I’ve thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the glorious London Olympics from 10 years ago, hence my recent lengthy reviews of the Opening Ceremony, Days 1-8 and Days 9-16. There are loads of great memories, and some things I’d forgotten about that I’ve been happily reminded of. So naturally it’s time to look back at the Closing Ceremony, which was overseen by creative director Kim Gavin.
As big and important as the occasion was, it’s fair to say it wasn’t quite as epic or impressive as the Opening Ceremony – but then it didn’t need to be. We had already put on a fantastic show over the previous few weeks, and so now we could just let our hair down and have fun, and thank everyone for making the Games such a success. This was more of a party than a ceremony really, focusing on the best of British music and culture with a variety of big-name artists. Most of the tracks appeared on the soundtrack album A Symphony Of British Music, compiled by the ceremony’s musical director David Arnold, which I own in my collection. It contains a mixture of original music written for the ceremony, cover versions of well-known songs, and special re-recordings by artists of their own tracks for the event.
And it was still very enjoyable on the whole. It’s very unlikely that everything would have appealed to everyone but, depending on your musical and cultural tastes, there would have been a few particularly memorable or special moments for each person watching. That was certainly the case for me anyway – there are some parts I can easily skip over, and other bits I can watch over and over again.
And visually it looked very cool as well, not just in terms of the costumes, dancing, fireworks and so on, but also the creative use of the ‘pixels’ – the coloured lights behind each audience member – that created animated patterns around the stadium throughout the show, and the impressive Union Jack stage – designed by artist Damien Hirst – that filled the floor of the stadium.
The ceremony lasted 3 hours and 10 minutes, and is included in its entirety on the final fifth disc of the BBC’s Blu-ray set. There are no alternative audio options and no scene selection menu (though there are chapter points you can skip through). You simply get the broadcast coverage with the BBC commentators led by Huw Edwards, but that’s generally fine as they don’t interfere too much. They’re most involved when the athletes are making their way into the stadium, while at other times they just give a bit of contextual information, which is actually very useful. And by all accounts we had much better TV coverage than some overseas viewers. The only extra on the disc is a long PDF with the full list of credits for the ceremony, which you can see if you put it into a computer’s Blu-ray drive. Not quite as long as the equivalent document for the Opening Ceremony, but still pretty lengthy.
You can also watch the full ceremony on the Olympics Youtube channel, where they have their own commentators. As with their Opening Ceremony coverage, it starts with a beautiful helicopter shot travelling slowly over London towards and around the stadium, showing off the city and the venue wonderfully. And there are other videos online relating to the ceremony as well, including a bit of footage from the audience and behind the scenes. So, like I’ve done with my previous posts, I’ve compiled a Ceremony Playlist on Youtube, with relevant clips and the complete music soundtrack if you want to look through it.
And so, with all that said, let’s crack on with my look back at the ceremony. It won’t be anywhere near as lengthy as my Opening Ceremony coverage, as there’s much less to discuss this time. But I hope you enjoy!
After a repeat of the Road Goes On Forever countdown used for the Opening Ceremony, the first little section of the show celebrated the hustle and bustle and life of the city. The Union Jack stage was decorated with various London landmarks, including the London Eye, Tower Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral, The Gherkin, Battersea Power Station and Royal Albert Hall, with traffic heading outwards from the centre on each arm of the flag. There was also a tall model of Big Ben, which chimed 9pm at the start of the ceremony, the crowd counting along with it, and we would soon discover a secret it was hiding.
The music then got underway with brief renditions of Read All About It, Pt. III by Emeli Sandé (standing on a flatbed truck decorated with newspaper) and an a cappella cover of The Beatles song Because by the Urban Voices Collective (which starts off the soundtrack album as a 38-second track, and is the first of several Beatles songs featured in the show).
Julian Lloyd Webber and the London Symphony Orchestra then performed Salut d’Amour by Elgar. And during the start of that, actor Timothy Spall emerged as Winston Churchill from the top of Big Ben to deliver Shakespeare’s Be Not Afeared speech, which is printed on the Olympic bell and was also spoken in the Opening Ceremony. Percussion group Stomp then accompanied Julian, banging away on their bins and pans as they dangled off the various landmarks, and traffic started driving off the flag stage and around the outside of it, reflecting rush hour in London.
