With a little British pomp and a lot of British pop, London brought the curtain down on a glorious Olympic Games on Sunday in a spectacular, technicolor pageant of landmarks, lightshows and lots of fun.
The closing ceremony offered a sensory blast, including rock ’n’ roll rickshaws, dustbin percussionists, an exploding yellow car, and a marching band in red tunics and bearskin hats.
The Spice Girls staged a show-stopping reunion, and Monty Python’s Eric Idle sauntered through Always Look on the Bright Side of Life — accompanied by Roman centurions, Scottish bagpipers and a human cannonball.
It all made for a psychedelic mashup that had 80,000 fans at the Olympic Stadium stomping, cheering and singing along. Organizers estimated 300 million or more were watching around the world.
What a way to end a Games far more successful than many Londoners expected. Security woes were overcome and traffic nightmares never materialized. The weather held up, more or less, and British athletes overachieved.
It all came with a price tag of US$14 billion — three times the original estimate — but nobody wanted to spoil the fun with such mundane concerns, at least not on this night.
“We lit the flame and we lit up the world,” London organizing committee chief Sebastian Coe said. “When our time came, Britain, we did it right.”
International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge declared the Olympics over with praise for the athletes.
“Through your commitment to fair play, your respect for opponents and your grace in defeat, as well as in victory, you have earned the right to be called Olympians,” he said. “These were happy and glorious Games.”
However, the night was about splash more than speeches.
Festive and fast-moving, the ceremony opened with pop bands Madness, the Pet Shop Boys and One Direction, a shout-out to former British prime minister Winston Churchill and a tribute to the Union Jack — the floor of the Olympic Stadium was arranged to resemble the British flag.
Monochrome recreations of London’s landmarks were covered in newsprint, from Big Ben’s clock tower and Tower Bridge to the London Eye ferris wheel and the chubby high-rise building known as the “Gherkin.”
Street percussion group Stomp built the noise into a frenzy and dancers brandished brooms, in a nod to the spontaneous popular movement to clean up London after riots shook neighborhoods not far from the Olympic Stadium just a year ago.
Liam Gallagher performed Wonderwall, a 1990s hit by his former band Oasis, Muse rocked the house with the hard-edged -Olympic -anthem Survival and Queen guitarist Brian May was joined by singer Jessie J for a crowd-pleasing We Will Rock You.
The headline performers were each paid ￡1 (US$1.57).
The night ended with the extinguishing of the multi-petaled Olympic cauldron and a supercharged rendition of My Generation and other classics by The Who that had the crowd dancing in the aisles. Confetti rained down and fireworks lit up the sky.
Prince William’s wife, Kate, and Prince Harry took seats next to Rogge. They sang along to God Save the Queen, but there was no sign of the queen herself, who made a memorable mock parachute entrance at the July 27 opening ceremony.
Following Olympic tradition, the 10,800 athletes of the London Games marched in as one rather than with their nations, symbolizing the harmony and friendship inspired by the Games.