One billion viewers and a cameo role for Stephen Hawking: The greatest show on earth part 2 as the Paralympics open
Six athletes will ‘fly’ into tonight’s spectacular Paralympics opening ceremony in golden wheelchairs, it was revealed last night.
The dramatic scenes will be at the heart of the showpiece opening, which is expected to be watched on TV by a record billion people around the world, as well as 80,000 in the stadium.
Among those flying into the stadium in wheelchairs will be Britain’s greatest ever paralympian, 11-time champion Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, 43.
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Action packed: Performers give an impressive acrobatic display as the Paralympic athletes are welcomed to the London 2012 village
Champions’ welcome: Great Britain’s Paralympic team are greeted with an adapted version of ‘We Are The Champions’ at the London 2012 athlete’s village
Jumping for joy: Members of the Team GB Paralympic are welcomed by dancers during a welcome ceremony at the Paralympic Village
The ceremony, which is entitled Enlightenment, begins at 8.30pm and will kick-start 11 days of sport in front of unprecedented crowds – the event is on course to be the first sell-out Paralympic Games in history.
Great Britain is hoping for a record haul of medals surpassing the 102 won in Beijing in 2008 as athletes are inspired by their home crowds, as happened during the Olympics.
Last night transport chiefs warned the Paralympics would pose a ‘huge challenge’ for London’s transport network, saying they feared the many Londoners who worked from home during the Olympics would not be doing the same during the games.
Kick start: The welcoming festivities marked the countdown to the Paralympic opening ceremony
Leading the way: An official holding the Union Jack flag leads the team into the village, left, while some members of the Paralympic Team GB had the Union Jack flag on their wheelchairs, right
Making an entrance: The Paralympic Team GB were delighted with their theatrical greeting
But London Mayor Boris Johnson promised that the Paralympics would be a ‘wonderful show’ and would change the preconception of disabilities for good.
As thousands rushed to buy the remaining tickets, the mayor said the opening ceremony would be ‘superb’ and that the public would be ‘blown away’ by the level of sportsmanship on display.
Tonight’s event will open with the words ‘O wonder! How many goodly creatures there are here’ from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, with a young actress playing the character of Miranda leading the audience through the ceremony.
Grand entrance: The GB paralympic team were the last of 4,280 competitors to arrive at the Village
Flying the flag: Performers from The National Youth Theatre march through the streets surrounding the stadium in Stratford
In a celebration of scientific achievements, it will include references to the Big Bang theory and the Large Hadron Collider, which earlier this year enabled physicists to confirm the existence of a ‘God particle’ which gives all matter its mass.
It will also feature world renowned scientist Professor Stephen Hawking.
The 70-year-old Oxford-born academic, who is severely disabled from motor neurone disease and uses a voice synthesiser to communicate, is said to be ‘thrilled’ to have been asked to take part in the ceremony.
Emotional: Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson and Craig Hunter read messages of support at the London 2012 village
Practice makes perfect: Jason Kajdi from the National Youth Theatre performs during the welcoming ceremony for Team GB at the athletes village, left, while GB athlete Jon Hall watches the festivities, right
Doing the Mobot: The Games officials mimic Mo Farah’s celebratory pose before the arrival of Great Britain’s Paralympic team to the Paralympic village
It is understood that Professor Hawking, author of A Brief History Of Time, has filmed a pre-recorded message for spectators inside the Olympic Stadium where those attending will include the Queen and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Among the international stars appearing will be actor Sir Ian McKellen, 73, who will read lines from The Tempest, which also featured in the Olympics opening and closing ceremonies.
Singers appearing will include blind soprano Denise Leigh, who performed four years ago in Beijing, and Beverley Knight, who officials say was chosen for her ‘stadium-filling voice’. Miss Knight plans to perform live, unlike most of the Olympic ceremony performers such as the Spice Girls.
Raising the flag: Volunteers look on as the Union Jack is raised during a welcome ceremony at the Paralympic Village
Upbeat: Great Britain’s Paralympic team are treated to a performance by brightly coloured entertainers at the London 2012 Village
Proud parade: Officials and fans stood by to watch the teams go past
The ceremony will feature more than 3,000 volunteers, including 50 disabled performers who have been learning circus skills from scratch.
The athletes will enter the stadium earlier than during the Olympics opening ceremony, sitting on the track to form part of the audience.
Lord Coe, head of London 2012, said: ‘It (the ceremony) focuses on that extraordinary period in European history and the great intellectual revolution that took place between 1550 and 1720. Everything from Newton making sense of gravity and motion to Napier with logarithms and Harvey with blood circulation.
Atmospheric: Hundreds of people gathered at the stadium to cheer on the athletes as they arrived
Cheering crowds: The Union flag is raised as the Great Britain Paralympic team arrive at the athletes’ village
In the thick of it: London Mayor Boris Johnson meets performers in the Paralympic Village after they welcomed Great Britain’s Paralympic team
‘It’s really about ceilings, about human understanding, about limitations and the importance of knowledge.
‘Within that period some quite profound things were being said about the rights of man. You can probably gather what it’s trying to say.’
Local performers, including three East London disc jockeys, will appear alongside international stars.
A spectacular light display will be created by aeroplanes flown by disabled pilots.
Going for gold: The GB Team is hoping to surpass its medal haul of 102 won in the Beijing 2008 Paralympics
The biggest show on earth continues: Paralympic Team GB are welcomed into the Paralympic village by artists and performers
Famous faces: Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson welcomes members of the Team GB Paralympic Team
Big success: The London 2012 event is set to be the first sell-out Paralympic Games ever
A highlight near the show’s climax will come with the lighting of the Paralympic cauldron featuring athletes representing the past, present and future.
Margaret Maughan, 84, a veteran of five Paralympics, is expected to play a pivotal part.
The winner of Britain’s first Paralympic gold medal when she became archery champion at the inaugural 1960 Rome games, she has been unable to walk following a car accident in 1959.
A teacher, she also won gold in the backstroke in Rome – her victory was almost guaranteed because she was the only competitor in the event – and competed in four further Paralympics, winning four more medals, including two golds.
Proud moment: Torchbearers carrying the flame through Aylesbury ahead of the lighting of the cauldron
Momentous: Torchbearers exchange the Paralympic flame outside Stoke Mandeville Spinal Unit – the birthplace of what is now the Paralympic Games
United: The Cauldron is lit in Stoke Mandeville as the four flames from each of the four host nations unite
Lighting the fire: The Cauldron is lit in front of a cheering crowd in Stoke Mandeville
It is understood she will be joined during the lighting ceremony by David Clarke, 32, captain of Britain’s football five-a-side team and the most experienced member of the squad, and 24-year-old triathlete Joe Townsend, a Royal Marine Commando, who lost his legs in a Taliban bombing in Afghanistan.
Townsend has already competed in the Ironman UK triathlon, and has set his sights on qualifying for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro where the event will feature for the first time.
Demand for tickets is expected to outstrip that of any previous Paralympics, with up to 215,000 spectators expected to visit the Olympic Park on most days.
From all four corners: The Cauldron is lit by the four torchbearers in Stoke Mandeville
Lighting the way: Torchbearing team Paul Hardisty, Michael Miller-Smith, Mainindra Rai and Guy Harris carry the Paralympic Flame on the Torch Relay leg between Aylesbury and Weston Turville
Through the night: Torchbearing team Robert Mellor, Jeremy Whitehead, Jaime Powell and Guljar Miah carry the Paralympic Flame on the Torch Relay leg between Aylesbury and Weston Turville
VIDEO: Olympic stars wish Parlympic athletes good luck for games!
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