Soon after the sensational Olympics in 2012, which I’ve recently posted about extensively to mark the 10th anniversary, we then got to enjoy another couple of weeks of multi-sporting excellence courtesy of the Paralympics. Having disabled people take centre stage in these Games, for the whole world to see their stunning achievements, is always incredibly important and thrilling to watch. The Opening Ceremony took place exactly 10 years ago today as I’m publishing this, on 29 August 2012.
The Paralympics cannot change all of society’s attitudes and behaviours overnight of course, nor does it claim to do so. It clearly doesn’t represent every disabled person or impairment, nor the myriad of different ways we each go about our lives. These are exceptional athletes who have pushed themselves to their absolute limits, so their lives are very different to the rest of us in many ways. But even so, they are still people with conditions and experiences that many of us can relate to, and their exposure on a global stage undeniably helps to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and encourage greater acceptance and inclusion, in an engaging and entertaining way. It isn’t a quick fix for equality and inclusivity, and it’s totally understandable that some disabled people take issue with the way it’s promoted – there is a lot of work to be done beyond the Paralympic bubble for sure. But it is a very prominent springboard in the right direction, and I for one love watching it.
The London 2012 Paralympics were the biggest Games to date, and they certainly made their mark, by successfully extending and surfing on the tidal wave of intense enthusiasm that had been generated by the Olympics. They sold record numbers of tickets and attracted a huge TV audience, as people flocked to watch and support the biggest number of disabled competitors to date, many of whom were or became lasting household names.
So in this post I’m going to look back at some of my favourite moments of the 2012 Paralympics, with the aid of Channel 4’s Blu-ray set of the Games. There isn’t as much to talk about as there was for the Olympics, so I can go through it in just one post this time, but there are still lots of great highlights worth mentioning along the way. And I’ve also created a Paralympics playlist on Youtube with plenty of clips too. So I hope you enjoy!
Channel 4 Blu-ray
Channel 4 deserve a lot of praise for taking a calculated risk in 2012, when they took on broadcasting duties for the Paralympics, delivering by far the most comprehensive coverage there had ever been on TV and online, with some disabled presenters amongst their team. And they’ve continued to broadcast the Paralympics and a few other disability sports since then too, it’s been wonderful to see them making such a commitment.
They released a Blu-ray set of the Paralympics in 2012, hot on the heels of the BBC’s Olympics set. It’s not as comprehensive, but it covers a lot of the important stuff and is still great to watch. While the BBC set contained a few hours of footage on each of its 5 discs, Channel 4’s set contains just 2 hours on each of its 3 discs:
- Disc 1 contains sporting highlights and extras, with subtitles and audio description available, and a chapter for each day. When the disc first loads, it plays Channel 4’s wonderfully edited Meet The Superhumans promo of disabled athletes playing a variety of sports (which is weirdly still accessible via search results on Youtube, despite its channel being deleted, so there’s nothing to read or interact with below the video). And that’s followed by 30 seconds of sponsorship ads for BT (featuring Jonnie Peacock) and Sainsbury’s. All of those opening videos are skippable, so you don’t have to sit through them. The menu plays part of the song Movin’ On Up by Primal Scream.
- Discs 2 & 3 contain the Opening & Closing Ceremonies respectively. Both have subtitles and chapter selection, but only the Opening Ceremony has an audio descriptive commentary available, which is a pity. There is also a 10-minute extra of scrolling credits, which is the same on both discs, listing everyone involved with the production and broadcasting of the ceremonies. The menus on both discs just play the sound of audience applause.
On all 3 discs, the main feature begins with Channel 4’s title sequence of animated figures made of various shapes, playing sports in iconic London locations, accompanied by the song Harder Than You Think by Public Enemy. It samples Jezahel by Shirley Bassey, which is her cover of Jesahel by Delirium. The Public Enemy track is used in the Meet The Superhumans promo I mentioned above as well, and Channel 4 continue to use it for their disability sport coverage to this day. It’s also used for the titles of The Last Leg, which began as a light-hearted daily review of the 2012 Games, and went on to become a hugely popular staple of Friday night telly as they try to make sense of, and find humour in, the latest news stories. Online you can also hear an instrumental, Dehasse remix and Featurecast remix of the song, the latter being my favourite of those alternate mixes as it’s very catchy.
