This Sceptred Isle

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,–
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

Richard II, Act II sc i

I don’t know whether I would have been quite as celebratory about being British if I were in England right now, but being away from my homeland in 2012 – I feel a swelling in my bosom that is making me miss everything British. Mainly, it has to be said, stirred by a woman’s 60 years of wearing hats and carrying handbags, and a few people running round a track. Amazing what a bit of flag-waving can do. Imagine if we were properly at war with someone? I think I’d be on the front line right now, in my Union Jack knickers.

I sat through all four hours of Olympic openings, from the first ‘green and pleasant’ land to the final songs, and I think I’ve cried about fifty times.

First I cried when that sideburned bike hero of the Tour de France, Bradley Wiggins came on. 2012 would be the year when an Englishman won the Tour de France for the first time ever. Okay, so he might have been born in Belgium as the son of an Australian, but I think that’s about as English as most people these days.

Then I cried because of Danny Boyle, the choreographer of it all, a man born five miles up the road from me, as steeped in Manchester and Lancashire as I am. I cried because he carried it off. I cried because he created something marvellous. I cried because he tugged on every single heart string I have. I think he only needed a few rescue dogs from Battersea Dogs’ Home doing a little turn and I’d have been on the first ferry back to Blighty.

I cried when the Welsh children sang their little hearts out. I cried for ‘Flower of Scotland’. I cried because Alex Salmond is an idiot for wanting to tear apart this sceptred isle. I cried because Mitt Romney said it was hard to know how well it would turn out. He should have known better. We’re not ‘Great’ Britain for nothing.

I cried at the cricket and the maypole. I cried at Elgar’s Nimrod and the Shire horses. I cried at the shipping forecast.

I sniffled when the soldiers raised the flag.

I booed at the forged metal Olympic rings.

I had a huge whopping great blow on the nose when it got to Daniel Craig escorting the Queen to the ceremony. She might have looked bored and appeared to be picking her fingernails when TeamGB came out, but I thought it was pretty cool she took part. Wills and Kate and Harry seemed to be having a great time. Cameron looked like a worried parent at a nativity play, not quite sure whether his child would say ‘bum’ instead of ‘Jesus’.

I got all sniffly when they brought out Old Kenny, Sir Kenneth Branagh, as Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Kenny gets me all sniffly anyway when he gets all actorly, what with Benedick and Henry V. If Danny Boyle wrote the warm up speech and Kenneth delivered it, crying ‘For God, for Harry and for St George’ in the dressing room, I’d probably run the 100m myself in less time than Usain Bolt.

Even David Beckham warmed the cockles of my heart, especially in his humble assertion that he is not an Olympian and in his speedboat driving. So he was a chauffeur? Who cares?

Plus, it was done in such a uniquely British way, what with the stirring Elgar and Sir Simon Rattle, Chariots of Fire and Rowan Atkinson. We’re not too good at sentimentality. Many athletes coming out into the stadium were filled with sentimentality – but we Brits don’t do that. We put Rowan Atkinson in, to poke a little gentle fun. We might have world class cyclists and runners and rowers and swimmers and divers and the likes, but we’ll never rub your nose in it.

Alright. I will a bit if you’re Australian and you’re a hard-core sports fan. I’ll remind you of the time we beat you at rugby and cricket and ask you why you’re so bad at football. But other than that, we’re actually quite good at being graceful and ‘aw shucks’ if someone reminds us of our talents.

Take Sir Tim Berners-Lee. No, he didn’t single-handedly invent the internet, but his ideas are at the root of much of how the internet functions. Yet who recognised him at the opening ceremony?

And it’s not all about Britain. I think the nicest parts were seeing various people up, madly celebrating, when their team came into the arena. It was seeing the pride on the faces of every single person in the place. It was the Frenchman singing ‘Staying Alive’. It was the children singing their hearts out. It was absolutely everything that’s good about humanity.

I felt so overwhelmingly sentimental that I can almost overlook Paul McCartney’s dreadful performance (where was Tom Jones when you need him?!) and the awful shellsuits designed by his daughter. Bad McCartneys. Bad.

Forget competition. Forget racism. Forget sexism. Forget repression. Forget oppression. Forget the past. Forget wars and forget money. Remember everything that is good about people – just everyday people who’ve come onto the streets to see the torch passing, kids bouncing on beds, doctors and nurses dancing, people dancing, people waving, people who are proud and determined and happy. People who remind us we all stand together.

For two weeks, we can forget Scotland’s bids for Independence, we can forget the Troubles, we can forget wars in foreign lands, we can forget what divides us as an island.

But it’s more than that. Last night, with everyone in the stadium, it’s like we could forget all our differences and remember that in fact, we all stand together. We’re all one.

So, here’s to Danny Boyle, an Irish Catholic immigrant brought up down the road from me. You brought us Trainspotting and you brought us Slumdog Millionnaire. But for one night – last night – you brought out the best in us.

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2 thoughts on “This Sceptred Isle

  1. Sir Tim did single-handedly invent the World Wide Web though — he even called it that when it consisted of a single computer on his desk. As a geek, I was thrilled to see this modest hero publicly recognised in such a dramatic way. It’s a testament to British self-effacement that most people don’t know who he is, or what he did.

    1. I totally agree – that was one of the nice things about the ceremony – it was very modest. And the bit at the beginning showed how hard GB has worked for it – it really was a nation ‘forged’ – not some happy accident.

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