Pride, joy, wonder – they were all emotions that coursed through me as I watched the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games in the Olympic Stadium.
I was lucky enough to get a last-minute ticket to the show, and I’m so glad I did – it’s an experience I hope never to forget.
From the moment I walked into the Stadium and was stunned by its size and the riot of colour that made up the stage for the main show to the moment I left, surrounded by a sea of people on a high from what they’d just seen, every moment was close to perfect (despite the cold).
Months ago, when it was announced the opening ceremony would be titled Enlightenment I met and briefly interviewed Jenny Sealey and Bradley Hemmings, co-artistic directors of the show.
Both of them said something that has stuck in my mind ever since – that they didn’t want people to watch the show and go: “Wow, wasn’t that an amazing show for a group of people with disabilities?” Instead, they wanted people to watch the show and go: “Wow, wasn’t that an amazing show?”
Well, they succeeded, at least in my mind. I was stunned by the scenes I saw last night, from people flying in on umbrellas to the performers swinging dangerously back and forth on the sway poles to the performance of Spasticus Autisticus (a personal favourite moment) to Professor Stephen Hawking wowing the crowd with his words, challenging us to challenge our own preconceptions and to reach for the stars.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew many of the performers in the opening ceremony were disabled, but watching in the Stadium, where I could either look at the action as a whole in front of me or in bits on the television screen, I had little concept of which of the dancers or singers or actors had missing limbs or were deaf or partially sighted. To me, they all just looked like a group of phenomenally talented people.
Talent was found in abundance. I loved the performances of Spirit in Motion and Eternal Source of Light Divine, with the singers of each causing the hairs on the back of my neck to stand on end. As a keen reader, the sequence with all the books made me extremely happy, and seeing all the talented performers who took on aerial work for the show made me gasp.
Of course, at times Hemmings and Sealey’s vision to enlighten people about disabled people couldn’t be avoided, but it was always done well, and at times with great energy, as when performers took to the stage to sing Ian Dury’s disability anthem Spasticus Autisticus.
No one watching can have been unaffected by what they saw, especially as thousands of athletes from 164 countries made their way round the Stadium, clearly ecstatic to be in front of such an enthusiatic crowd. Particularly moving was ParalympicsGB’s entrance, when we all surged to our feet as one in the audience and cheered the team the whole way round, waving and clapping and hollering, and hoping we’d get a wave back.
Hemmings and Sealey put together a brilliantly crafted show, which contained humour and anger and hope and beauty, and succeeded in Professor Hawking’s mission to get us all to look at the stars. As we did, we said: “Wow, wasn’t that an amazing show?”