The Opening Ceremony of the Paralympics wasn’t as epic or excitingly memorable as the one for the Olympics, as the set pieces weren’t on the same scale and there weren’t as many famous faces this time. But it was still very well put together, including some very talented disabled performers. Plus I have the Enlightenment soundtrack album that goes with it, which has some nice tracks.
The full video of the ceremony on the Paralympics Youtube channel, using their own commentators, is knocking on the door of 4 hours, while Channel 4’s Blu-ray edit is just 2 hours. But that’s because Channel 4 have cut out most of the Parade of Athletes, which takes up just over half of the running time, along with a few other small edits elsewhere. The entrance of the Great Britain team is shown in full of course, to the tune of Heroes by David Bowie, with wheelchair tennis player Peter Norfolk leading the way as our flag bearer. But there are just fleeting glimpses of some of the other countries in the parade for a couple of minutes before that. It’s a pity for those who want to watch every single nation entering the stadium, but it’s the sort of thing I skip over anyway, so I’m not worried about that, and it’s good that you still have the option to see it all online if you wish to.
Other notable formalities included:
- Lovely speeches welcoming the Games back to the UK by Sebastian Coe & Philip Craven, on behalf of the London Organising Committee & International Paralympic Committee respectively.
- The Paralympic flag carried in by 8 members of Great Britain’s Under 22‘s Wheelchair Basketball team. It was then raised to the Paralympic Anthem (Hymne A L’Avenir), which is a beautiful piece of music.
- The entrance of the Paralympic torch, carried by Royal Marine Commando Joe Townsend as he rode a zip wire down into the stadium from the neighbouring Orbit Tower. He then passed it to blind footballer David Clarke, who ran with it to the Paralympic cauldron (the same one as used in the Olympics). The torch was then given to 84-year-old Margaret Maughan, who was an archer in the original Stoke Mandeville Games invented by scientist Sir Ludwig Guttmann, from which the Paralympics evolved. She went on to compete in the first international Paralympics in Rome in 1960, becoming Great Britain’s first ever Paralympic gold medallist, so it made absolute sense to give her the honour of lighting the cauldron.
It was also nice that they thought of accessibility during the ceremony, with lyrics to songs up on the big screens, sign language interpreters at certain important moments, and the respectfully adapted instruction “For those who can, please stand” when asking people to observe official anthems.
Beyond those essential traditions, the performing showcase elements of the ceremony were all about curiosity and exploration, from the fear of the unknown through to the joy of discovery, whether that’s new worlds, books, science, personal talents, self-confidence, and so on. We can and should and inevitably will embark on our own individual journeys of enlightenment through our lifetimes, and we should harness the opportunities and possibilities presented to us. And everyone has an equal right to pursue and become the best version of themselves. Disability isn’t and shouldn’t be a barrier to that, and it wouldn’t be if everyone had equal and fair rights, which not everybody does.
Our eyes and ears through this journey is Miranda from The Tempest, a young woman in a wheelchair played by Nicola Miles-Wild. She learns more about herself and what the universe has to offer, thanks to the guiding hand of Sir Ian McKellen as Prospero, who joins her at regular intervals to impart his wisdom. Plus Professor Stephen Hawking delivers some profound and important messages of his own throughout the ceremony, which are included during some of the tracks on the soundtrack album.
Along the way Miranda is educated and entertained via huge choreographed scenes involving hundreds of performers, backed by clever animations generated on the big ‘pixels’ all around the stadium behind each audience member. So they are very busy sequences with a lot to take in, arguably too much sometimes, and as a result the audio description track is rather essential. Sights included lots of dancers with umbrellas that lit up in various colours as they performed to a remix of Umbrella by Rihanna, wheelchair users driving huge objects around the stadium, break dancing by Flawless, references to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, disabled athletes being lifted into the air including Tanni Grey-Thompson, a journey through a stormy ocean on a boat made of an upturned umbrella, a maze made of giant apples, and mentions of the Large Hadron Collider.
There were also some songs performed by various artists, not all of which appealed to me greatly but were nicely done regardless. My personal favourite is the cover of Ian Dury’s Spasticus Autisticus by the Graeae Theatre group of disabled performers. I saw their Ian Dury musical Reasons To Be Cheerful in 2017, and more recently they posted a lockdown version of Spasticus Autisticus with an audio described introduction in 2020. In the ceremony it’s part of a mix with Where Is It Going? by Orbital, featuring words from Stephen Hawking who is even wearing the band’s distinctive shades. That section also finished by revealing a replica model of the Alison Lapper Pregnant sculpture by Marc Quinn.
