Paralympics grand finale: A festival of earth, wind, water and fire

Tonight's closing ceremony takes us through the seasons

To some people they are aural sex, to others the musical equivalent of tofu. Whichever camp you are in, there will be no escaping the band Coldplay today. At 2pm, hundreds of performers in bandstands across the country will play renditions of their hit song "Viva la Vida", heralding tonight's Paralympics closing ceremony.

Chris Martin and his band will take centre stage in a performance that will take the audience through the seasons via Britain's ancient and modern festivals. Beginning at Glastonbury Tor and taking in the solstices, Stonehenge festivals and bonfire night in Kent, it will centre around the themes of earth, wind, water, fire and ice.

Kim Gavin, the show's artistic director, said it would be much less formal than previous ceremonies: "We are trying to bring you something that feels very raw, not staged," he said. "We've made it very much about the flame, more like a festival approach."

Stephen Daldry, the director of all four Games ceremonies, said that other big-name acts who wanted to take part in the closing of the Paralympics were rejected. He said: "We had to turn people down. Kim was always keen it should revolve around one band and one act."

The band will appear around 30 minutes into the show and other artists will include the British Paraorchestra, specially created for the occasion by the conductor Charles Hazlewood and comprising 17 performers with disabilities – including a one-handed pianist and a musician with cerebral palsy. The singers Rihanna and Jay-Z are also expected to make guest appearances.

Speaking on Radio 1 earlier this week, Chris Martin hinted at other surprise artists: "We're gonna play some of our songs, then we have a couple of friends coming out with us. There's lots of amazing dancers and acrobats."

The show will begin with the Paralympians already seated at the heart of the stage, so they can enjoy the spectacle. The flag bearer for ParalympicsGB was decided in a secret meeting with senior sports figures in the Olympic Village yesterday afternoon. Multiple medallists David Weir and cyclist Sarah Storey are likely to be strong contenders.

In a move that will no doubt have Tory politicians shuffling in their seats, the ceremony will start with hundreds of Travellers and festival-goers storming the stage. Enormous moving animals dragged by tractors, including a giant green grasshopper and a hollowed-out fish have been spotted in rehearsals in the car park at Ford's Dagenham works.

The giant floats are made by Mutoid Waste, a company which used to specialise in organising illegal raves. It now makes Travellers' homes and sculptures from discarded industrial waste.

The biggest tear-jerker of the night is likely to come early on, as military veterans who have been supported by Help for Heroes will appear on stage for an emotional unfurling of a Union Flag while the national anthem plays.

Members of the Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy who helped with security during London 2012 will be invited as guests of honour in recognition of their work.

Acrobats from Circus Space will perform alongside a cast of almost 2,000 volunteers, including 120 children from east London.

Channel 4's coverage of the show will start at 7pm but the live action does not start until 8.30pm. It will go on until 11pm and will also include a section performed by Brazil as part of the handover to the Rio Games in 2016.

Athletes salute the Games Makers – the bright stars of London 2012

Tens of thousands of people will line London's streets to greet Britain's medal-winning heroes tomorrow when members of the Olympic and Paralympic teams take part in a celebratory parade through London. But many would argue that the real stars of this summer's sporting spectacle will be among those lining the route along the capital's Mall.

For there will sit some of the 70,000 volunteers without whom the Games would not have been possible; those purple-clad Games Makers who freely gave up their time to devote a combined eight million working hours to the Olympics.

Some 14,000 volunteers have been allocated tickets to watch the parade of 800 athletes on 21 floats travel between Admiralty Arch and the Queen Victoria Memorial in an area reserved for people deemed to have made an invaluable contribution to the Games. They will be joined by members of the emergency services, military personnel, Team GB and Paralympics GB coaches and support staff, friends and family of athletes, as well as schoolchildren.

"Gamesmakers [sic] @London2012 have been the stars of the games," wrote Paralympic bronze medal-winning track cyclist Jody Cundy on Twitter yesterday, echoing the thoughts of the nation. "I hope they wear their kit with pride at the parade on Monday so we can thank them." He later posted a photograph of some of the volunteers, saying that Games Makers were offering "free hugs" in the Olympic Park.

Earlier in the competition, his cycling team-mate Sarah Storey, who won four gold medals, had also taken to the social networking site to express her admiration for the helpers. "I met almost all the amazing Games makers at the Velodrome today," she tweeted. "What a fantastic bunch they were :-) & they were all excited to see me!"

Athletes, spectators and politicians have united in praise for the 70,000 volunteers, selected from the 240,000 people who applied to be Games Makers. More than 2,000 of these were 16- to 18-year‑olds who took on roles such as raking the sand during the beach volleyball competition at Horse Guards Parade.

From their high fives with giant foam fingers and enthusiastic greetings, to marching with the precision of soldiers when collecting the kit of competitors at the athletics track or the swimming pool, the purple army has been the standout feature of the Games. Crucially, it is they who have set the tone for the event and London as a whole this summer: the capital has never seemed friendlier. There have been even been reports of passengers talking to each other on the Tube. London Mayor Boris Johnson described the Games Makers as having dispensed a "crop duster of serotonin" over the city.

As well as working with slick professionalism and tireless enthusiasm, the volunteers exhibit an infectious sense of pride. Such was volunteer Mark Skippon's delight in learning that he had been accepted to be a farrier at the Olympics and the Paralympics that he got a tattoo to mark the occasion. He added the word "farrier", the Olympic rings and "London 2012" under an existing tattoo of a horse's head and horseshoe. "It is a reminder to me that I took part in the London Olympic and Paralympic Games," said the 47-year-old from Terrington St Clement in Norfolk; he is now considering adding the Paralympics emblem.

Inevitably, there will be tears in the Olympic Stadium tonight among the almost 2,000 volunteers helping out at the closing ceremony as they mark the end of their time as Games Makers. But the nation will also feel some regret, as it bids farewell to thousands of people who have made Britain a better place.

Kate Youde

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