11m tune in to Paralympic Games opening ceremony


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The Independent Online

The Paralympic opening ceremony provided "a reflection of all impairment groups", organisers said today, after the Games started in spectacular style at the Olympic Stadium last night.

Some 62,000 spectators and a television audience of more than 11 million people watched the curtain-raiser to the Games, which featured thousands of entertainers and athletes from across the world.

There were starring roles for the Queen, Professor Stephen Hawking and a double amputee Afghan war veteran who stunned the crowd by riding a zip wire into the stadium.

Sir Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), and London 2012 chair Lord Coe addressed the packed crowd as they celebrated the homecoming of the Games, which trace their origin back to Stoke Mandeville, in Buckinghamshire, in 1948.

Craig Spence, the IPC's director of media and communications, said today: "It gave a reflection of all impairment groups and I think it showed how far the Paralympic movement has come.

"It had global appeal in Stephen Hawking. I thought his narration of the ceremony was fantastic. Every word he said meant something.

"I think there was a line in Sir Philip's speech that said the Paralympics will make you reassess how you think about yourself and how you think about others. I think Stephen Hawking's words did that as well."

Those in the Olympic Stadium and millions more across the world watched as Joe Townsend, 24, who lost both legs as a Royal Marine in Afghanistan, flew in on a zip wire to start the sequence that lit the Paralympic cauldron.

After his breathtaking descent, he handed the flame to David Clarke, a member of the ParalympicsGB five-a-side football team, who in turn passed it to Margaret Maughan, winner of Great Britain's first Paralympic gold medal at the 1960 Rome Games, who lit the cauldron.

In another ceremony that showed the world Britain's creativity - and eccentricity - there were stunning special moments, including a sign language choir performing the national anthem and a section in which six Paralympians led by Baroness Grey-Thompson were flown into the stadium in gold wheelchairs.

The ceremony heralded the start of 11 days of elite sporting action featuring athletes from across the world and before sell-out crowds who have made this the most successful Paralympic Games in history.

Prof Hawking and actor Sir Ian McKellen played prominent roles in the opening ceremony, which also featured a host of deaf and disabled artists, local children and performers newly trained in circus skills.

The Games were officially opened by the Queen, who said in a statement released in advance: "It is with tremendous pride that the people of London and the United Kingdom welcome the world to the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

"The Games are returning to the country where they first began, more than 60 years ago.

"We look forward to celebrating the uplifting spirit which distinguishes the Paralympic Games from other events, drawing on Britain's unique sporting heritage."

Prof 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 same 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."

Among the members of ParalympicsGB was Martine Wright, who was horribly injured in the 7/7 bombings and fought her way back to fitness to win a place in the sitting volleyball team.

As she went into the stadium. she said: "It's just absolutely amazing that I'm finally here.

"This has really got me through and when I walk through that stadium I feel like I will have come a full circle and feel so lucky."

Yesterday the Paralympic Flame was greeted by large crowds as it made its way past some of the most famous landmarks in the capital.

Five torchbearers arrived at the zebra crossing outside Abbey Road recording studios to recreate the pose made famous by the Beatles.

The torch also visited London Zoo, Regent Street, Trafalgar Square and Whitehall on its journey to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford.

Demand for tickets to the Games is still high and 10,000 will be put on sale each day during the event.

London 2012 chief executive Paul Deighton said: "We've tried to get as many people in as we reasonably can. This is a wonderful illustration of how the British public have said we love the Paralympics and want to be part of it."

Prime Minister David Cameron said of the Games: "They will create new role models, they will change attitudes to disability and they will have a positive impact on society."

Paralympic athletes will compete for 503 gold medals across 20 sports during the London Games, with competitions that started today.