A few of the other songs that didn’t grab me so much but are still worth noting included:
- Spirit In Motion – Specially written by Errollyn Wallen and performed by blind soprano Denise Leigh (winner of the show Operatunity). Opera generally isn’t my cup of tea, with just one or two exceptions, but her performance did go down really well with the crowd, and rightly so.
- Bird Gerhl – A cover of a song by Anthony & The Johnsons, played by 16-year-old Birdy at the piano. What I find more interesting here, however, is the incredible accompanying performance by double lower limb amputee Dave Toole, who does a lovely dance routine on his hands before soaring up to meet Miranda, who has also been raised high into the air, fuelled by her ignited inspiration. It’s a really beautiful moment. David sadly passed away last year, but this performance will remain a shining legacy of his talents.
- I Am What I Am – The big finale performance by Beverley Knight, with Lizzie Emeh and deaf performer Caroline Parker. It builds to a big finish as everyone sings and dances along, and fireworks go off all around stadium and the Olympic Park. The song is originally from the musical La Cage aux Folles, and was most famously recorded by Gloria Gaynor, while also becoming a huge hit in Argentina for Sandra Mihanovich. And even though I’m not a big fan of Beverley’s music, it was certainly a perfect choice of song to finish this ceremony with.
There was a packed schedule for these Games, with a record 4,302 Paralympians from 164 countries taking part in 503 events across 20 sports in 11 days. So it is a shame that Channel 4, after their astonishingly comprehensive coverage at the time, saw fit to put just 2 hours of highlights together for their Blu-ray set. It does mention several big headlines and includes quite a few significant moments, and it is very nicely edited with audio description available, so it’s well worth watching and keeping as a lovely souvenir of the Games. But they could easily have doubled or tripled the amount of highlights presented.
The programme is divided into 1 chapter per day, each lasting anywhere from 5-17 minutes, with the always capable, friendly and knowledgeable Clare Balding providing an introduction each time. A few races or events are shown in some degree of detail each day, including interviews with some of the athletes, while various other notable achievements for the British team are noted as fleeting headlines. Some athletes from other nations get mentioned as well, but naturally our home team are the main focus.
It’s also important to note that each para sport has its own classification system, because of the unique physical requirements in each case. These systems attempt to group athletes together with similar disabilities, in a way that ensures competition is as fair as possible. So there will often be multiple versions of each race or event, each with a different classification code that indicates the type and severity of disability for those participating in it. It’s not a perfect science by any means, given the vast spectrum of impairments that exist, so there can be arguments and appeals about which classification an athlete should be. But it generally works well.
It can get very confusing for those unfamiliar with it, however. So Channel 4 use LEXI, a special animated guide invented by Paralympic swimming champion Giles Long, that displays colour-coded graphics to simplify and explain the classifications for each sport. And I think it works really well. There may be complexities that it can’t cover, but it gives viewers the basics they need to know. The most relevant LEXI guides are included on Disc 1 of the Blu-ray set as an extra feature, which is really handy.
I’m not going to mention every single event or every single British medal. But the Blu-ray either features or briefly mentions a lot of them. The links to the names of races and some other events take you directly to the relevant videos.
Among the events featured most heavily on this compilation, cycling gets a lot of attention, as the British team topped that medal table with 8 gold, 9 silver and 5 bronze medals. There were a lot of track events at the Lee Valley Velodrome to begin with, then the action switched to the road at Brands Hatch. The highlights included:
- Mark Lee Colbourne got our first cycling medal of any colour with a silver in the Men’s C1-3 1km Time Trial, before going on to win gold with a world record in the Men’s C1 Individual Pursuit. He then won silver on the road in the Men’s C1 Time Trial.
- Jon-Allan Butterworth won silver in the men’s C4-5 1km time trial. The defending champion Jody Cundy was also in that event, but he didn’t get out of the starting gate cleanly and requested a restart, claiming there was an issue with the gate. The officials couldn’t find a mechanical fault, however, so to his dismay (and the booing of the crowd) they didn’t allow him to have another go. So he flew into a curse-filled rage that he later apologised for.
- Sarah Storey got her first gold in these Games with an easy victory in the Women’s C5 Individual Pursuit, catching her opponent Anna Harkowska less than halfway into the 3,000m race! She then got her second gold in the Women’s C4-5 500m Time Trial. Then, over at Brands Hatch, she won her third and fourth golds in the Women’s C5 Time Trial & Women’s C4-5 Road Race, making her the most decorated British Paralympian of all time. In the Road Race she finished more than 7 minutes ahead of her nearest rival!
