China has spent £22bn on hosting the Olympic Games – three times more than Athens in 2004 – and when the opening ceremony is staged here tonight no expense will be spared. Details of the event remain secret, but it will feature 15,000 performers and 29,000 firework shells.
Under the guidance of the film director, Zhang Yimou, the ceremony will begin at 8pm local time (1pm BST) on the eighth day of the eighth month of 2008 – eight is a lucky number here – and will last for three hours. It will end with the lighting of the Olympic flame, though nobody knows how that will be done. There is no sign of a cauldron on the steel structures of the iconic Bird's Nest Stadium.
Despite worldwide protests over China's hosting of the Games because of the country's human rights record, some 80 heads of state will join 91,000 spectators at the ceremony, including George W Bush, Vladimir Putin and Nicolas Sarkozy. With Gordon Brown flying in for the closing ceremony, the British Government will be represented by Tessa Jowell, the 2012 Olympics Minister.
A record 205 countries will parade through the stadium.