and a snippet of its version of "God Save the Queen" — an anti-establishment punk anthem once banned by the BBC.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, center, is flanked by Britain's Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and IOC President Jacques Rogge, left, as she attends the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Summer Games at the Olympic Stadium in London, Friday, July 27, 2012. (AP Photo/Toby Melville, Pool) (Associated Press) Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, center, is flanked by Britain's Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and IOC President Jacques Rogge, left, as she attends the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Summer Games at the Olympic Stadium in London, Friday, July 27, 2012. (AP Photo/Toby Melville, Pool) (Associated Press)

The encyclopedic review of modern British music continued with a 1918 Broadway standard adopted by the West Ham football team, the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and "Bohemian Rhapsody," by still another Queen, and other tracks too numerous to mention, but not to dance to.

The evening started with fighter jets streaming red, white and blue smoke and roaring over the stadium, packed with a buzzing crowd of 60,000 people, at 8:12 p.m. — or 20:12 in the 24-hour time observed by Britons.

Boyle, one of Britain's most successful filmmakers, who directed "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Trainspotting," had a ball with his favored medium, mixing filmed passages with live action in the stadium to hypnotic effect, with 15,000 volunteers taking part in the show.

Actor Rowan Atkinson as "Mr. Bean" provided laughs, shown dreaming that he was appearing in "Chariots of Fire," the inspiring story of a Scotsman and an Englishman at the 1924 Paris Games.

Artists perform during the Opening Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Friday, July 27, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/David Goldman) (Associated Press) Artists perform during the Opening Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Friday, July 27, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/David Goldman) (Associated Press)

Headlong rushes of movie images took spectators on wondrous, heart-racing voyages through everything British: a cricket match, the London Tube and the roaring, abundant seas that buffet and protect this island nation.

Opening the ceremony, children popped balloons with each number from 10 to 1, leading a countdown that climaxed with Bradley Wiggins, the newly crowned Tour de France champion.

Wearing his yellow winner's jersey, Wiggins rang a 23-ton Olympic Bell from the same London foundry that made Big Ben and Philadelphia's Liberty Bell. Its thunderous chime was a nod to the British tradition of pealing bells to celebrate the end of war and the crowning of kings and queens, and now for the opening of a 17-day festival of sports — London's record third as host.

The show then shifted to a portrayal of idyllic rural Britain — a place of meadows, farms, sport on village greens, picnics and Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne's bear who has delighted generations of British children tucked warmly in bed.

Artists perform during the Opening Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Friday, July 27, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev) (Associated Press) Artists perform during the Opening Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Friday, July 27, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev) (Associated Press)

But that "green and pleasant land," to quote poet William Blake, then took a darker, grittier turn.

The set was literally torn asunder, the hedgerows and farm fences carried away, as Boyle shifted to the industrial transformation that revolutionized Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries, the foundation for an empire that reshaped world history. Belching chimneys rose where only moments earlier sheep had trod.

The Industrial Revolution also produced terrifying weapons, and Boyle built a moment of hush into his show to honor those killed in war.

"This is not specific to a country. This is across all countries, and the fallen from all countries are celebrated and remembered," he explained to reporters ahead of the ceremony.

"Because, obviously, one of the penalties of this incredible force of change that happened in a hundred years was the industrialization of war, and the fallen," he said. "You know, millions fell."

Fireworks light up the Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremonies for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.  (Associated Press) Fireworks light up the Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremonies for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. (Associated Press)

The parade of nations featured most of the roughly 10,500 athletes — some planned to stay away to save their strength for competition — marching behind the flags of the 204 nations taking part.

Greece had the lead, as the spiritual home of the games, and Team Great Britain was last, as host. Prince William and his wife, Kate, joined in thunderous applause that greeted the British team, which marched to the David Bowie track "Heroes." A helicopter showered the athletes and stadium with 7 billion tiny pieces of paper — one for each person on Earth.

Both Bahrain and Brunei featured female flagbearers in what has been called the Olympics' Year of the Woman. For the first time at the games, each national delegation includes women, and a record 45 percent of the athletes are women. Three Saudi women marching behind the men in their delegation flashed victory signs with their fingers.

The Olympic cauldron burns after being lit during the Opening Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Saturday, July 28, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) (Associated Press) The Olympic cauldron burns after being lit during the Opening Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Saturday, July 28, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) (Associated Press)

"This is a major boost for gender equality," said the International Olympic Committee president, Jacques Rogge. These are his last games as head of the IOC. He steps down in 2013 after completing the maximum two terms.

Rogge honored the "great, sports-loving country" of Britain as "the birthplace of modern sport," and he appealed to the thousands of athletes assembled before him for fair play.

"Character counts far more than medals. Reject doping. Respect your opponents. Remember that you are all role models. If you do that, you will inspire a generation," Rogge said.

The queen then said: "I declare open the games of London, celebrating the 30th Olympiad of the modern era."

Former world heavyweight champion and 1960 Rome Olympic gold medalist Muhammad Ali was cheered when he appeared briefly with his wife, Lonnie, before the Olympic flag was unfurled.

The Olympic rings are illuminated with pyrotechnics as they are raised above the stadium during the Opening Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Friday, July 27, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) (Associated Press) The Olympic rings are illuminated with pyrotechnics as they are raised above the stadium during the Opening Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Friday, July 27, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) (Associated Press)

Some 8,000 torchbearers, mostly unheralded Britons, had carried the flame on a 70-day, 8,000-mile journey from toe to tip of the British Isles, whipping up enthusiasm for the Games.

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