- Neil Fachie with pilot guide Barney Storey (Sarah’s husband) won the Men’s Individual B 1km Time Trial with a world record. The pair were beaten to gold in the Men’s B Sprint, however, by teammates Anthony Kappes & pilot guide Craig MacLean.
- Aileen McGlynn & pilot guide Helen Scott beat teammates Lora Turnham & pilot Fiona Duncan to get bronze in the Women’s Individual Pursuit B.
- Paralympics GB won silver in the Mixed Team Sprint C1-5.
- David Stone successfully defended his Mixed T1-2 Road Race title.
- Rachel Morris won bronze in the Women’s H1-3 Road Race. She held hands with teammate Karen Darke so they could finish at the same time, as they wanted to share the medal. But the judges had to make a decision, and the photo finish showed that Rachel’s front wheel touched the line first, so the bronze was given to her. Karen had already won a silver in the Women’s H1-2 Time Trial though, so she didn’t come away empty-handed.
- Italy’s Alex Zanardi, an ex-Formula 1 driver who had lost his legs in a car crash, winning emotional golds in the H4 Time Trial & H4 Road Race, and a silver in the H1-4 Team Relay.
Swimming is also heavily featured, where Britain got 7 gold, 16 silver and 16 bronze medals. Highlights include:
- Jonathan Fox won our first swimming gold in the Men’s S7 100m Backstroke, after breaking the world record in qualifying.
- Paralympics poster girl Ellie Simmonds, aged 17, had won 2 golds in Beijing in 2008 at the age of just 13, so she had a lot of expectant pressure on her shoulders in London, but she dealt with it fabulously. The Women’s S6 400m Freestyle saw a very close and exciting contest against Victoria Arlen, but Ellie edged into the lead at the end of the penultimate length and won by smashing 5 seconds off the world record. It was a victory that made her very emotional. She then set another world record with a second gold in the Women’s SM6 200m Individual Medley, a race in which Natalie Jones also nabbed a bronze for Britain. Ellie also won silver in the Women’s S6 100m Freestyle and bronze in the Women’s S6 50m Freestyle to round off a very impressive performance.
- Brothers Oliver & Sam Hynd got silver and bronze in the Men’s S8 400m Freestyle. Oliver also won bronze in the Men’s S8 100m backstroke, and then finally got a gold in the Men’s SM8 200m Individual medley (in which Sam came 4th).
- 16-year-old Jessica-Jane Applegate won gold in the Women’s S14 200m Freestyle on her Games debut.
- 15-year-old Josef Craig became Britain’s youngest Paralympic swimmer to win a gold medal, with a world record time as well, in the Men’s S7 400m Freestyle.
- James Clegg got bronze in his first international race, the Men’s S12 100m Butterfly.
- Heather Frederiksen won gold in the Women’s S8 100m backstroke, and a silver in the Women’s S8 400m Freestyle.
- Matt Walker earned a bronze in the Men’s S7 50m freestyle, a big achievement for him after losing his father to cancer in the buildup to the games.
- Charlotte Henshaw won silver and Liz Johnson getting the bronze in the Women’s SB6 100m Breaststroke.
- Stephanie Millward got 4 silvers and a bronze across all of her events. One of those silvers was in the Women’s SM9 200m Individual Medley, where GB teammate Louise Watkin picked up bronze and Claire Cashmore was a close 4th.
- Harriet Lee overcame a troubled buildup, having been in intensive care just 4 months earlier, to win bronze in the Women’s SB9 100m Breaststroke.
- The British team got silver in the Women’s 4 x 100m 34 Points Medley Relay, which went down to the wire.
- New Zealand’s Mary Fisher won gold with a world record in the Women’s SM11 200m Individual Medley, as well as getting 2 silvers and a bronze in other events.
- South Africa’s Natalie du Toit won 3 golds and a silver, adding to the 10 golds and a silver she already had from previous Games, to finish her Paralympic career on a high.
- Australia’s Jacqueline Freney won 8 gold medals, the most of any competitor in the Games.
