How Hawking defied illness to play starring role at Paralympics opening ceremony

Scientist's appearance at opening ceremony took months of careful choreography

On Wednesday night, Stephen Hawking was centre stage at the Olympics stadium, exhorting the world to "be curious" during a Paralympics opening ceremony that celebrated both the achievements of science and the human spirit.

Yesterday, more prosaically, he was back at work. Despite turning 70 this year the renowned physicist continues to keep a packed diary; no sooner had he finished entertaining the crowds in Stratford than he was on his way to Cambridge.

"He travelled back that night and was in his office this morning," Tim Holt, head of media at Cambridge University, told The Independent yesterday. "Stephen is limited in what engagements he can accept because of both the pressures of work and his severe physical limitations but this was something he really wanted to do. He has a great sense of humour and this was an opportunity to showcase the importance of science and discovery."

Jenny Sealey and Bradley Hemmings, the two directors behind Wednesday night's spectacle, were determined from the outset to pay tribute to the contributions that science has made to the able bodied and impaired alike. They first approached Professor Hawking late last year to discuss whether he would be willing to make an appearance.

His involvement in such a massive production is no mean feat. Diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis at the age of 21, Professor Hawking has been trapped in his own body for much of his adult life. For the last two decades he has only been able to communicate by twitching his cheek muscle to write words that are then relayed by his famous voice synthesiser. Composing a single sentence can take as much as 10 minutes but he was determined to write his own part. Organisers were braced for him having to pull out when he was unable to attend his 70th birthday earlier this year due to ill health but he was determined to make it. Friends and family were sworn to secrecy to keep his staring role under wraps.

Professor Hawking said he was honoured to be able to take part: "To use this stage to show the world that regardless of differences between individuals, there is something that everyone is good at, is very important."

Those who worked with him in rehearsals say they were captivated by his wit. "Everybody knows about Professor Hawking and his extraordinary theoretical work and his extraordinary writings on science which made very complex ideas accessible to all of us," Mr Hemmings said. "What came through from our meetings with him is the humanity and humour of Professor Hawking. He's a fun guy."

* The Opening Ceremony may not have attained the 27 million viewers who watched Danny Boyle's Olympic spectacular, but Channel 4 will regard its audience of 11.2 million people as a triumph.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash
tvSimon Cowell blasts BBC for breaking 'gentlemen's agreement' in scheduling war
News
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
people
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Sport
footballAnd Liverpool are happy despite drawing European champions
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
tv
Life and Style
fashion

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

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone