London Olympics 2012 closing ceremony: Eccentric, bewildering – and shameless good fun

The guests arrived intoxicated by success and danced through the night

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When he first promised us "the best after-show party there has ever been", Kim Gavin, director of the closing ceremony, can't possibly have known just how great the show was going to be. Where Danny Boyle had had to reassure an anxious nation, primed to apologise or carp, Gavin simply had to lay on the celebration for a huge success. The guests for this non-exclusive event – millions of them – had arrived already happily drunk; intoxicated by unprecedented sporting success, proud of the way the world had been welcomed, thrilled at Olympic legends confirmed and new myths begun. And the venue for the celebration looked fantastic. The centrepiece was the city in miniature, sitting on a Damien Hirst spin-painting Union Flag – patriotism smeared into a new, less rigid form.

The BBC wisely didn't do anything that might compete with the opening of the festivities, counting down to 9pm with Eddie Butler and Reggie Yates presenting a kind of Party Political Broadcast for Us, big on elegiac slow-motion and heartfelt reflection.

Gavin himself started quietly – with Emeli Sandé, a choral version of the Beatles "Because" and Julian Lloyd Webber on the cello. For a moment it seemed as if he'd forgotten that everyone had come for an East End knees-up. But then Timothy Spall burst out of the top of Big Ben as Winston Churchill – reprieving the Caliban speech we'd heard in the opening ceremony – and Madness kicked off the karaoke section the crowd had been longing for.

"Surreal", an adjective horribly abused during the games themselves, was suddenly more legitimate as a traffic jam of newspaper-covered traffic was briefly halted for the appearance of Jacques Rogge and then gave way to an explosion of colour. The sound was dreadful... and got even worse when Ray Davies did "Waterloo Sunset".

But when you've got the Pet Shop boys trundling past on orange origami rickshaws it's difficult to concentrate much on musical quality or dodgy lip-sync. As the athletes arrived to fill the field, Elbow got the crowd to sing along and Kate Bush provided the backing for a retrospective of sporting highlights.

John Lennon kicked off the Symphony of British Music we'd been promised, giving way to George Michael, massed Lambrettas for the Kaiser Chief's cover of "Pinball Wizard" and what looked like Quality Street stormtroopers goose-stepping along to Bowie's "Fashion" and a parade of supermodels.

The athletes, the games and the spectators had been forgotten by now. Where Danny Boyle's opening show had been a statement of intent and national values, this was an hour-long advert for British stadium rock-show design. As such it was slick, impressive, often visually startling (the transparent octopus that accompanied Fat Boy Slim, Annie Lennox's arrival as a Vampire Viking). But for Olympic feeling you had to rely on the cutaways to the athletes, and you didn't get quite enough of those.

"It really is like being in a giant disco isn't it", said Trevor Nelson as Jessie J and Tinie Tempah told us we should be dancing. For once his unerring instinct for bathos had paid off. It was, but in the past two weeks the stadium has been so much more than that.