Meanwhile, over in the Olympic Stadium, our British athletes got deafening cheers every time they were introduced, and secured 11 gold, 7 silver and 11 bronze medals between them, placing us third in the athletics table. Highlights from this arena included:
- Hannah Cockcroft easily won the Women’s T34 100m for our first gold on the track. She then shot away from the field for another gold in the Women’s T34 200m, on what became known as Thriller Thursday, with fantastic victories also for David Weir in the Men’s T54 800m and Jonnie Peacock in the Men’s T44 100m. 3 Paralympic legends winning gold medals in the space of around 2 hours – it really was the Paralympics equivalent of Super Saturday from the Olympics.
- Prior to that, David Weir – who had become known as the Weirwolf – had also won the Men’s T54 5,000m & 1,500m, and later completed a gold quartet with victory in the Men’s T54 Marathon as well. After the marathon he posed for photos with his son Mason. Shelly Woods won silver in the Women’s T54 Marathon, which was our final medal of the Games.
- Richard Whitehead had been a marathon runner, but when his classification was dropped he retrained as a sprinter, and competed here in the Men’s T42 200m. He started slow but then ploughed through the field on the last 100m to win.
- Mickey Bushell won gold in the Men’s T53 100m.
- Visually impaired Libby Clegg, sister of swimmer James, and running with her guide Mikail Huggins, earned a silver in the Women’s T12 100m.
- Graeme Ballard won silver in the Men’s T36 100m.
- Paul Blake got silver in the Men’s T36 400m and bronze in the Men’s T36 800m.
- Bethy Woodward got silver in the Women’s T37 200m. The race was won by Namibia’s Johanna Benson, the first time anyone from her country had won an Olympic or Paralympic gold medal.
- David Devine got bronze in the Men’s T13 1500m and Men’s T12 800m.
- Britain’s team in the Women’s T38 4 x 100m Relay fumbled the last baton handover but managed to secure a bronze.
- In the discus, Aled Davies won gold in the Men’s F42 event (after a bronze in the shot put), Dan Greaves got silver in the Men’s F44, Beverley Jones got bronze in the Women’s F37, and Josie Pearson broke the world record to win the Women’s F51-53 contest.
- Back on the track, Jason Smyth from Ireland became the fastest Paralympian in history by winning the Men’s T13 100m & 2oom races with world records. His teammate and roommate Michael McKillop also won gold medals in the T37 800m & 1500m, with a world record in the former and a Paralympic record in the latter. And by chance it was his own mother Catherine who presented him with his gold medal on the podium for the 1500m, which was a very emotional moment for them.
- Brazil had a clean sweep in the Women’s T11 100m for visually impaired athletes, claiming all the podium spots for themselves, as favourite Terezinha Guilhermina won the gold with a world record.
- But for many in the stadium the biggest hero of the Games was Djibouti’s first and only Paralympian, Houssein Omar Hassan. He picked up an ankle injury early in his heat of the Men’s T46 1500m, but was determined to finish regardless. The London crowd enthusiastically roared him home as he completed the last 2 laps all by himself and finished 7 minutes after everybody else.
Oscar Pistorius was also a big star at the time of course, having also raced in the Olympics just a few weeks earlier, though he was also causing controversy by making allegations about the length of a competitor’s blades. But his appearances in the highlights programme have a very different feel altogether now, given the way he destroyed his career and reputation the following year. So I’m not going to mention his events.
As for other sports that are briefly shown on the Blu-ray, many of which would have deserved much greater attention:
- The equestrian events in Greenwich Park get regular little mentions, where we topped the medal table with 5 gold, 5 silver and 1 bronze. So there are brief clips of Sophie Wells, Lee Pearson, Natasha Baker, Deborah Criddle & Sophie Christiansen (who became the first British Paralympian to win three gold medals in these Games).
- Although our sitting volleyball teams didn’t win any medals, our women’s team was notable for featuring Martine Wright, who lost her legs in the 7/7 bombings, the day after the Games were awarded to London in 2005. So there’s a moving segment in the programme about her journey from that tragic event to becoming a Paralympian. Just getting to the Games after going through that is an extraordinary achievement in itself.
- We only had one medal in the rowing – but it was a lovely gold one, courtesy of our mixed cox four. So there’s a brief interview with team member Naomi Riches in the programme.
- We won both gold and silver in the archery, as Danielle Brown beat her teammate Mel Clarke, in a tight match that was decided by the final arrow.
- In the boccia, David Smith got a silver in his individual game, while we won a bronze in the team event.
