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Radio Times Audience Award: Lord Coe and Tim Berners-Lee on their Olympics Opening Ceremony memories

Danny Boyle's London 2012 extravaganza captured the imagination of the nation, particularly the volunteers who were involved...

Published: Sunday, 28th April 2013 at 6:15 am

Olympic mastermind: Lord Coe - Chairman of the London 2012 Organising Committee


“My favourite moment was the end. I was just relieved we got through it! There are obvious highlights that everybody will refer to: Rowan Atkinson has probably changed for ever the way we look at Chariots of Fire and there’s the chutzpah of getting the Queen to agree to jump out of a helicopter. Frankly, I just said to Danny Boyle: ‘All right, we’ve got to figure out how we’re going to get her to do it.’ The guy is a creative genius. Who was I to doubt?

“But for me, it was also the curious look on people’s faces as they came into the stadium and saw in front of them a rural scene – cows, milkmaids, people playing cricket. I enjoyed the fact that most people didn’t know what was coming, even though the papers had done their best to give it all away. Danny was always clear what he wanted: to chronicle that extraordinary past, from agrarian Britain to Tim Berners-Lee and Higgs boson, in a thoughtful way.

“Rehearsals for the 15,000 volunteers were at the old Ford car plant in Dagenham, and done in driving rain and biting cold. It was only with a week to go that they started coming into the Olympic Park and the stadium itself. I’d often go and watch a rehearsal in the bowels of the stadium, where Danny would be a film director explaining to volunteers how you pick up a sack of coal. That was one of the reasons we asked him to do this: we wanted a film-maker’s eye, not just an expert at delivering ceremonies.

“One thing that slightly surprised me was that it appealed to every generation. While we were making a very serious point about the contribution the NHS has made to Britain and the great children’s literature that’s come from these shores, the five- and six-year-olds loved the fact that 40 Mary Poppins had suddenly flown in.

“The only time I saw Danny under pressure was when it started raining ten minutes before the Opening Ceremony started. We both looked at each other; we didn’t even want to say it. Mercifully, the rain only lasted eight minutes. It was the final character test.”

Unlikely star: Sir Tim Berners-Lee - inventor of the worldwide web

“I was never a cynic. Danny Boyle emailed me more than a year beforehand, by which time he’d already come up with the plot, the set design and a lot of the script. So I went over to his studio and he showed me what he wanted to do. It was an immediate ‘yes’ from me. It was such a unique, exciting thing to be involved in.

“I always enjoyed amateur drama in my youth and in many ways it was like a massive amateur pantomime. Everything had been rehearsed but nothing had been rehearsed in the order it would happen on the night. All I had to do was press a button while a camera zoomed around me at high speed. It was still nerve-racking.

“The moment before, I was standing against the back wall of the “house” and suddenly all these dancers poured off the stage. There seemed to be thousands of them and they were all very excited, having just danced their socks off in front of millions of people. Watching them come flying towards me in a stream of colour was amazing in itself.

“Danny Boyle rocks. He’s just a great person to work with: really creative and really, really nice. He had lots of time for everybody, even the kids asking him questions about what it was like to be a director. Instead of pomp and circumstance, he wanted to celebrate the things that real Brits feel proud about. And he was so earnest that every single one of the 15,000 volunteers threw their heart and soul into making it happen. Not because it was going to work – I don’t think people worried about whether it was going to work – but because it was such a great idea.”

Girl on the hill: Niamh Bowdler - Great Ormond Street hospital patient, 12

“We weren’t allowed to tell anybody apart from our mums we were in the Olympics. Our job was to stand on Glastonbury Tor and wave while the nurses danced. My favourite part was when four giant beds came out and the blankets lit up to show a child’s face with a smile and a tear – Great Ormond Street Hospital’s logo. Backstage I met JK Rowling, which made my dad jealous because he’s a massive Harry Potter fan! It was the best day of my life.”

Niamh has a rare bladder and kidney condition, and visits the hospital regularly.

The dancing nurse: Betsey Lau-Robinson - senior nurse, University College Hospital, London

“Rehearsals were tough. Every weekend we trekked out to Dagenham and the weather was disgusting. Even so, very few people dropped out — we had such belief, and that came from Danny. He attended every training session. We’d say, “Danny, are you sure this is going to work?” And he’d reply, “Trust me.” We were part of one big Danny Boyle family. Entering the stadium, I had goosebumps. A truly magical moment.”

Your vote counts in this year's Radio Times Audience Award - but which of the super six is your favourite?

The Olympics Opening Ceremony
Game of Thrones
Call the Midwife
Strictly Come Dancing
The Great British Bake Off

To vote for your favourite, go to


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