Games try for pomp without pomposity as Manchester wheels out its big drums

Ian Herbert,North
Friday 26 July 2002 00:00

The rain kept off last night and every northern stereotype was banished in a Commonwealth Games opening ceremony that presented all that is best about Manchester: its absence of pretension alongside its creative energy and infectious sense of fun.

From 9pm, when the rower Sir Steve Redgrave strode across the City of Manchester stadium and sounded 17 beats on a mighty Malaysian drum – a gift from the previous Games in Kuala Lumpur – it was clear that the 17th Games' opening ceremony would be as ambitious as it was noisy.

Sir Steve's percussion ushered in hundreds of children, able-bodied and disabled, of every race and creed, who jigged to a beat of bhangra. The eclectic musical mix ranged from a beaming choir of children yelling the words "Do it the Mancunian Way" – this stadium's inaugural anthem – to Russell Watson, rappers Trigga and Bishop and the Royal Northern College of Music.

The athletes' parade was less a march than a dance. The Swazis jigged, the Scots conga-ed, the New Zealanders did an impromptu Maorihaka and the sole Monserrat competitor positively skipped. The English grinned in their white pyjamas and Wales' flag-bearer Tanni Grey-Thompson, hauling a collosal flag from her wheelchair, seemed the proudest woman in the house.

S Club topped the bill. But the event's iconic moment was delivered by Kirsty Howard, who handed up the baton. The six-year-old was given six weeks to live two years ago. Such is the fragility of her heart that she could manage only a few steps with the baton. She was helped by David Beckham, the last baton runner, who guided her for the first time since they walked out together in Manchester for a World Cup qualifier. In another departure from ceremony, the Queen came from the platform to take it.

The baton had arrived in the arms of a pirouetting aerial gymnast tethered above the stadium. Seven "hero runners" took up the baton: Beckham, the sprint champion Donovan Bailey, the yachtswoman Ellen McArthur, the runner Moses Kiptanui, the 200m swimmer Susie O'Neill, Sir Steve and the athlete Denise Lewis.

The most surreal moment came last, in a show entitled The Spirit of Manchester that depicted "ordinary Mancunians" wondering the city streets. They were invaded and illuminated by ghostly spirits, dancing and spouting water.

The spectacle conveyed the Mancunians' outlook on life – the sense of a "spirit undaunted whatever is thrown at them", said the artistic director, David Zolkwer. The water, he hastily added, was no reference to the Games' forecast for today: cloudy with the threat of rain.

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