- In the table tennis our big hope Will Bayley had done extremely well, but just wasn’t quite in the right frame of mind for the final and came away with the silver, which is still highly respectable.
- The five-a-side football for visually impaired players gets a brief couple of mentions, with a clip of our first match against Spain, in which we drew 1-1, and a later match in which we beat Turkey 2-0. We didn’t progress beyond the group stage though, ending up in 7th place. This was the final Paralympics for captain David Clarke, who had carried the torch in the Opening Ceremony, and he gave a nice speech to the crowd, expressing admiration and hope for the future of the other players. The team included Keryn Seal, who used to go to my school, although I didn’t know him personally. The 7-a-side competition was also briefly mentioned, but Britain were eliminated at the group stage there too.
- In the sailing, there was gold for Helena Lucas in the 2.4mR 1-Person Keelboat event. But a bronze won by our team was controversially withdrawn after they were given a 4-point penalty for breaking boat maintenance rules.
- In wheelchair tennis, Peter Norfolk (our flagbearer at the Opening Ceremony) and Andy Lapthorne won silver in the Quad Doubles, while Lucy Shuker & Jordanne Whiley got bronze in the Women’s Doubles.
- In the wheelchair basketball, Great Britain are gutted after losing their bronze medal match to the USA.
- Other sports fleetingly mentioned on the Blu-ray include wheelchair rugby, wheelchair fencing & sitting volleyball, but there’s no major British interest. And some other sports aren’t mentioned at all.
Ultimately we got a hugely impressive 120 medals in total, with 34 gold, 43 silver & 43 bronze! And, as with the Olympians, the Royal Mail painted a post box gold in the home town of each gold medallist.
Clare Balding rounds up the programme on the Blu-ray by saying the Games remind us that we shouldn’t limit ourselves by what we think we can’t do, and instead we should define ourselves by what we can do. It then ends with a poem by Paralympics GB team captain Stephen Miller called Only Dreams Can Save Us. It’s read by Steven and other athletes over a final montage of images from the Games. It’s a beautiful way to finish it off.
As with the Closing Ceremony of the Olympics, the finale of the Paralympics was less of a ceremony and more of a party, which is a natural way to end, and is also perhaps no surprise when Kim Gavin was the director for both. In fact, this one was basically an epic concert by Coldplay, as they dominated the proceedings. So if, like me, you’re not a fan of them, then this is probably the ceremony of least interest out of the four that took place in the stadium that summer. It’s also the only ceremony without an accompanying soundtrack album. But in any case, there were still some nice moments within it all.
The full ceremony video on the Paralympic Games channel is 2½ hours, but on Channel 4’s Blu-ray it’s been edited down by half an hour. In particular, it looks like they’ve cut out the entrance of the nation’s flags, the Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award, and Rio’s presentation performance after the raising of their flag. So that’s a pity. I can understand them cutting a 2-hour athletes parade from the Opening Ceremony, but snipping half an hour out of this one doesn’t feel necessary. It’s also a great shame that Channel 4 haven’t included audio description for this ceremony on the Blu-ray, whereas they did for the Opening Ceremony and their sporting highlights, as it really needs it sometimes.
Anyway, the ceremony began with an opening film showing very impressive steampunk-style vehicles made out of used and recycled parts by the Mutoid Waste Company approaching the stadium. Then Wind Gremlins came on to the field in the stadium, with big fans on the front of their motorbikes, and these demons attacked the Dreamers who were guarding a large version of the Agitos symbol of the Games. One of the Dreamers was still clinging on to part of the symbol as it floated away.
Captain Luke Sinnott – who had lost his legs in Afghanistan and was now aiming to compete in Rio as a Paralympic sailor – then climbed the flagpole being carried on a machine called Human Endeavour, being pulled in by a team from Help For Heroes, and raised the Union Flag. Prince Edward (The Earl Of Wessex and patron of the British Paralympic Association), accompanied by Sir Philip Craven (president of the International Paralympic Committee), then arrived in a car that was a hybrid of a 1930s gangster vehicle and an Afghanistan military vehicle used in Afghanistan.
The national anthem was then sung by Lissa Hermans, who is blind and autistic. She had already released a single of the anthem for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee that year, in aid of inclusive theatre company Chickenshed, which is sung faster than her Closing Ceremony rendition.
