Rumour has it that the BBC did not bid for the Paralympic Games because it did not think there would be enough interest in it from the public.
After all, precedence has shown that these Games, involving athletes with a disability, have been the poor relation of the Olympic Games, always in its shadow, like an afterthought, a sop to the 'equalities' lobby, lacking their own identity. Minority Channel 4 got the Games instead and that was the best thing that happened, as it turned out.
Yes, we had a commercial channel which had to break now and then for the adverts, and that can be annoying when you are used to wall to wall uninterrupted coverage of big events. But the real benefit was that commercial TV got in on the act too, the BBC didn't hog the Olympics for itself, and the public were treated to an unexpected and phenomenal display of talent from a different perspective which just defied words in the description.
Big Bang Start
It was a stroke of genius on the designers' part (Jenny Sealey and Bradley Hemmings) to have the brilliant disabled British scientist, 70 year old Stephen Hawking, as the guide and centrepiece of an Opening Ceremony which linked scientific discovery, human rights and creativity so seamlessly. Diagnosed at 21 years old with motor neurone disease, he has spent most of his life in a wheelchair. He fitted the Ceremony like a glove, as his computerised running commentary kept the theme of the night - Enlightenment - buoyant with scientific and artistic symbolisms - Isaac Newton's discovery of gravity and the ubiquitous apple, for example.
The Paralympic Games Ceremony opened with the symbolic big bang of the formation of our Universe. From then on, the 62,000 members of the public in the Olympic Stadium, and the billion viewers around the world, were in for a visual treat, participating in a spectacular journey through the theme of learning and developing beyond boundaries. The evening's programme celebrated what the organisers called "the empowering possibilities of ideas, science and creativity", with a little bit of Shakespeare (The Tempest) thrown in for good measure, performed by Sir Ian McKellen and the character 'Miranda', undertaking her own voyage of discovery.
The Umbrella Takes Centre Stage
With an emphasis on the central place of science and discovery in our world, and with the iconic British umbrella as its symbolic centrepiece, the Opening Ceremony was synonymous with endeavour without limits or boundaries. Flying performers and athletes, unrestricted by physical disabilities, used umbrellas as protection, as means to ends and as artistic visual impact to illustrate what was possible with both imagination and determination. The colourful, vibrant Athletes' Parade was followed by the arrival of the Olympic Flame as a disabled veteran soldier, Joe Townsend, was winched on a zip line from the Orbit sculpture across to the middle of the Olympic Stadium, handing the Torch to David Clarke, a visually-impaired footballer, who passed it to the final Torchbearer, Margaret Maughan, the first gold medallist in the Paralympic Games in Rome 1960, to light the Paralympic cauldron.
It was all very moving, very tearful stuff. A night when many perceptions about the limitations of being disabled would have been blown away by the spectacle of hope, promise and possibilities unfolding in front of our eyes. Whatever we might have thought of the Paralympic Games before, and the participants (as shown by sountries like America that did not show the Ceremony), this event blasted that to pieces, just like the symbolic glass ceiling that Miranda broke at the end of the performance. By the end of the Opening Ceremony, the Paralympic Games, after being the poor relative of the Olympics for the past 60 years, had arrived in fine style in their own right, making an impact that will live long in the memory.
Look up to the stars and not down at your feet!
As Professor Hawking said: “The Paralympic Games is about transforming our perception of the world. We are all different, there is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being, but we share the human spirit. What is important is that we have the ability to create. This creativity can take many forms, from physical achievement to theoretical physics. However difficult life may seem there is always something you can do, and succeed at. Look up to the stars and not down at your feet.”
Indeed, as 4,000 talented athletes, unfettered by mental barriers of incapacity, from 164 countries, will demonstrate forcefully over the next 11 days when the Games themselves take centre stage. Potent images for me were the colourful banner carriers with their beautiful dresses made from the flags of each country; the flying athletes; the umbrella ship caught in the storm, the lone Torch bearer arriving overhead and the fireworks that lit up the stadium and our hearts.
I wouldn't have missed it for the world! Another proud night for Britain.
Day 1 Activity to be Enjoyed (11 sporting events)
Cycling (Track) (Gold Medal Event)
Judo (Gold Medal)
Powerlifting (Gold Medal)
Shooting (Gold Medal)
Swimming (Gold Medal)
London2012.com (Opening Ceremony)