With great ceremony: The London 2012 Paralympics
Zip lines, guide dogs and an uplifting soundtrack turned a Paralympic party into a night of magic moments - even the Queen cracked a smile!
Friday 31 August 2012
God save our anthem
Benjamin Britten wrote his arrangement of the national anthem for the Leeds Festival in 1951, and made the little-sung second verse of "God Save the Queen" integral to his composition. A movingly harmonised a cappella version of the familiar first verse was followed into the second, on Wednesday evening, by a key change and the swell of the London Symphony Orchestra. After its inspiring appearance in the Paralympic Opening Ceremony, Britten's surely ought to be the new official version of the anthem. And couldn't the announcer's invitation to "stand if you can" be the standard call before any anthem from now on?
To cover the games, Channel 4 toured the country in search of disabled interviewers and presenters and put together what Jon Snow called, strangely, "a fantastically creamy team". Standout reporter was Independent columnist Alex Brooker, who scored back-to-back interviews with David Cameron and Boris Johnson. He asked the London mayor whether he planned to repeat his failed Olympic zip-line performance (no) and built up such an affection among Twitter users that he started tweeting admirers who declared their love for him. A future television star in the making?
Goose bumps all round
Team GB's 288 Paralympians had to wait for a whole alphabet and until 10.45pm before wheelchair-tennis player Peter "Quadfather" Norfolk brought out the Union Flag to the strains of David Bowie's "Heroes" and a blizzard of glitter. By then, after a heavily delayed athletes' parade, the temperature had plummeted ("there are some cold-looking Mongolian Paralympians in front of me," one reporter tweeted), inspiring some of the Canadian team to don woolly hats and scarves.
Sign of the times
Deaf viewers weren't left out; More4 screened the whole ceremony with signing while, in the stadium, 12 deaf signers joined the 400-strong choir performing Benjamin Britten's arrangement of the national anthem; deaf actress Deepa Shastri joined Denise Leigh's performance of "Spirit in Motion"; and Caroline Parker, an artist who combines mime, dance and sign language, was front and centre for Beverley Knight's powerful climactic performance. The best bit? The whole stadium had been taught some lyrics in sign before the show, so during the climax of Knight's track she was joined by tens of thousands of spectators, athletes and volunteers all signing – and singing – "I am somebody, I am what I am."
Sportswear isn't known for being particularly chic but British competitors in their Stella McCartney kit might have breathed a collective sigh of relief when they spotted the Mexican team. You try looking dignified in a poncho. Go on. Cover an eye-wateringly bright one in slightly amateurish cartoons, though, and it reaches a new low. Sure, it's probably some kind of traditional handicraft back home. But it's a strange choice for your moment on the world's stage.
A dog's life
The most relaxed member of the athletes' parade lived up to her name. Zenn (sic) arrived in the stadium on the lap of her owner, the Belgian wheelchair sprinter Marieke Vervoort, and appeared to be totally unfazed by her surroundings, quickly earning the hashtag #ChilledoutBelgianDog on Twitter. The labrador has supported Vervoort, who is paralysed from the chest down, since 2009 and can take off her socks, pick things up, and pay for things in shops. She was photographed looking equally serene as Vervoort wheeled off a Eurostar train, and is one of 22 assistance dogs making a new home in the Paralympic Village.
Man on wire
In a stunt that trumped anything Daniel Craig or the Queen (or their doubles) managed during the Olympic Opening Ceremony, Joe Townsend descended 115 metres into the stadium carrying the Paralympic Torch. The former Royal Marine, who lost his legs to a Taliban anti-tank mine in 2008, finally gave purpose to the Orbit Tower, stepping from its top deck for his illuminated journey on to the field of play. Townsend, 24, is part of the 2012 "inspiration" programme for Rio 2016, where he hopes to compete in the first Paralympic triathlon.
From village hall to Olympic Stadium
Along with Professor Stephen Hawking, Nicola Miles-Wildin had arguably the ceremony's biggest role. As Miranda from The Tempest, she guided millions of viewers through proceedings using the words of Shakespeare – and Professor Hawking. The 34-year-old wheelchair user, who has juvenile chronic arthritis, is a director of the Graeae Theatre Company's power-wheelchair dancing troupe, the Rhinestone Rollers, and is more used to performing in village halls. "This is the biggest gig I have ever done," she said. She spent much of the night suspended by wires. Other airborne stars of the ceremony included Tanni Grey-Thompson in a golden wheelchair.
Twenty-four hours after flames representing the four home nations were joined into one at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, the crucible of the Paralympic movement, the torch arrived into the stadium and the hands of Margaret Maughan. The 83-year-old became Britain's first gold medallist at the first Paralympic Games, at Rome in 1960, winning gold in women's archery, and earning her the honour of lighting the Paralympic cauldron.
Written in 1981 by Ian Dury and Chaz Jankel of Blockheads fame for the International Year of Disabled Persons, "Spasticus Autisticus" was a celebratory punk anthem and plea for understanding. But the BBC didn't get it, denying the song airplay thanks to its use of the world "spastic", which was becoming taboo. Thirty years later, it formed part of the Opening Ceremony's most striking sequences when disabled members of the Graeae Theatre Company performed it in front of a giant reproduction of Marc Quinn's celebrated sculpture Alison Lapper Pregnant.
If you thought ParalympicsGB looked like they might have clocked up a few more birthdays than their Olympic counterparts, you'd be right. While you'd expect, say, Andy Murray to hang up his trainers in his thirties, GB's wheelchair-tennis champ is 51-year-old Peter Norfolk. Britain's oldest Paralympian? Archer Kate Murray, who turned 64 yesterday.
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