Lance Corporal Rory MacKenzie then gave a welcoming speech about human spirit, and introducing The Festival Of The Flame, which was the title of the ceremony. The flags of the nations were then brought in (which is omitted from the Blu-ray, so we don’t see Sarah Storey and David Weir carrying ours) before the big procession of the very impressive steampunk vehicles shown in the opening film. This is where audio description would have been really interesting, but I could see that the huge designs included a dinosaur and ships. There were also other performers, including people dressed as crows on stilts.
The Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award (omitted from the Blu-ray) was then given to Kenya’s Mary Nakhumicha Zakayo and Ireland’s Michael McKillop, before a special presentation was made to a few representatives of the volunteer Games Makers (which is on the Blu-ray) to thank them for their hard work.
Then we get into the big Coldplay concert, where they played a lot of their most famous songs. Along the way, in choreographed scenes that represented each of the 4 seasons, they were accompanied by lots of dancers and other performers, on the ground and in the air, some of whom were disabled. So visually it looks really impressive, even if the music isn’t to my personal tastes.
There’s plenty of detail about this section in the ceremony’s Wikipedia article, but the concert included:
- Us Against The World
- Yellow – A big mask of the Sun King was lit up using flames during this song.
- Up In Flames
- 42 – The Snow Queen appeared during this number.
- God Put A Smile Upon Your Face – Disabled drummer Mat Fraser joined them for this, while a man on a bike drove around carrying a flame, then drove along a high tightrope so amputee Lindsay Adams hanging beneath him could light a ball of energy to start the next song.
- Charlie Brown – During this song 120 children decorated a huge fish with 600 hubcaps from scrapyards.
- Princess Of China – Featuring Rihanna and lots of drummers.
- Strawberry Swing – With the very talented British Paraorchestra.
- We Found Love – Sung by Rihanna.
- Viva La Vida – With confetti and Catherine wheels.
- Rio Handover – Coldplay had a rest at this point, while the Paralympic flag was lowered, with the Paraorchestra playing the anthem Hymn L’Avenir. Then it was passed from the London Mayor Boris Johnson to Philip Craven, to the Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes, with Brazil’s anthem played as their flag was raised. Rio then put on a lively show of dancing that included disabled performers, which is sadly cut from the Blu-ray.
- Closing The Games – Sebastian Coe & Philip Craven then gave lovely speeches thanking everybody involved, with the biggest ovations for the volunteers, armed services, emergency services and of course the athletes. Sebastian Coe told a lovely story about a medic he had met on the Tube, who had served during the attacks on 7/7/2005 and felt this was closure. And Seb finished with the simple statement “London 2012 – Made In Britain”, as we once again held that slogan to the high standards for which it’s known worldwide. Philip Craven was also very happy, hailing the event as the “greatest Paralympic Games ever”. Ellie Simmonds and Jonnie Peacock then extinguishing the cauldron, which opened up before them, and they passed the final flame captured with their torches on to other performers who passed them, so it would live on.
- Run This Town – Jay-Z then took to the stage, with Rihanna and Coldplay, to start the finale.
- The Scientist & Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall – Coldplay’s final 2 songs of the show.
- Fireworks – A huge display took place all around the Olympic Park and the stadium, and also off Tower Bridge further along the Thames, as music was played over the stadium speakers. It concluded with a big Union Jack image projected onto the Houses of Parliament with the message “Thank You London, Thank You UK”. The programme on the Blu-ray the concludes with a final rapid montage of clips set to Movin’ On Up by Primal Scream.
And that’s it, those are all the main moments from the Paralympics, and don’t forget to check out my Paralympics playlist for lots of clips as well. Although I haven’t written as much about them as the Olympics, that doesn’t mean they’re any less special, it just reflects the scale of the events relative to each other. The Olympics will always be the larger and most prominent of the two. But the Paralympics at this point had become bigger than ever.
The extraordinary achievements of all the athletes, from all the nations that took part, in front of sell-out crowds and record-breaking TV audiences, really did make this the best Games ever, and they were an absolute joy to watch. And while there is still a lot of work to do to improve inclusivity and accessibility for disabled people even now, the Games definitely had, and still have, a major impact on people’s perceptions. And it will be interesting to see how the Paralympics continue to grow and evolve over the coming years and decades.
That almost concludes my nostalgic look back at the London 2012 Olympics & Paralympics, and I hope you’ve enjoyed revisiting them with me. But I still have a bit more to come, as I talk about some of the celebrations and other programmes that I recorded at the time in relation to the Games. So I’ll tell you all about those soon!
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