London planning 'magical things' to open the Games

Director Danny Boyle has given the first public hints about what will be in his £27m opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics. Tom Peck reports
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"Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises/ Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not."

These are the lines, delivered to two drunken butlers by a freckled monster with a penchant for non-consensual sex, which are the inspiration behind director Danny Boyle's vision for the London 2012 Olympics' opening ceremony.

The show is to be named Isles of Wonder, he announced yesterday at the east London studios, where planning and rehearsals have been under way for more than a year. The lines are spoken by Caliban in Shakespeare's The Tempest, which in an undisguised metaphor is set on a mystical island where magical things happen. While Boyle, pictured below, the director of Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting, was understandably tight-lipped about his plans, he gave away a few details.

The largest bell in Europe has been commissioned, which will be inscribed with those Shakespeare lines and installed at one end of the stadium to be rung at 9pm when the ceremony starts. The Whitechapel Bell Foundry in east London, where Big Ben and the USA's Liberty Bell were cast, would only say they were "sworn to secrecy".

One sequence in the ceremony will be cast entirely from NHS nurses wearing "costumes linked to their profession", Boyle said.

He added: "We asked, what's unique about us? The NHS? Our sense of humour? We wanted to get those things across, and hopefully we'll succeed."

At £27m, the budget for the ceremony is less than at either of the two previous Summer Games; while the scale of the London show might be smaller, Boyle said he hoped to "capture more of the humanity".

He said: "You are standing on the shoulders of giants when you do this job. Beijing was breathtaking. Athens was sheer beauty. But Sydney was something that inspired us. It captured the feel. It became known as the People's Games."

Billy Elliot director Stephen Daldry, who is in overall charge of all four Olympic and Paralympic opening and closing ceremonies, admitted it would be hard to keep everything a secret. "I'm sure there'll be people there with their mobile phones, helicopters hovering above the stadium taking photos," he said.

He gave nothing away as to who would light the Olympic Flame. Previous Games have suffered minor embarrassment when overly elaborate methods to ignite the flame have gone wrong. "The idea of jeopardy is one of the most tension-creating things you can have," Daldry said. "Knowing it might go wrong is one of the great joys of watching it." As for who would light the flame, it's "a surprise", he said.

Rick Smith and Karl Hyde, from the dance group Underworld, will provide the soundtrack. But as for who will be performing, Daldry said: "We're talking to people, lots of people, who want to take part in this event." A short video of rehearsals featured dancers in 5ft-high masks or with giant golf balls for heads, kids punching the air, "zorb" balls being pushed uphill, a bicycle suspended on ropes and what looked like an old man in a neon bed.

The new burning question: who will set the stadium flame alight?

Host nations have long realised the symbolic power of the act of lighting the Olympic flame in the stadium at the opening of the Games. It is hard to forget the heroic intensity of Muhammad Ali's struggle to light the flame in Atlanta in 1996; or the mesmerising drama of Cathy Freeman's ring of fire (2000); or Li Ning's airborne "run" in Beijing; or, further back, the poignant symbolism of Yoshinori Sakai, who was born in Hiroshima on the day of the atomic bombing, lighting the fire at Tokyo (1964).

So it is hardly surprising that the choice of fire-lighter for London 2012 has already become the subject of fevered speculation.

Bookmakers reported a flood of betting yesterday on candidates ranging from Olympic giants – Steve Redgrave, Sir Roger Bannister and Daley Thompson – to David Beckham or members of the Royal Family.

Redgrave, who won gold medals in five consecutive Games, is the firm favourite, but the truth is that most punters haven't a clue.

Danny Boyle insists the identity of the person who will apply the Olympic torch to the stadium cauldron on 27 July will remain an unbreakable secret until the day itself. He may be right. But you wouldn't bet on it.

*Sydney 2000: Cathy Freeman establishes herself as the star of her home Games at the opening ceremony

*Atlanta 1996: Muhammad Ali provides the defining moment of the Atlanta Olympics, overcoming his Parkinson's tremors to light the flame

*Barcelona 1992: The crowd holds its breath as Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo fires his flaming arrow – fortunately his aim is true

*Tokyo 1964: Yoshinori Sakai, a student born in Hiroshima on the day the atom bomb hit, opens the Games

The Odds

6:4 Sir Steve Redgrave

8:1 Sir Chris Hoy

10:1 Dame Kelly Holmes

16:1 The Queen

25:1 Tom Daley

25:1 Daley Thompson

33:1 David Beckham

50:1 Boris Johnson

Longer, wider, stronger: athletes' beds almost made

Olympic Village

One down, 15,999 to go. Sir Matthew Pinsent begins work fitting out the Olympic Village in east London, where 16,000 athletes and team officials will stay when the Games begin in six months. Organisers have promised that the village will "match the standards of the best hotels in the world". Work will begin in September to convert the village into 3,000 flats and apartments, many of which will be social housing.