What began with a single flame 114 days ago became a conflagration of fire, music and magnificent sporting memory as the lights were brought down on London 2012 with the Closing Ceremony of the Paralympics.
The cauldron was extinguished at the climax of a spectacular show that mixed superstars Coldplay, Jay-Z and Rihanna with a baroque – at times darkly surreal – parade of fire-belching contraptions, snowstorms and human fireflies.
At the heart of the extravaganza were many of the 4,200 athletes whose endeavour has proven once and for all that the Paralympics is a stage for elite sport regardless of body shape. The host nation's team was led by two flagbearers who encapsulated that spirit perhaps more than any others – wheelchair racer David Weir and cyclist Sarah Storey, the holders of eight gold medals from London 2012 between them.
In his closing remarks to London 2012, Games chief Lord Coe said the last six weeks had banished the spectre of the 7/7 terrorist attacks, which took place a day after the capital had been awarded the Games in 2005, quoting a doctor who worked in the aftermath of the bombings and then as a Games Maker volunteer: "I have seen the worst of mankind. Now I have seen the best of mankind."
Lord Coe said: "In this country, we will never think of sport in the same way; we will never think of disability in the same way."
David Cameron said the Games and watching sports such as wheelchair rugby had caused him to reflect upon his disabled son, Ivan, who died in 2009. He said: "As every parent, you thinks of all the things they can't do. But actually the Paralympics is about how they are superhuman, about all the things they can do."
The athletes were joined in the stadium by another body of individuals who have refused to bow to the forces that shaped their bodies, wounded personnel from the armed services. There can have been few unfurlings of the Union flag more extraordinary than that completed last night by Captain Luke Sinnott. The 32-year-old lost both legs and his right arm in a bomb blast while serving with the Army in Afghanistan.
Suitably entitled "Festival of the Flame", the closing night followed in the footsteps of this summer's other Games ceremonies by pursuing a theme based on the host nation's eccentricity and eminence. This time it was Britain's seasons and its gatherings to worship light, culture and creativity. As well as a liking for fashioning vehicles out of scrap metal.
Kim Gavin, the artistic director, said: "Our 'Festival of the Flame' pays tribute to the gatherings that infuse the spirit of our nation, drawing on the ever-changing seasons that define us – from autumn equinox to summer solstice – and celebrating some of the ancient and modern traditions that have gathered down the ages." Some traditions were more avant garde than others. Whereas Middle England might have raised its eyebrows at Boyle's NHS beds, there would have been spluttering into cups of cocoa last night with the beatnik flavour of last night's Mad Max neo-Pagan pageantry, demonic stilt walkers and the fact that a key prop designer – Mutoid Waste – were at the heart of the 1990s illegal rave movement.
What unfolded before the 80,000-capacity audience, whose members included Prince Edward, was something of a retro junk yard son et lumiere with a distinct dash of steam punk.
The cornerstone of the progress through London 2012's adieu was Coldplay who performed alongside Rihanna and Jay-Z and a cavalcade of 1,300 tumblers, dancers, and singers – showcasing disabled performers.
Thomas Heatherwick's Cauldron was extinguished by ParalympicsGB stars Ellie Simmonds and Jonnie Peacock, each of its petals now to wend their way across to the globe to the nations that competed in the Olympics and Paralympics.Reuse content