Britain’s creativity was once again showcased as the curtain was raised on the Paralympic Games. KATE SCOTTER reflects on the two London 2012 opening ceremonies.

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While one took us on a journey through Britain’s history, the other celebrated human endeavour - both showed the world that Great Britain knew how to put on a show.

Some 62,000 spectators and a television audience of more than 11 million people watched Wednesday’s opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games, which featured thousands of entertainers and athletes from across the world.

There were starring roles for the Queen, Professor Stephen Hawking and a double amputee Afghan war veteran who stunned the crowd by riding a zip wire into the stadium.

It was a very different show to the Olympic opening ceremony. Danny Boyle’s production saw true Britishness come alive with scenes depicting Britain’s green and pleasant countryside, the industrial revolution and the nation’s much-loved humour as the host nation was presented a modern, friendly and humorous place.

While the artistic directors of Wednesday night’s four-hour extravaganza, Bradley Hemmings and Jenny Sealey, aimed to celebrate Britain’s history of science and discovery with a show which spanned scientific progress from the Enlightenment to the large Hadron Collider with everything from Shakespeare to Beverly Knight and stunning aerial shows in between.

There were stunning special moments, including a sign language choir performing the national anthem and a section in which six Paralympians led by Baroness Grey-Thompson were flown into the stadium in gold wheelchairs.

Gorleston’s Bruno Peek, who was the pageant master of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee beacons and was the brainchild behind plans for each local authority to raise a flag when the Olympic Games were handed over from Beijing to London, said: “This country has had a profile like no other country has ever had in one year and we have so much to be proud of.

“The world was looking at the UK to see what it could do and what it did was to show our true identity - we are a true nation of so many different aspects and cultures.”

Wednesday’s showcase heralded the start of 11 days of elite sporting action featuring more than 4,200 athletes from across the world.

It opened with a flypast by Aerobility, a charity that teaches people to fly whatever their disability. With injured war veteran Dave Rawlins piloting the plane, the flypast not only opened the event in spectacular style but also showed that anything was possible.

The theme of humankind’s ability to overcome seemingly impossible odds continued as physicist Stephen Hawking led the audience on a wondrous journey of discovery. Other highlights included a performance of Ian Dury’s Spasticus Autisticus by members of the Graeae Theatre Company and the appearance of a giant version of Marc Quinn’s Alison Lapper Pregnant, the sculpture of the limbless woman that once looked down from the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.

Professor John Street, from the school of political, social and international studies at the University of East Anglia, said: “The opening of the Olympic Games was very clearly orientated at telling a subverted history of Britain, subverted in part by alluding to government policies and by highlighting popular culture as much as classical.

“And while Stephen Hawking and Isaac Newton were celebrated as important figures in science, the Paralympic Games opening ceremony was less about Britain. Both were ultimately TV spectacles created for a mass audience, designed to make people feel good about what they were watching.”

Jon Moore, 28, from Thorpe St Andrew, near Norwich, who has cerebral palsy, said: “It was nice to see the Paralympics really come of age and even better that it was in its own country.

“To have a ceremony that focuses on the heights that human beings can reach if they let go of barriers is in line with the principles of the Paralympic Games.”

kate.scotter@archant.co.uk

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