Chris Blackhurst: There's nothing remotely 'leftie' about celebrating immigration and the NHS
Danny Boyle's Opening Ceremony was dismissed as 'leftie, multicultural crap' by right-wing Tory MP Aidan Burley. Chris Blackhurst, who was there, insists nothing could be further from the truth
Chris Blackhurst writes regular columns for The Independent, i and The Independent on Sunday, and conducts weekly interviews for London Live TV. Blackhurst was City Editor of the Evening Standard for nine years, before becoming Editor of The Independent for two years. He was then promoted to Group Content Director, and in September 2014 he took on the multi-media business role. He’s won numerous awards for his journalism.
Monday 30 July 2012
Rarely have I been to an event so consistently captivating. All that, and not the slightest dip in energy and visual delight. I'm not sure why I was there – because Seb Coe invited me, I suppose, the same as other editors I noticed in the crowd.
But I'd also written articles, questioning of the Games and the objectives of Britain's bid and whether they were truly attainable. Always, though, I'd stressed that the idea of putting on this feast of sport in my home country was something I'd never thought possible – not in my lifetime, not after we'd held the Olympics twice previously. For the sake of my children alone, I thought the idea of London 2012 to be marvellous.
Was this Lord Coe's way of saying thank you? In which case I want to express my gratitude to him and to Paul Deighton and the rest of his organising team: Britain feels like a different place today. Perhaps that mood is temporary but after all the negativity and sourness of the past few years, even a two-week break is to be seized upon. There's no doubt, too, that the Opening Ceremony played a huge part in setting the tone. Get it wrong and the bile would have been all-consuming. As it was, Danny Boyle and his colleagues did more than get it right.
It ached with cleverness, wit, invention and subversion. The moment I knew it was going to be different was when we were asked, in the warm-up, to take hold of the small square, wired boxes in front of us and wave them in the air. Suddenly, the stadium was transformed into a sea of light and colour. We were part of the performance. It was genius. As was the rural idyll that opened proceedings, complete with real sheep and real geese. I was drawn to the cricket match just in front of us. They really were playing – it was a proper ball, the bowlers were bowling and the batsmen were hitting.
People around us constantly tapped the person next to them or murmured, pointing out something they'd just spotted. The detail was spellbinding.
So it went on, through the Industrial Revolution, the NHS, Mary Poppins, James Bond, the suburban house and "the party back at mine".
Not everyone appeared to be impressed: on my right, my neighbour, who seemed to be from Iran, was bored and bemused. Similarly, on my wife's left, the lean gentleman smiled only during the Rowan Atkinson sequence.
Did I think was being preached to? Was I aware that the director was ramming his vision of a leftie Nirvana down all our throats? Yes to both. Did I mind? Not in the least.
We got the reference to the health service as soon as the hospital beds arrived. To make sure that everyone understood, the letters "NHS" flashed up. In front, the Americans – there, thanks to sports clothing firm – applauded.
Of course, there are problems with the NHS but that evening was not for them – it was the idea of the institution, with its universal values, that we were celebrating. As we did as well, with the worldwide web, another Brit creation, and the Spinning Jenny and the steam engine.
Boyle is a Northerner, like me. We're of similar age and we hail from industrial towns. An awful lot of what he produced found a ready resonance in myself. We both grew up in places where the factory was king and the fear of unemployment and memories of the Thirties depression never dimmed, even in the era of pop music and comfy Saturday nights around the telly.
Yes, to the fury of at least one Tory MP, there were several nods towards multiculturalism. It makes you wonder what they think Britain is, those who are so easily offended. For swathes of the population, not those perhaps in the stockbroker belt or secure in their gated communities, those of different ethnic origin living side by side is how it is – not least in the East End of London, site of the Olympic Park.
There are tensions, as there are with the NHS, but again it's something we do relatively well compared to many of the nations parading their athletes round the giant bowl. To deny so, is to deny who we are.
There could have been more use of words, more acknowledgment of our contributions to the arts and our faith in individual liberty. But this was an occasion for television, more than those lucky enough to be present. Anyone, even our companions on the left and right, could not have failed to have got the message: Britain, headed by its Queen, knows how to have fun.
It's what sets us apart, what other countries can only aspire to and what, ultimately, you suspect, after the guff about legacy and regeneration was absorbed, won us the chance to host the Games in the first place.
For reminding us of that – and for making us smile, albeit briefly – Boyle unquestioningly triumphed.
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