Stephen Hawking sparks a celebration of victories against all odds during the Paralympics opening ceremony

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

A ceremony like no other lives up to the promise that this will be the greatest Paralympic Games ever

London's Paralympic Games kicked off last night with a triumphant celebration of humankind's ability to overcome seemingly impossible odds, in a ceremony aiming to alter the world's perception of disability.

The renowned physicist Stephen Hawking – a man who has never let his immobility hold him back – took centre stage to lead spectators on a "voyage through time" highlighting major scientific discoveries as well as the long and often arduous fight for equality by disabled activists and athletes.

His arrival was a remarkable entrance for a man more used to the hallways of academia. But there was little doubt he was the star of the show. Using a pre-recorded voice he told the world: "Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see. Be curious."

And in a stunning finale to the three-hour spectacle, the Paralympic flame was finally lit when Joe Townsend, a Royal Marine Commando who lost both his legs after stepping on a landmine in Afghanistan, hurtled into the stadium on a zip wire from the 376-foot-tall Orbit tower overlooking the Paralympic venue. He handed the torch to the veteran Paralympian footballer David Clarke, who in turn gave the final honour of lighting the cauldron to Margaret Maughan, winner of Britain's first ever Paralympics gold medal at Rome in 1960.

Dubbed "Enlightenment", last night's spectacle was more structured and the music more classical than in Danny Boyle's Olympics opening. But it was still infused with simmering political radicalism and social commentary – a fitting tribute given that this was the moment the Paralympics returned home to the country where its foundations were first conceived 64 years ago.

The evening kicked off with a grand scale opening as hundreds of neon-lit volunteers danced around a giant umbrella – a motif that appeared throughout the ceremony as something both quintessentially British and protective. A giant ball of light descended on top of the giant dome causing a massive explosion symbolising the Big Bang and the start of the Universe. Against a thumping, fast paced version of Rihanna's Umbrella, acrobats on high wires floated around the stadium while others pulled a dizzying array of tricks from a series of 9ft-high swaying poles.

Like Boyle's opening ceremony, much of the performance revolved around an interpretation of Shakespeare's The Tempest, with the central character Miranda – played by 34-year-old disabled Gloucester born actress Nicola Miles-Wilden – taken on a voyage of discovery by Professor Hawking.

The pair travelled back in time to the Enlightenment and walked through a recreation of the garden where Isaac Newton came up with the concept of gravity. In one of the more surreal moments of the night, the 60,000-strong audience, who had all been given an apple on entering the stadium, were encouraged to take part in a mass "apple bite" to mark the moment Newton worked out why we come down again after we leap into the air.

A cameo from Sir Ian McKellen playing a Prospero-like character, helped Miranda, backed by a Soprano solo from Elin Manahan Thomas, navigate her way back to the modern world on a giant up-turned umbrella boat reminiscent of the vessel used by Winnie the Pooh in AA Milne's children's novels. By the time Miranda returned to the 21st-century, another great scientific discovery was there to greet her – a recreation of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Hundreds of red tents mimicked the sub-atomic particles that are smashed together at that enormous laboratory in the Alps where particle physicists are trying to uncover the origins of our Universe.

The scene then segued into a riotous rendition of Ian Drury's disability anthem Spasticus Autisticus for a tribute to Britain's disability rights movement. Angry protesters took to the stage, chanting slogans for an equal share in the world. As the scene climaxed, an enormous recreation of Marc Quinn's celebrated sculpture of a naked disabled mother unfolded at the centre of the stadium before eyes turned skywards as Joe Townsend, the former Royal Marine, made his dramatic entrance flying the Paralympic flame into the stadium on a zip wire.

The 4,000 athletes from 164 nations were deliberately given a central role in the performance. They made their way around the stadium, some hobbling on prosthetics, others used walking canes and wheelchairs. One Belgian sprinter arrived with her guide dog Zenn riding on her lap.

Sir Philip Craven, a former wheelchair basketball player and the president of the International Paralympic Committee, hailed the games as "a celebration of the development of the human spirit, a celebration of the Paralympic Movement coming home, and of dreams becoming reality".

He told the thousands of amassed Paralympians: "You are all catalysts for change and role models for an inclusive society."

Once the flame was lit, the grand finale was left to Beverly Knight, Lizzie Emeh and Caroline Parker to perform I Am What I Am, a celebration of individuality from the riotously camp musical La Cage Aux Folles, with the audience encouraged to sing the words using sign language.

 

Get Adobe Flash player

 



Suggested Topics
News
Food blogger and Guardian writer Jack Monroe with her young son
people
News
people
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Life and Style
The racy marketing to entice consumers to buy Fairlife, which launches in the US next month
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital