Not far from the secret bunker in London’s Soho where he conducted early brainstorms for his Olympics Opening Ceremony, Danny Boyle is reflecting on his all-singing, all-dancing, all-Blakesian Isles of Wonder spectacular.
The 56-year-old, London-based Lancastrian insists he never thought twice about taking the job of heralding – and presenting – the best of British in the biggest show on earth, which attracted a worldwide TV audience of some one billion.
A huge pressure, even if you’re a seasoned, Oscar-winning film-maker. For one thing, he’s sports-mad. For another, “I have a belief in this country, in us, that’s actually not based on old ideas of patriotism. It’s a belief that we’re a good beacon. Actually as a modern progressive country, we’re not perfect, but we’re not a bad example. We should speak up for that sometimes. So I felt really full of it straightaway.
“And,” he smiles, “there were dissenting voices. You’d read or hear people saying you were nuts. But I never felt that. I never felt any doubt about it at all.” Well, he backtracks, there were “the odd challenges” to his commitment. His customary firecracker exuberance and enthusiasm momentarily faltering, he mutters that “corporatisation” saw him dragged into the Rapier missiles controversy – defensive weapons batteries placed on blocks of flats – while the “Dow Chemical wrap” threatened to wreck his team.
“Dow Chemical, although they changed the company name, bought Union Carbide, who caused the Bhopal disaster. And they sponsored the wrap around the stadium. Of course a lot of people objected to that.” Frank Cottrell Boyce, his scriptwriter, was especially conflicted. “For him it was a terrible crisis of conscience to remain involved, because we were never gonna win that battle. And we lost it. So,” he shrugs, “there were down days. But most of the time I felt really good about the job.”
For a man of Boyle’s hyper-intense creative energies, “just” doing the Olympics didn’t suffice. In 2011, in the first year of the two-year job, Boyle also directed Frankenstein at London’s National Theatre and shot Trance, the recent thriller starring James McAvoy.
Boyle’s enthusiasm was infectious and persuaded the country’s leading lady to get firmly and gamely on board. Boyle thinks the Queen agreed to be filmed with Bond at Buckingham Palace and “parachuted” into the stadium for several reasons.
“She knew the Jubilee, obviously in the same year, was gonna be very formal. And you have an instinct when you perform in public. You just have instincts. And I’m sure that was part of the instinct: ‘Let’s change it, make it different.’”
The symbolism of an East End-set Games also struck a regal chord. “I think she also must have known, because I was involved, that they were going to make it like a People’s Games… so there was a chance to take a risk with it.”
Equally, she may be royal, but it seems Elizabeth II is mortal like the rest of us. She likes a bit of celebrity. “She wanted her staff to have a day out with a movie star. And so we did!” Boyle grins. “Daniel came, and he’s a movie star! He’s James Bond! Everybody can get their picture taken…” Did the Queen cosy up with Daniel Craig for a pic, too? “Absolutely!” laughs Danny Boyle. “Yeah! But she was very, very keen and insistent that her staff did as well. I liked that about her very much. You thought, yeah, that’s decent, looking after them like that. And we had a lovely afternoon filming with the two of them.”
A special Bafta for Elizabeth II as best supporting actress? She’d get Danny Boyle’s vote.
This article is part of a series in which celebrity participants and fans argue the case for their favourite Radio Times Bafta Audience Award nominee