AirToob Lightning
On August 29th, a peak audience of 11.2m watched Channel 4's coverage of the London 2012 Paralympics Opening Ceremony (from which my screenshots are taken), which was the biggest C4 audience in 10 years.

The ceremony featured some great and inspirational music. You can find the full event playlist here, and in what follows I provide some links to videos of the music, in some cases taken from the event itself (don't miss the last one!).

However you thought the opening ceremony of a Paralympics Games might start, it probably wasn't like this...

As the stadium became a Nebula, Professor Stephen Hawking, probably our greatest living physicist, invited us all to stretch our minds and our conceptions:

“Ever since the dawn of civilization, people have craved for an understanding of the underlying order of the world: why it is as it is, and why it exists at all.

“But, even if we do find a complete theory of everything, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations, and makes a Universe for him to describe?”

...a question that introduced a symbolic Big Bang...

...featuring the British umbrella motif that returns again and again, quirky and effective

Specially trained volunteers, many of them disabled, take to the air in an aerial dance to Rihanna's "Umbrella" [video links]

...introducing (from the air) Shakespeare's Miranda, played by the disabled radio actress Nicola Miles-Wildin, who will be led through a journey of discovery and enlightenment by Prospero, played by Sir Ian McKellen (whom the world will probably always see as Gandalf)

A sequence featuring The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the first article of which is so relevant to this occasion

After the official opening by the Queen, and the entry of over 4,200 paralympians into the stadium (less a few with early events the next day)...

Let spirits soar… the blind soprano Denise Leigh and deaf actor Deepa Shastri bring the Paralympic motto – Spirit in Motion – to life in an original composition by Errollyn Wallen [video of this segment]

Lord Seb Coe, father of the London Olympic Games, equally committed to the London Paralympics. He began by looking back to Doctor Ludwig Guttmann's achievement at Stoke Mandeville. Among his words:

“[In setting up these Olympics and Paralympics] we determined that London 2012 would be the next great advance for the [paralympic] movement... and a landmark for people with disability everywhere.

“To [the] athletes I say: You will hear us. The enthusiasm for these Paralympics is extraordinary. The crowds will be unprecedented. These will be games to remember. And to my fellow countrymen and the millions watching around the world I add these final words: Prepare to be inspired. Prepare to be dazzled. Prepare to be moved by the London Paralympic Games of 2012.”

Sir Philip Craven, President of the International Paralympic Committee. a British former Paralympic athlete and an obviously proud native of Bolton, Lancashire, said among other things:

“Tonight is a celebration of the development of the human spirit, a celebration of the Paralympic Movement coming home, and a celebration of dreams...

“In 1948 [Sir Ludwig Guttmann] organized the Stoke Mandeville Games, on a small piece of land sandwiched between the back of the hospital and the railway embankment...

“Most importantly, welcome to you, over 4,200 paralympians... you have before you some of the finest sporting stages on which to perform. Every step of the way you will be cheered on by the most passionate sports fans that you will have ever seen or heard. Your performances will inspire and excite the world. You will inspire not only a current generation here, but many generations to come. With record ticket sales, media and broadcasters, your stories and performances will challenge the way people think about themselves and how they think about others. You are all catalysts for change, and role models for an inclusive society. ... You not only have the ability to win medals in London, but you have the ability to change the world.... and remember... make sure you have fun!”

Eight members of the British under-22 wheelchair basketball team starting the ceremony of the raising of the Paralympic flag, to Elgar's Jupiter Suite from The Planets. The music was chosen as a universal anthem to inspire people from whichever country they may come from. [video links]

In an extraordinarily beautiful sequence, soprano Elin Manahan Thomas sings Handel's Eternal Source of Life Divine - absolutely wonderful [video links]

...and to that glorious music we were treated to a wonderful aerial ballet by six paralympic athletes (I am filled with admiration for everyone in this event who performed at what must have been a dizzying height)

This was followed by an equally inspiring segment where Birdy played Bird Gerhl (written by Antony Hegarty) [video links]

...while David Toole, later joined by Miranda, performs another wonderful dance that rises into the air.

The C4 coverage didn't show everything else going on at the same time, but you'll find another view if you follow the video links above.

Stephen Hawking introduced a section featuring the Large Hadron Collider, symbolically transformed into a collision of ideas.
I shall always remember these words of his:

“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.”

This section featured a raw performance of Ian Dury's angry Spasticus Autisticus (once banned by the BBC). It seemed to fit in perfectly, perhaps because you have to face reality before you can make the world a better place (a good link here).

Royal Marine Commando Joe Townsend brings the Paralympic Torch into the arena via zip wire from the Orbit Tower, more than 350 feet up...

Only 5 months ago he was in Afghanistan, where he lost both legs to an IED. He hopes to compete as a paralympic triathlete in Rio.

Possibly the most amazing and inspiring handover of a torch ever seen (so far). This image is so extraordinary that you might think it has been photoshopped, but Joe is suspended, perfectly still, by wires from very far above. Joe handed over the torch to blind footballer David Clarke...

...and that beautiful cauldron was actually lit by Margaret Maughan, the oldest paralympian, who won gold in archery 52 years ago. She was treated by Doctor Ludwig Guttmann at Stoke Mandeville after a car accident in 1959, who introduced her to archery.

It's hard to think of a more uplifting, appropriate and inspiring climax than "I Am What I Am" performed by Beverley Knight (accompanied by Caroline Parker & Lizzie Emeh). You can watch it here - don't miss it!

...which turned the packed Olympic Stadium into one huge party... the centre of which stood the 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 (see this excellent article).

This amazing ceremony has proved to the the beginning of an equally inspiring Paralympic Games, still going on as this is written (more posts to come!). In Britain, and in other countries whose broadcasters are giving them access, the Olympic party is happening all over again.

Disability? What we are watching in these Paralympics is ability, in spades.

[More links for the London 2012 Paralympics Opening Ceremony]
[All of my posts on the London 2012 Paralympics]
[All of my posts on the London 2012 Olympics]

From my web site:

[The beautiful games]