London, Aug. 13: Sunday night’s closing ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic Games was a real khichri but tasty for the most part for all that.
Where else would 80,000 people packed into one stadium and a vast television audience get George Michael, Pet Shop Boys, George Michael, Annie Lennox, Fat Boy Slim, the Bee Gees, Madness, Take That and The Who striving for global attention with as much enthusiasm as 16 Punjabi drummers from the Dhol Foundation and a bunch of Bhangra dancers?
Yes, Bhangra is now officially British.
Having been well trailed, The Spice Girls arrived by London taxis to rousing cheers for a one-off reunion and performed Spice Up Your Life (1997) and Wannabe (1996). Perhaps the girls looked a lot better than they sang.
There was also footage of John Lennon singing Imagine, one of the magical moments of the evening. The flags of the 204 participating nations 119 are going back having won precisely nothing were borne in higgledy piggledy, with 10,000 athletes coming into the stadium in no particular order.
The Indians in the audience picked out their flag and Mary Kom.
For a moment on a perfect summer’s evening in London there will be huge relief among the security forces that the Games have ended without incident it was indeed possible to imagine a world where there is “Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion too/Imagine all the people living life in peace”.
And then there was Freddie Mercury come to life on giant telescreens, singing, first, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, voted year on year as the best single of all time, and then lifting the stadium roof off with We Will Rock You.
Master Mercury or Farrokh Bulsara to give the Bombay boy his real name was perhaps the Man of the Match.
His music sent bloggers across the world into overdrive. One said he wasn’t convinced that Freddie Mercury was dead.
“Be quiet, everyone. Freddie Mercury has risen,” hushed a voice on the Washington Post website. “So that was not a hologram of Freddie Mercury we just saw during the closing ceremony. It was video of an old Wembley Stadium performance shown on a huge screen. But it is still a reminder of what a phenomenal performer he was.
The singer Jessie J. had joined in, prompting another blogger to observe: “Jessie J., bless her, is now trying to sing We Will Rock You in his absence. She is making a valiant effort. But she doesn’t have a prayer of matching Mercury because no. one. can.”
It so happens “Freddie Mercury was due to perform his hit song Barcelona at the opening ceremony of Barcelona 1992 but died eight months before the Games. A recording of the track was played instead. It became the song most closely associated with the Games”, the organisers pointed out.
Many of the acts had a slightly “yesteryear” feel and, for some reason, sang with fake American accents. But British popular music has a huge advantage in that its big names need no introduction, as they say.
“The ceremony is a celebration of all that’s good about London, British people, our music and our culture,” said Kim Gavin, artistic director, of the closing ceremony, by way of explanation.
Big Ben, chiming in the gongs till the start at 9pm, Churchill, Tower Bridge, are clichιd images but they provided a recognisable backdrop for a medley of British music.
“Music has been one of Britain’s strongest cultural exports over the last 50 years and this evening’s ceremony brings together some of the country’s most globally successful musicians, together with a cast of more than 3,500 volunteers,” added Gavin.
After 16 days of tears, of heartbreak and joy, the athletes certainly entered into the spirit of the occasion and partied into the early hours after the official party.
Just before the 204 petals of the flame were extinguished, the Olympic flag was handed over by Boris Johnson, mayor of London, to Eduardo Paeas, his opposite number in Rio, which stages the Games in 2016.
“These were happy and glorious Games,” said the International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge. “We will never forget the smiles, the kindness and the support of the wonderful volunteers, the much-needed heroes of these Games. You, the spectators and the public, provided the soundtrack for these Games. Your enthusiastic cheers energised the competitors and brought a festive spirit to every Olympic venue. You have shown the world the best of British hospitality.”
Lord (Sebastian) Coe, the chairman of the London 2012 organising committee he won gold as a medium distance runner in 1980 and 1984 added to the sense of British pride: “On the first day of these Games I said we were determined to do it right. I said that these Games would see the best of us.... On this last day I can conclude with these words: when our time came, Britain, we did it right. Thank you.”
Brazil one of the Bric countries along with Russia, India and China provided a little taster of the feast in store with some Samba steps. Then, there was huge applause when the light beam shone on Pelι, the footballing legend. Surprisingly, Brazil is the first Latin American country to stage the Olympics, proving, if proof is required, that the Games are something of a western closed shop. But another 50 years may pass before the Games return to London for the fourth time.
Compared with third place Britain (65 medals, including 29 gold, 17 silver and 19 bronze), Brazil is quite far back at 22nd (with 17 medals. Including just 3 gold, 5 silver and 9 bronze).
Earlier, drummers from The Dhol Foundation had done their stuff to the soundtrack of Running Up That Hill, and then, with the Urban Voices Collective, they performed George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun (1969).
Monty Python star Eric Idle recreated a famous scene from a television comedy series, Only Fools And Horses, and tried to join a group of energetic Bhangra dancers. As always, the word was the Japanese did not quite understand British humour. They probably weren’t alone.
The presence of the Bhangra boys appeared to be a gentle rebuke to David Cameron who had suggested earlier in the week that Indian dancing in schools wasn’t for real men and could not really be counted as sport.
There was a brief interlude for fashion, as well, with appearances by Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell.
Anything that could vaguely be described as “British culture” was tossed in.
Boris boogied, Prince Harry represented the absent Queen, the Duchess of Cambridge came without Prince William and Cameron was spotted half dancing something Manmohan Singh didn’t even attempt during the Commonwealth Games.
Curiously, the best known Indian-origin singer in Britain and the most enduring, Cliff Richard, was left out. And so were his backing group, the finest Britain has seen over the past 50 years The Shadows. He could indeed should have sung The Young Ones, Living Doll and certainly Congratulations.
One imagines it was politics and jealousy. It is like reviewing Indian cricket without reference to Gavaskar and Tendulkar.