Opening Ceremony, Olympics, London, UK, 2012

Behind the Scenes of the London 2012 Opening Ceremony

As the Olympics in Rio are about to get underway it is hard to believe that it is four whole years since London hosted the Games in 2012, which kicked off with an epic Opening Ceremony.

Recently I watched a fantastic documentary “One Night in 2012 – An Imagine Special” which delved behind the scenes in the lead up to the opening event. It is well worth a watch and was touching, awe-inspiring and amusing in equal measure. It reminded me of what a fantastic spectacle to Opening Ceremony was, with lots of extra insight into the making of it.

As an event planner I have great appreciation of the enormity of what was achieved by Danny Boyle and his team, particularly after watching this programme. Here are the things that really stood out for me.

Events Can Inspire

Expectations of what to expect from the Opening Ceremony were rock bottom. There was no optimism, the media was full of negative stories. The Games came at a time of austerity, the UK was deep in recession, times were hard. People were ready to write off the Games as a disaster. Instead the ceremony won over the 1 billion viewers and truly presented “a love story to the UK” bringing the vision of Danny Boyle to life. The Olympic Games was uplifting and inspiring for the UK. It made us proud of our small but mighty nation.

The most touching and amazing story came from one of the volunteers who explained that her husband had a brain tumour and had been given a limited time to live. He was so excited about his wife being chosen as one of the performers and desperate to see the ceremony through. Unbelievably for the duration of the rehearsals, the performance and a short time afterwards the tumour completely disappeared. A true miracle.

Think Creatively to Meet Your Event Budget

The Opening Ceremony may have cost £27 million but even this event had its financial limits. There were numerous drummers in the ceremony but they couldn’t afford to buy drums for them. Instead they played dustbins!

Don’t Imitate, Innovate

The London Opening Ceremony came after Beijing, which had been described as “unfollowable”. Instead of trying to follow the pageantry Danny wanted to create something completely original and unique and push the boundaries in different ways.

Look at Things from a Different Angle

To get the footage and angles of the spectacular some of the volunteers wore cameras, otherwise the shots the creative team wanted would not have been possible through only static, flying or hung cameras. The creative team also kept control of all of the cameras and editing themselves, instead of giving control to the BBC as requested.

In terms of effects and visual trickery it is also important to think differently. For instance the towers for the industrial revolution scene were inflatables, which gave the same effect but enabled the quick turnaround required.

Volunteers are Legendary

Of the 10k performers in the ceremony 9k were volunteers, giving up hours of their time to rehearse. Rehearsals took place in all weathers in an open air car park. The commitment shown by every one of them, as well as the secrecy about the show was amazing. Of course most events don’t have the same allure as the Olympic Games but volunteers often play an invaluable role and should always be appreciated for their contribution.

It’s All in the Detail

Danny Boyle and his team had fantastic attention to detail, which is vital for any event but particularly one of this magnitude. 64k pieces of clothing alone were needed for the extravaganza!

Don’t Compromise

Danny was under strong political pressure to cut out one of the scenes from the show. This would have meant volunteers that had given up months to rehearse would have been cut out entirely. Danny was not willing to compromise his vision or disappoint those that had worked so hard in preparation so he stood firm and the NHS scene remained.

Things Go Wrong

The documentary shows a pyrotechnic firing late, delaying the switch to another camera and scene, which meant that the suffragettes were missed and not shown on television. Things will and do go wrong in live events. The important thing is to keep a clear head under the pressure and get back on track. And often people won’t even notice, or won’t care! And I was glad it wasn’t me doing that highly pressured job. Give me event management over TV production any day!


The programme is available on BBC iplayer for a short while longer and really worth a watch.

I can’t wait to see what the Rio Opening Ceremony has in store! How will it follow and compare to London 2012?