What a superb closing Olympic ceremony. Normally, government chokes the life out of any arts project it takes on and I’d expected the Olympic Stadium ceremonies to be the Millennium Dome Live. How wrong I was. The gathering of the thousands of athletes reprised the theme of the opening ceremony: that this is about people, not a massive Chinese-style display of state power. And the concert was not about musical purity but entertainment, of which there was plenty – from the Spice Girls’ surprisingly strong performance to the Boris Dancing (now trending on Twitter as #BorisBoogie). There was, or course, plenty I could have done without. George Michael’s dire new single. Beady Eye’s just-as-dire cover of Wonderwall (some achievement, given that Liam Gallagher was the singer). But it was outweighed by what went right: the Indian dancers that David Cameron likes so much, Jessie J, Annie Lennox, The Who – all of it projected a carnival atmosphere. And one that would have been appreciated worldwide.
Like Eurovision, the aim of an Olympic ceremony is to lay on a show that will cross borders and cultures. It’s not for domestic consumption, so I can forgive the odd act that makes Brits cringe. The opening ceremony had its critics in Britain, but it was entertaining enough to have 40 million Americans watching. And that’s the objective: to haul in the crowds, not to stage a piece of political theatre. I’d be amazed if Rio lays on anything half as good.
When you consider how many important projects the British government messes up, the success of the Olympics is a near-miracle. This reflects very well on Seb Coe, and on the coalition government (who would have taken the flak for any mistake). And, yes, it reflects well on the Labour ministers who nurtured the project from its inception. Pretty soon, we’ll have the ONS telling us what an economic disaster this whole thing was. But for now, suffice to say that Mitt Romney was wrong: London 2012 was a resounding success.