It got faster and more chaotic until Churchill called a halt, so that Prince Harry (introduced by his birth name of Prince Henry) could be introduced to represent The Queen, accompanied by Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee. And then our national anthem was performed by the Urban Voices Collective with the London Symphony Orchestra. So nothing amazing by way of an introduction to the ceremony overall, but it set things up nicely.
The next section began with a nice nod to Only Fools And Horses, with the bonnet and doors exploding off the Trotters’ yellow three-wheeled van, and a couple of people getting out dressed as Batman and Robin in reference to the classic scene from their 1996 Christmas trilogy. That probably went straight over the heads of many international viewers, but every single Brit watching would have appreciated the reference. More well known to all would have been the classic Michael Caine line “You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” from The Italian Job, which was also heard at that moment.
The centre of the stadium then became a vibrant street party, and we got some longer performances of songs this time, with nice live performances of Our House by Madness (featuring the Hackney Colliery Band) and West End Girls by Pet Shop Boys (wearing black outfits with very tall pointy black hats), as they were transported around the stadium. In between them there was an instrumental rendition of Blur’s Parklife by the Massed Bands Of The Household Division, with everybody singing the title phrase and the chorus.
One Direction then performed What Makes You Beautiful, which didn’t make it on to the soundtrack album, but that’s fine by me as I’m not into them. It’s a lively song to keep the crowd happy though. The percussion group Stomp then got a proper opportunity to show off by themselves, using dustbins, bin lids, sticks, brooms and more to great effect. They gathered their largest group for this show, with 40 performers.
Next came a group from Britain’s Got Talent called Spellbound, who danced to part of the Beatles track A Day In The Life. And then they were joined by Ray Davies arriving in a taxi to perform Waterloo Sunset, during which he prompted the crowd to sing each of the “Sha la la” refrains. 270 children, from 10 schools in the 6 host East London boroughs, formed the River Thames as well, which was very clever.
Emeli Sandé then returned to another stage at the side of the stadium to do a full performance of Read All About It, Pt. III, which was the first public rendition of her new single at the time. I’m not a particular fan of hers or the song, but lyrically it was appropriate for the occasion. She was accompanied by a montage of athletes getting emotional with joy or despair during the Games, starting with the victory of Jessica Ennis, and ending with distraught fencer Shin A Lim during her sit-in protest, which I wrote about towards the end of my previous post. Emeli’s performance also allowed the central stage area to be cleared of all the London gear ready for the next section.
We’re half an hour into the show at this point, and we come to the first really important part of the ceremony – the entrance of the athletes, which itself lasted about 25 minutes. First came the flag-bearers, one for each team, with Ben Ainslie, the most successful Olympic sailor ever, representing Great Britain. They were accompanied by a majestic David Arnold composition that suited the occasion well, and they eventually ended up standing in two lines across the centre of the Union Jack stage.
Then the other athletes poured in, coming down the aisles amongst the spectators, which was a first for a closing ceremony. It was a wonderful chance for the crowd to feel a closer connection to the athletes and to be able to congratulate them as they passed. The stars were clearly all in party mood, some dancing or doing fancy tricks or waving cheerfully at the camera. And gradually they all gathered in the large triangular spaces around the central stage, created by the runways that formed the horizontal and diagonal arms of the Union Jack design.
While that was going on, the band Elbow – who produced the First Steps theme tune for the BBC coverage – took to the side stage to perform Open Arms & One Day Like This, accompanied by the Urban Voices Collective and London Symphony Orchestra. I prefer One Day Like This, it feels like more of an upbeat, lively, powerful, sing-along number, whereas Open Arms doesn’t grab me so much, though I appreciate the nice sentiments of the song. You don’t get to hear them fully on the BBC Blu-ray anyway, because the commentators are talking about the athletes, who are partying while being cheered along by the crowd. But the songs are on the soundtrack album.
Of course, those 2 tracks weren’t anywhere near long enough for all of the athletes to enter, so they padded it out in the stadium by replaying the soundtrack recordings of Our House, Parklife, West End Girls and What Makes You Beautiful. It’s a shame they couldn’t find another band or two to perform more songs live in that time really, it seems a wasted opportunity. I know the focus of attention wouldn’t have been fully on them, but it would have added a bit more variety.
