Danny Boyle: I was “close to walking away” from Olympic opening ceremony

In a new authorised biography, the Trainspotting director reveals his clashes with Locog and attempts to persuade David Bowie to perform

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Danny Boyle’s Olympic Opening Ceremony was a smash hit among critics and fans – but in a new authorised biography, the director has revealed the chaos behind the scenes that nearly led him to throw in the towel. 

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In Danny Boyle: Creating Wonder, the ceremony’s mastermind details the preparation that went into the four-hour event, which featured star performances from Rowan Atkinson, Kenneth Branagh, Daniel Craig and, most memorably, the Queen. 

Exasperated by Games organisers Locog, Boyle admits he came “close to walking away” from his role as artistic director over the decision to deploy ground-to-air missiles on buildings in close proximity to the east London stadium. He goes on to admit to using the threat of resignation to his own gain, saying: “There’s a terror of bad headlines in the press, which you have to turn to your advantage,” before revealing that he became “unbelievably unpleasant” in meetings with Games organisers.

The new book also contains details of Damien Hirst’s decision to pull out of the project because of a £7m sponsorship deal with Dow chemicals. The acclaimed artist – who had been due to design a 3,000ft by 66ft fabric wrap around the stadium – decided he did not want to be associated with the multinational corporation due to its involvement in the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster, which killed thousands.

Ceremony scriptwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce also threatened to leave over the deal but was talked around by the chairman of London 2012, Sebastian Coe. 

In further revelations, Boyle talks of his unsuccessful trip to New York to recruit David Bowie, as well as the penny-pinching antics of Locog, who tried to sell volunteers the costumes they wore during the production, leaving the director “dumbstruck”. 

In fact, it was the thousands who voluntarily spent months preparing for the ceremony who motivated him, culminating in his successful campaign to allow participants to take their outfits home for free.

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Boyle goes on to reveal he was also inspired by a plaque commemorating suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, who threw herself in front of George V’s horse at the 1913 Epsom Derby. The discovery in a broom cupboard in the House of Commons “was key in formulating the opening ceremony”, says Boyle. “We started to think about more hidden stories, the people who make those stories and how those stories are retold.”