Olympic officials raise the flag of South Africa on Monday in preparation for Friday's opening ceremonies.
EDITOR'S NOTE: In preparation for the start of the 2012 Summer Olympics, The Herald will count down the days until the Games begin Friday in London with at least one preview or feature in each day’s sports section about the athletes and their stories that make the Olympic Games so special. Enjoy!
LONDON — The London Olympics’ opening ceremony will be a grand spectacle — but will it be a surprise?
In a word, no.
Director Danny Boyle wants the details to stay secret and games chief Sebastian Coe has pleaded for insiders to stop leaking details of the extravaganza. But in the age of camera phones and social media, with 10,000 performers in the ceremony, thousands of Olympic security and staff and more than 10,000 journalists already at the Olympic Park, not much can be kept out of the public domain.
“Part of the modern world means you can’t really do that,” Boyle acknowledged Monday about keeping secrets as he showed journalists a mock-up of the set for the opening scene of the ceremony.
So, a spoiler alert: Stop reading now if you want Friday’s opening ceremony to be a surprise. Stop, stop, stop.
But if you are as irresistibly curious as the rest of us, well, prepare for everything from James Bond to Lord Voldemort to a spoonful of sugar.
Boyle has revealed only selected details about the show, but since the performers started rehearsals in June at the Olympic Stadium — and an army of journalists started arriving to cover the July 27-Aug. 12 games — a trickle of details about the 27 million pound ($42 million) opening ceremony has become a torrent.
The leaks became too much for Coe, who tweeted: “Share the frustration of volunteer performers and the public at Opening Ceremony being unofficially trailed. Let’s #savethesurprise.”
His imploring hashtag fell on deaf ears. Still more information emerged.
So what do we know?
Well, quite a bit more than Olympics organizers would like for us too.
The ceremony’s theme is “Isles of Wonder,” inspired by William Shakespeare’s play about shipwrecked castaways, “The Tempest.” An actor is due to recite Caliban’s speech, the one that runs “Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises.” Mark Rylance, who had been due to perform the lines, pulled out after the death of his stepdaughter. Kenneth Branagh is rumored to be his replacement.
Despite Boyle’s enchanted-island inspiration, few expect the man who depicted Scottish heroin addicts in “Trainspotting” and Indian slum dwellers in “Slumdog Millionaire” to deliver a sanitized image of Britain.
It sounds more like Isles of Wonder and Woe — with a big dash of British whimsy thrown in.
Boyle has said the show is “trying to show the best of us, but we’re also trying to show many, many different things about our country.”
The ceremony will open at 9 p.m. with the sound of a 27-ton bell — the largest harmonically tuned bell in the world — forged at London’s 442-year-old Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which made London’s Big Ben and Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell.
A prerecorded segment has been filmed inside Buckingham Palace, reportedly involving Queen Elizabeth II and Daniel Craig as secret agent James Bond. If rumor is to be believed, a stuntman dressed as 007 will parachute into the stadium to start the show.
The opening sequence will evoke a pastoral idyll, the “green and pleasant land” described in William Blake’s poem “Jerusalem,” which has been set to music and is regarded as England’s unofficial national anthem. There’s a meadow, livestock, a farmer plowing his field, a cricket match — and, in a nod to Britain’s plethora of rural summer music festivals, a mosh pit.
Boyle hasn’t disclosed what comes next, but has said the ceremony will depict Britain’s past, present and future for a global television audience estimated at 1 billion. In addition to the athletes and performers, some 60,000 spectators will be in the stadium, including political leaders from around the world. U.S. first lady Michelle Obama and her daughters and a sprinkling of European and celebrity royalty will be among those attending.
Aerial photographs of the set for the second section of the show depict dark buildings and smokestacks with the River Thames running through it. This is the other side of the country described in “Jerusalem” — a land of “dark satanic mills.”
A third act will tackle the regeneration of east London, where the Olympics are taking place, as parkland and a creative heartland, home to many artists, designers and Internet startups.
There will be vignettes drawing on British history — Boyle’s people-power version of it — including Depression-era jobless protesters and nurses performing a tribute to the National Health Service, founded in 1948 to provide free health care for all Britons and now a much fought-over national institution.
Performers dressed as miners and factory workers have also been seen going into the stadium, and one set piece is a model of the Empire Windrush, a ship that brought hundreds of Caribbean migrants to Britain in 1948.
According to the Sunday Times, one section will feature characters from children’s fiction classics including “Alice in Wonderland” and “Peter Pan” — and a showdown between Voldemort, the villain of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books, and a horde of flying magical nannies based on Mary Poppins.
Boyle has stressed that the ceremony is not a concert — “the real stars are the athletes” — but music will play a key role, with musical direction by electronic duo Underworld, who have worked with Boyle since his 1996 movie “Trainspotting.”
Music heard coming from the stadium in recent days ranges from “Jerusalem” — of course — to songs by The Beatles, The Who, the Sex Pistols, and Vangelis’ theme from “Chariots of Fire.”
There are also songs by newer acts, including Dizzee Rascal and Tinie Tempah, two homegrown stars forged in the gritty London environment that Boyle is celebrating.
The final act will be former Beatle Paul McCartney — due to lead the audience in a sing-along of “Hey Jude,” with thousands of voices urging “take a sad song and make it better.”
Final touches are still being put on the show, with a technical rehearsal scheduled for Monday evening and a final dress rehearsal on Wednesday. Boyle has already cut a stunt bike sequence to try to keep the show to its allotted three-hour running time so everyone can use public transport to get home.
Boyle’s spectacle is only part of the Summer Games opening ceremony, much of which is dictated by Olympic protocol.
There also will be a parade of athletes from the more than 200 participating nations, speeches by dignitaries — including the queen, who will officially declare the games open — and of course the lighting of the Olympic cauldron.
The identity of the torchbearer who will ignite the cauldron it is the most closely guarded secret of all — and so far, that has not leaked.