A special remix of Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush was then played, accompanied by 16 Indian dhol drummers, as 303 white boxes (1 for each Olympic event) were brought in by dancers to form a hill (or pyramid), while clips of athletes were also shown. Kate recorded new lead vocals for this version, which were then placed over the backing track of the 1985 12″ version. It’s not a remix that appeals to me personally, as I’m not hugely into her musica anyway, and this version feels a bit repetitive. But it was popular enough to get to number 6 in the UK charts, its second time in the top 10 after its original release (it got to number 3 in 1985). More recently, the original version of the song was finally catapulted to number 1 in the UK after being featured in Season 4 of Stranger Things, her first time at the top of the chart since Wuthering Heights in 1978. So it keeps having a resurgence every so often.
That sequence filled a bit of time while they prepared for the men’s marathon medal ceremony, a tradition at the Closing Ceremony. Here Ugandan Stephen Kiprotich received the first gold medal his country’s won for 50 years! David Arnold’s Medal Ceremony theme, a nice gentle piece of music, is included on the soundtrack album.
Katherine Grainger and Katie Taylor from Team GB then joined 4 other athletes in presenting flowers to representatives of the 70,000 volunteers who did a phenomenal job helping out during the Games. They were standing on a stage in the centre of the stadium, made out of some of the white boxes that had been rearranged. And while that was going on, the Urban Voices Collective performed Here Comes The Sun – which is lovely, but strangely comes before the Medal Ceremony theme on the soundtrack album. Not that it matters, but the rest of the album reflects the order of the show, so it seems odd that those 2 tracks are transposed.
A Symphony of British Music
With that first block of formalities out of the way, the next hour is devoted to a fluid and nicely choreographed celebration of British music and culture, with a variety of big artists and famous songs featured. By its nature, some appeal to me more than others, but it certainly covered a fair variety of genres and time periods from the 60s onwards.
Many of the artists had backing singers and dancers with them too of course, with some performances being more elaborate than others. Performances generally alternated between the big central stage, the side stage, and occasionally a stage in front of the cauldron, giving time for things to be cleared up and reset in the area that wasn’t being used. The ‘pixels’ around the stadium, which I mentioned at the start of this post, were fully used throughout, while the audience can often be heard singing along, and the athletes are regularly seen partying in their areas around the central stage.
Most of the tracks are featured on the second disc of the soundtrack album. A few are omitted altogether, and the first one actually sits at the end of the first disc, when it would have made more sense at the start of the second, where there would have been just about enough room. Not that it makes much difference when you’re listening to a digital version like me though, when it’s just one long album anyway.
The playlist consisted of:
- The opening lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. This was just the recording played with an echo effect and pixel animations. Given that it’s such a massive hit though, it’s nice that it was featured in some way, and in a different manner to the Opening Ceremony. And Queen would be back later, meaning they topped and tailed this section of the ceremony.
- A beautiful rendition of Imagine by the Liverpool Philharmonic Youth Choir & John Lennon. The children did a wonderful job here, on their v-shaped stage in front of the cauldron, some signing actions with the lyrics. And there was massive cheering and applause when John appeared on the big screens to join in with them, in a video that had been specially remastered for the ceremony by Yoko Ono. A big model of John’s face was also formed in the centre of the stadium by lots of people carrying different pieces to put it together, which was a really nice tribute to him.
- George Michael then emerged from the opening in the centre of the main stage to perform two songs. Freedom ’90 is a great well-known track that got everyone joining in, and it was a perfect choice. White Light, meanwhile, was a new song he’d released in July 2012, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his first single entering the charts, and in reference to his difficult battle with pneumonia the previous year. Which means most people didn’t know it, it didn’t suit the occasion very well, and while not terrible it isn’t anywhere near as good as Freedom. Everyone else was sticking to their big hits, so it was rather an odd fit. But it appears he may have insisted on singing it in order to appear, and he had no regrets about doing so, despite the backlash he got for it. And while he wasn’t at the peak of his performing powers here, it did prove to be historically important, as it was one of his final concert appearances (his very last one taking place in October that year) and White Light was his last original song release, before he died 4 years later. White Light was also included on the ceremony soundtrack album (but Freedom wasn’t).
- The Kaiser Chiefs then performed a reasonable cover of Pinball Wizard, with mods on scooters driving around. The Who themselves would appear later in the ceremony. There’s a nice POV video by one of the scooter riders that gives a real sense of the scale of the stadium as they’re driving around.
