COMMENT: Zip wires, Stephen Hawking and flying Paralympians


Warning: this is not a news story. May include comment. But probably no nuts.

Ten highlights of last night’s opening ceremony:

1 Any ceremony that begins with Mat Fraser and a microphone is ok with me. “Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, we are making history, as the Paralympics are coming home.” He had the crowd eating out of his hands within seconds. Please let this mean more MF on our TV screens soon.

2 The appearance of Professor Stephen Hawking in the stadium. He spoke first about his quest to understand the origins of the universe, and then about the Paralympics, which he said were about “transforming our perception of the world. We are all different, there is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being, but we share the same human spirit. What is important is that we have the ability to create.”  Jenny Sealey, the Deaf co-artistic director of the opening ceremony, had described Hawking earlier in the day as the most famous disabled person in the world. Apart from her now, obviously…

3 The revolving book showing the text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I’m fairly sure that that part of the ceremony wasn’t sponsored by Atos.

4 The sight of Tanni Grey-Thompson and five other Paralympians in flying, golden wheelchairs. In my opinion, her wheelchair should always be golden.

5 The lighting of the cauldron: the stunning zip wire stunt, followed by my current favourite Paralympian – footballer David Clarke – having the honour of being the penultimate person to carry it before the lighting of the cauldron. He had the guts to speak out about the importance of disability living allowance to disabled people, including Paralympians, just weeks before the start of the games. And then a disabled woman lit the cauldron itself – and it wasn’t even Tanni. It was Margaret Maughan, Britain’s first Paralympic gold medallist.

6 The sculptures on the speech lecterns that were created by the disabled artist Tony Heaton, himself a former wheelchair basketball international and now chief executive of the disability arts organisation Shape – they were formed from parts of sports wheelchairs and running blades. Although at this stage, I should say that the “idea” of the sculptures was a highlight, as I missed any television close-up while LOCOG’s Lord Coe and the IPC’s Sir Philip Craven were making their predictable speeches, and have yet to see any photographs. Hope this is corrected soon somewhere…

7 The entry of the ParalympicsGB team into the stadium. I was still picking bits of coloured paper out of my hair this morning. Suspect the roar as they entered the stadium will be worth an extra five to eight medals. I was trying to add up the combined DLA entitlement for the ParalympicsGB team as they came into the stadium, but unfortunately my calculator exploded.

8 Spasticus Autisticus: there was more empowering energy concentrated per square foot of stadium during the performance of the Ian Dury anthem – written in 1981 during the International Year of Disabled People – by members of the Graeae cast of the Dury-inspired musical Reasons to be Cheerful than at any other time during the opening ceremony.

9 The sight of the sculpture of Alison Lapper Pregnant, appearing as if from nowhere (probably beneath the stage). I know it wasn’t created by a disabled artist, but still… As Melissa_Chapin tweeted: “Tears of hope & gratitude from this disabled mummy.” And it also sparked the following tweet from @stellajyoung: “Alison Lapper is my ultimate role model of a proud disabled woman.”

10 And of course, finally, the masterly vision and sublime talents of Jenny Sealey and Bradley Hemmings, the disabled co-artistic directors. If there is any justice, their opening ceremony should guarantee the funding of Graeae – for which Sealey is artistic director – and Liberty – for which Hemmings is curator and producer – for the next 10 years. We must now hope that it has a similar impact on the funding of other disability art and disabled artists. Now that really would be a legacy.


Favourite tweets of the night:

@RGPLizCrow: “Lying here watching Atos-sponsored Paralympics opening whilst prepping my ESA tribunal notes. There’s irony.”

@juniorc0: “So many disabled people. It’s like watching utopia.”

@ladyloki: “Disabled Polish people dancing and having fun in London. The Daily Mail just fell of its perch.”

@miss_ben_e_fit: “If disabled and in the crowd DON’T CLAP!!! You’ll fail ESA on manual dexterity! By turning up you’ve proved no problem with travel.”

@Ju90artist‏: “The parade of wheelchairs, as well as the relative numbers in teams, says it all about poverty of athletes across world.”

@juniorc0 (who is working for Channel 4): “My section of the fact checking coming up soon. If Krishnan says that the athletes from Chinese Taipei are all made of cheese, that’ll be me.”

@alijawad12: “Some athletes actually started to cry, all their hard work and sacrifice and it comes down to 10 days of comp. Its time 2 #takethestage.”

@laurence_clark: “So brilliant to see disabled performers on tv instead of non-disabled actors faking it.”

@stellajyoung: “Alison Lapper is my ultimate role model of a proud disabled woman. Great to see so many people I respect in one place.”

@melissa_chapin: “Raised the statue of Alison Lapper pregnant! Tears of hope & gratitude from this disabled mummy.”


And five lowlights:

1 Channel 4 going to repeated advertisement breaks during the opening ceremony. Bet they didn’t mention they’d be doing that when they were bidding for the broadcast rights against the BBC. I know they need revenue to fund their coverage, but they are going to make a huge profit from these games, and there will be plenty of time for adverts over the next 11 days. This was a significant moment for disabled people in this country, and they fluffed their lines.

2 The disappointing number of disabled volunteers in the opening ceremony. It was great to see so many disabled professional artists and performers, but a shame that LOCOG could not produce a similar proportion of disabled volunteers. From my seat in the press area, I struggled to see any wheelchair-users among the hundreds and hundreds of volunteer performers. An opportunity missed, surely.

3 Thankfully, there appeared to be few high-profile offensive comments on Twitter during the evening. Edwina Currie gave it her best shot, though, when she wrote: “Italians are gorgeous even in wheelchairs. Love em.” Think she kind of missed the point of the opening ceremony. And, indeed, the Paralympics itself.

4 The mysterious absence of the words “disability rights” over nearly four hours of heart-dropping, jaw-stopping entertainment, although to be fair the word “rights” did make an appearance. Was the phrase banned by the IPC? By LOCOG? By Atos? Let’s hope it reappears in the IPC/LOCOG dictionary in time for the closing ceremony.

5 I’m afraid I could only manage four. I did try. Sorry…

30 August 2012


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