London 2012: Paralympic Games “welcomed home” in opening ceremony

The Paralympic Games were “welcomed home” with a spectacular opening ceremony featuring appearances by Professor Stephen Hawking, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and Sir Ian McKellan.

Thousands of performers took part in the show, titled Enlightenment, which culminated in the arrival of the Paralympic Flame into the Olympic Stadium.

It was brought in by Joe Townsend, 24, who lost both legs as a Royal Marine in Afghanistan. He flew in on a zip wire into the Stadium and landed on the field of play, where he handed the Flame to David Clarke, a member of the ParlympicsGB five-a-side football team.

He passed it to Margaret Maughan, winner of Great Britain’s first Paralympic gold medal at the 1960 Rome Games, who lit the cauldron.

The ceremony, co-directed by Jenny Sealey and Bradley Hemmings, included a sign language choir performing the national anthem and a sequence in which six Paralympians, led by Baroness Grey-Thompson, were flown into the Stadium.

The show told the story of Miranda, a nod to the character from Shakespeare’s The Tempest and played by disabled actress Nicola Miles Wildin, who was told by Professor Hawking to explore the world, and accompanied on her journey by Sir Ian.

During the show Professor Hawking urged the world to be curious and to challenge perceptions and stereotypes that limit the potential of the human body, mind and spirit.

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He said: “Look up at the stars, and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.”

Miranda’s journey took her into deep space, a giant library and a voyage across a sea of ideas. The ceremony also included the world’s biggest apple bite in a tribute to Sir Issac Newton during the section of the show titled Gravity.

In the final section Miranda and Sir Ian walked towards an exciting future and current scientific endeavours, such as the Large Hadron Collider.

In his final address Professor Hawking said: “The Paralympic Games is about transforming our perception of the world. We are all different, there is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being, but we share the same human spirit.

“What is important is that we have the ability to create. This creativity can take many forms, from physical achievement to theoretical physics. However difficult life may seem there is always something you can do, and succeed at. The Games provide an opportunity for athletes to excel, to stretch themselves and become outstanding in their field.

“So let us together celebrate excellence, friendship, and respect. Good luck to you all.”

Seb Coe, chairman of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), welcomed the world to the home of the Paralympic Games during his opening remarks.

He said: “Today, on behalf of every Briton and every lover of sport, it is my pleasure to to say welcome home to the Paralympic Games.”

Lord Coe continued: “The enthusiasm for these Paralympic Games is extraordinary. The crowds will be unprecedented. These will be Games to remember. Prepare to be inspired. Prepare to be dazzled. Prepare to be moved by the Paralympic Games of London 2012.”

Athletes from 164 teams paraded into the Stadium early in the ceremony, with the biggest cheers being reserved for members of ParalympicsGB, the last team to enter.

The Queen officially declared the Paralympic Games open during the show.

Music was a large part of the ceremony. A new choral commission, Principia by Greenwich composer Errollyn Wallen, was performed by six London based choirs including the Hackney Singers, London Gay Men’s Chorus, the London Chorus, Lewisham Choral Society, Barts’ Choir and Hackney Community Choir before the arrival of the Queen.

Soprano Elin Manahan Thomas performed Habdel’s Eternal Source of Light Devine; 16-year-old singer songwriter Birdy performed Anthony Hegarty’s Bird Gerhl to accompany a solo dance by leading disable dancer and performer David Toole; and British electronic duo Orbital performed a new track.

There was also a performance of the late Ian Drury’s disability anthem Spasticus Autisticus, and Beverley Knight was joined by Lizzie Emeh and Caroline Parker grand finale of the ceremony which saw a performance of I Am What I Am.