- Several snippets of David Bowie songs came next, before a recording of Fashion was played in full, during which famous models including Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell & Georgia May Jagger (Mick Jagger’s daughter) appeared wearing outfits by big designer names, walking the runways to the centre of the main stage.
- After that, Annie Lennox sang Little Bird, which unsurprisingly was another great highlight, as she was pulled in on a huge wooden ship with a big supporting cast of performers. The song is from the soundtrack to Francis Ford Coppola‘s film adaptation of Bram Stoker‘s Dracula.
- Ed Sheeran then performed a cover of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, joined by Nick Mason from that iconic band, plus Mike Rutherford (founder member of Genesis) & Richard Jones (from The Feeling). I’m not a fan of Ed’s, but it’s a respectful enough rendition. It also featured a tightrope walker high above the stadium, who greeted a mannequin that then burst into flames (as a nod to the Wish You Were Here album cover).
- Russell Brand was a very strange choice next, as he can’t sing well and I’ve never been a fan of his, I find him very irritating sometimes. He entered on top of a colourful psychedelic bus to sing the opening words of Pure Imagination from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, and then a full version of I Am The Walrus by The Beatles, with colourfully dressed dancers around him and the crowds doing the ‘woos’ in the chorus. Thankfully his voice was processed on Walrus with a megaphone effect, which helped him to get away with it.
- The bus then opened up to reveal a huge inflatable octopus with Fatboy Slim inside the head. He played Right Here, Right Now & The Rockafeller Skank, of which there are just short excerpts on the soundtrack album, as the full original mixes would have been too long at over 6 minutes each.
- Next there was a collaboration of modern artists, all arriving in open top cars that drive around the stadium, who I can quite happily skip over, as I’m not a fan of any of them. Jessie J, Tinie Tempah and Taio Cruz performed Price Tag, Written In The Stars & Dynamite respectively, which are combined in a medley on the soundtrack album, before they got together for the Bee Gees song You Should Be Dancing.
- The Spice Girls then reunited to sing a medley of Wannabe & Spice Up Your Life, arriving in black cabs which lit up with colourful patterns as they got out. Again, I’ve never been a big fan of them either, but it’s perfectly understandable why they were included given their impact on ‘girl power’, and they did go down a storm with the crowd. You can also see a video recorded by Victoria Beckham’s taxi driver during the performance, which gives an interesting alternate view of things, and a fan-made documentary compiling TV footage before, during and after the Games, where they initially dismiss the rumours before it all takes shape.
- And to represent one of the classic male bands from the 90s, they were followed by Beady Eye, led by Liam Gallagher, playing Wonderwall by his former band Oasis. He’s never had a great singing voice, so he does it as well as you might expect, but it’s a big track that everybody knows anyway.
- The rest of this section of the ceremony is easily my favourite though, kicking off with a recording of Mr Blue Sky by the Electric Light Orchestra as people rode flying bikes, and a guy wearing a helmet, goggles and safety suit got into a big cannon, before the fuse was lit. But when it detonated, the cannon flopped down and the guy fell into the central pit instead, to the audience’s laughter.
- Eric Idle then emerged from the pit in the same flying suit, to a huge cheer, and launched into an increasingly elaborate and fantastically epic version of Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, including the Hackney Colliery Band, London Welsh Rugby Club, Reading Scottish Pipe Band, Blackheath Morris Men, angels, skating nuns, Roman soldiers, an interruption by some Punjabi bhangra dancers, and a finale featuring soprano Susan Bullock dressed as Britannia. Everyone sang along of course, and a real human cannonball was fired across the stadium at the end. It’s as hugely silly and fun as you’d expect from the Monty Python star, and by far one of the best moments of the entire ceremony. It’s up there with Rowan Atkinson’s segment from the Opening Ceremony as a perfect display of universally recognised British humour.
- Muse then performed their great track Survival, specially written as the official song for the Games, on the side stage, with flames erupting around them. It’s a brilliantly powerful and uplifting track. Their song Map Of The Problematique had previously been played as the cameras brought the TV audience into the stadium for the Opening Ceremony.
- Queen then wrapped up this central part of the ceremony, and to everyone’s elation Freddie Mercury got his moment in the spotlight first, appearing on tall screens in the centre of the stadium to lead the audience in some call and response from the band’s appearance at Wembley in 1986. More than 20 years on from his death and he could still command an entire stadium crowd effortlessly with that exceptional voice of his. 10 years on from that and he still can, as the Queen + Adam Lambert concerts continue to prove.
