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London 2012: Cows take the stage in Olympic Games Opening Ceremony


Real sheep, real cows, real horses, real grass, real ploughing and two battling mosh pits are to open the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony.

At Three Mills Studios, in east London, ceremony director Danny Boyle unveiled a model of the beginning of his £27m project. It is, he said, “the green and pleasant land. It is something that still exists, and something that cries out to all of us like a childhood memory.”

At one end of the stadium is a giant replica of Glastonbury Tor, the famous pagan hill in Somerset, plonked directly on top of the seats. Below it is a ‘Glastonbury style mosh pit’, to be filled with as yet unselected members of the public. At the other end will be a second mosh pit, which will be “more like the last night of the proms.”

“We hope the two mosh pits will do battle with each other,” he said. At the proms end will also be suspended the giant bell, “the biggest harmonically tuned bell in the world,” which has recently been completed by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, and installed in the stadium last week. “When they ring it, you can hear it all around the Olympic Park,” Mr Boyle said.

“The 1948 games brought to London nations that had been at war. The bells weren’t rung during the war. They rang to announce the peace. So we will begin our ceremony with a symbol of peace,” he added.

Four cotton wool clouds sat above Mr Boyle’s model, one of which he said rather enigmatically, “will have rain coming out of it”.

Four huge maypoles , which children will dance around, sit on the in field, one each of which is topped with a giant rose, daffodil, thistle, and flax, to represent the four home nations.

Where the Olympic cauldron is to sit is, he said, “one of the pieces of the puzzle.” Where Her Majesty the Queen fits in – rumours abound of her having filmed an opening James Bond sequence with Daniel Craig at Buckingham Palace – is also “part of the puzzle.”

The opening decidedly bucolic scenes are decidedly Jerusalem-esque. Fitting then, that Mark Rylance is expected to read the lines from Shakespeare’s The Tempest that have inspired the ceremony. “Be not afeared. The isle is of full of noises. Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.”

Mr Boyle said some of the challenges came from “the struggle between spectators and television viewers.” He said he wanted the show to “feel spectacular, but also warmer.”

Underworld are currently mixing the music for the ceremony, Sir Paul McCartney has said he is closing the show, but little is known still about the music of the show. “There will be lots of music,” said Mr Boyle. “But it is not a pop concert.”

At least 10,000 people are involved in the ceremony, thousands of which are volunteers. There are now, we know, 120 animals to add to that list. “They’ll be treated very well,” Mr Boyle assured. “Far better than the volunteers.”

“Before I started this, I had only a wooly ideal of the Olympic Dream,” he said. “It’s been battered about a bit now but the volunteers most beautifully express this Olympic ideal. They give up their time for free. Some of them have got a lot of spare time because they haven’t got jobs, some of them haven’t got much. But they give up their time, and try to present something that is the best of all of us.”

Videos of the show have been played to the Prime Minister, other members of the government and the opposition as well as both Boris Johnson and the former mayor Ken Livingstone. The show is expected to be a celebration of Britishness and British history, but not, no doubt to the relief of many of London’s Olympic guests, a full compendium of the last thousand years. It will be “a celebration of what Britain has given to the world” rather than a comprehensive trawl through British history, sizeable warts and all.