EFDS privileged to witness spectacular Opening Ceremony

British stars of past, present and future played leading roles at Wednesday night’s Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony, watched by a crowd including the Queen, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prime Minister David Cameron.

Wheelchair Tennis star Peter Norfolk carried the British flag in the athletes’ parade for a GB party featuring many of the 300-strong home team – the biggest at these Games – and their support staff. In all, 4,200 athletes from 164 countries were represented.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, Britain’s most successful Paralympian of the modern era with 11 gold medals, was one of the six former athletes who flew into the arena, bathed in gold during the ‘Brave New World’ segment of the ceremony.

The Paralympic cauldron was lit by Margaret Maughan, 84, a veteran of five Paralympics and Great Britain's first gold medallist, in Archery at the inaugural 1960 Games in Rome.

She was handed the flame by Dave Clarke, GB’s 5-a-side Football captain at London 2012, who received it from 24-year-old former Marine commander Joe Townsend, a triathlete from Eastbourne who hopes to make his debut when his sport is included in the Paralympics for the first time at Rio 2016.

Townsend, a member of the British Paralympic Association’s Paralympic Inspiration Programme who lost both legs in an explosion in Afghanistan in 2008, flew into the arena on a high wire from the Orbit tower.

ParalympicsGB have set their sights on improving on the 102 medals, 42 of them gold, that secured second place in the medal table in Beijing four years ago.

Norfolk, the 51-year-old Wheelchair Tennis player seeking his third successive Quad singles gold medal at these Games, led the team into the arena to the strains of David Bowie’s Heroes, the anthem that greeted Sir Chris Hoy and Team GB at the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony a month ago.

Norfolk said:

“When I was waiting in the tunnel and they gave me the flag I just thought, Wow! Then to come out into the packed stadium, in front of a home crowd of so many people, just means so much to me. And the fact I was voted flagbearer by my fellow athletes, many of who have won more medals than me and are the most incredible athletes, it is just so special. These Games are going to be fantastic and I hope we can all go on to achieve our dreams here.”

 

As 11 of the 20 sports begin on Thursday morning, a number of athletes opted to miss the event, including shooter Di Coates, who is appearing in a record-equalling eighth Games and competes at 09:00 on day one. Some watched on a big screen nearby at ParalympicsGB House while others could see the stadium from their balconies in the Paralympics Village.

The ceremony, called Enlightenment, celebrated the aim of the Paralympic Games to change public perceptions of disability.

It featured world-renowned British scientist Professor Stephen Hawking – described by organisers as “the most famous disabled person alive in the world” – actor Sir Ian McKellen and a cast of 3,000 volunteers, including a group of 50 performers with disabilities who learned circus skills for the event.

Unlike the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, athletes entered the stadium early on and were able to witness the bulk of the action.

They were greeted by Lord Coe, chair of the London 2012 Organising Committee, who said:

“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.”

Sir Phillip Craven, the British president of the International Paralympic Committee, said:

“Tonight is the start of something special. Tonight is about welcoming the world to a global Games, an event where we will experience every single emotion, including new ones we never thought possible.”

 

The rest of the ceremony included the forming of a giant whale from the stadium’s pixel lights and the use of 45 giant inflatable apples when the arena was transformed into the garden of scientist Sir Isaac Newton.

The athletes were present for a rendition Spasticus Autisticus, Ian Drury’s anthem for disabled rights, and the unveiling of a huge model of Alison Lapper’s Pregnant, a sculpture featuring the artist, who was born without arms and with truncated legs, which stood in Trafalgar Square for two years until late 2007.

And they joined the crowd in signing and singing a new refrain in the anthem I am What I Am, performed by Beverley Knight.

Some of our own EFDS staff were happy to be at the Opening Ceremony too.

Barry Horne, CEO of EFDS said:

"I felt so privileged to be there for the start of the best Paralympics ever! The messages during the opening ceremony were so powerful and the GB athletes got the warmest reception possible. It was great to see so many athletes who have been supported by EFDS programmes along their journey too. Everyone could feel the excitement - now lets enjoy the success in all the sporting arenas!"

Chris Ratcliffe, Director of Development of EFDS said:

"It was an amazing privilege to be part of the opening ceremony, which was a fantastic spectacle. It celebrated the fact that disabled people are who they are achieving amazing things in their lives"

 

For more news and pictures from London 2012 go to the ParalympicsGB website: www.paralympics.org.uk/gb

ParalympicsGB Games-time press team: If you have a media request and want it dealt with as swiftly as possible, please e-mail press@paralympics.org.uk .