- Then it was Brian May’s turn, as he performed an exquisite guitar solo on the side stage, and there is a short video of him rehearsing online. He then strode proudly to the centre of the stadium, with Jessie J approaching from the opposite end and Roger Taylor rising from the central pit, to perform We Will Rock You, again with the whole crowd knowing exactly how to join in. Brian even had to do an extended guitar intro given how far he had to walk, which made it all the better. I would have preferred someone more suitable than Jessie doing the vocals – it would have been amazing to see them reunited with their good friend George Michael for example, 20 years on from the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert – but the fact that Queen were featured so prominently was brilliant nonetheless. Queen always used to finish their concerts with Rock You and Champions, so it made sense to have one of those sing-along smash hits finishing the concert part of the ceremony.
Closing the Games
It was then time to pass on the Olympic baton and bring the London Games to a close in the traditional fashion, with a few more big musical guests and performers helping out.
First came the raising of the Greek flag with their national anthem, as the founders of the Olympic movement, followed by the lowering of the Olympic flag accompanied by the Olympic anthem, sung by 2 Welsh choirs (which is included on the soundtrack album). The Olympic flag was then passed from Boris Johnson (Mayor of London at the time) to Jacques Rogge (President of the International Olympic Committee), who in turned passed it to Eduardo Paes (Mayor of Rio De Janeiro). And that led to the Brazilian anthem being played as their flag was raised.
Rio then put on a lively, colourful, carnival-style display for just under 10 minutes, which included beautiful costumes, samba dancing, an appearance by footballer Pelé (widely regarded as one of the greatest football players of all time) and lots of fireworks in their national colours of green and yellow. It gave a really good taste of what was to come 4 years later. It would be the first time a South American country had ever hosted the Games, so they had all the more reason to celebrate.
Sebastian Coe and Jacques Rogge then gave lovely closing speeches. Seb got plenty of cheers for various remarks, most notably a well-deserved 30-second ovation for all the volunteers. As he accurately said: “When the time came, Britain, we did it right.” Jacques Rogge passed away on 29 August 2021, pretty much a year ago as I’m posting this, but he achieved a huge amount in his lifetime and was greatly admired by many. He was very pleased with the London Games too.
The impressive Olympic cauldron, formed so brilliantly in the Opening Ceremony, then lowered its tall stems to a piece of music entitled Extinguishing the Flame, with fireworks revealing a phoenix behind it. The flames remained lit at this point though, it wasn’t quite time to put them out yet. Gary Barlow then led Take That in a performance of Rule The World. Again, not one of my favourite bands, but the song suited the moment, especially with all the fireworks going off around the stadium and off the top of the nearby Orbit Tower.
Darcey Bussell was then accompanied by over 200 ballerinas for a wonderful dance performance to another great David Arnold composition called Spirit Of The Flame that mixes classical operatic and catchy modern musical styles quite effectively. Once they had then finished in front of the cauldron, it flattened out its arms completely for the flames to be turned off. It was beautifully done.
And then rock gods The Who closed the ceremony with Baba O’Riley, See Me Feel Me and My Generation. Given that Baba O’Riley had been sampled for the Road Goes On Forever countdown music at the start of both the Opening and Closing ceremonies, it brought things full circle to have the actual song played at the end here, in addition to the fact that it’s also a cracker of a tune. And the other songs were perfect choices as well. This was indeed our generation’s moment, as most of us will never see this happen in London again in our lifetimes. All the big stars from the show joined them on stage during My Generation, and there were naturally lots of fireworks around the stadium and the Olympic Park. It was a fabulous way to finish a fantastic Games.
And there it is, we made it to the end of the London 2012 Olympics, of which I’ll always have very fond recollections. I hope it’s brought back some memories for you as well, or maybe it’s introduced you to something new if you never saw it or there are things you missed. I know I’ve gone into rather a lot of detail, but I wanted to write about it while rewatching and exploring it all, and the fact that I got so absorbed in it shows just how much there was going on. And remember, as well as these posts, you can also see lots of highlights, audience footage, behind the scenes material, interviews, music tracks and more in my Youtube playlists for the Opening Ceremony, Sporting Highlights & Closing Ceremony.
And of course, it wasn’t over yet. There was still the Paralympics to come, so check out my next post for more about those!