Cows and sheep: Olympics to have an English meadow

The 2012 London Olympics will open with a glimpse of the British

countryside, past and present – from cows and sheep to meadow and

mosh pit. Danny Boyle, the artistic director for the games’ July 27

opening ceremony, on Tuesday unveiled a model of the set, which

will transform the Olympic Stadium in gritty, urban east London

into a rural idyll.


The Olympic set will include grass and fields, sheep, cows and

horses, a cricket match, picnicking families and a hill modeled on

Glastonbury Tor, a landmark in southwest England.

Below the hill spectators will fill a mosh pit, evoking the

raucous Glastonbury rock festival and other rural music events that

are a major summer motif in Britain. At the other end of the

stadium is a more genteel standing-room-only area – one wag dubbed

it the “posh pit” – that is meant to evoke the annual classical

music fixture the Last Night of the Proms.

There are even real clouds that Boyle says can produce real rain

– in case the British weather fails to comply.

The meadow is surrounded by a circular parade ground for the

10,500 athletes taking part in the games. Boyle has nicknamed it

the M25, after the often-clogged commuter highway that rings



Boyle, the filmmaker behind “Trainspotting” and the Academy

Award-winning “Slumdog Millionaire,” said the set for the opening

ceremony will evoke the “green and pleasant land” of William

Blake’s poem “Jerusalem,” an emblem of Englishness.

He said the opening ceremony would be a “reflection of part of

our heritage,” but would also depict Britain’s present and look to

the future. The set is designed to evoke the site where the stadium

stands: once countryside, then industrial land, bombed during World

War II and now being regenerated as a park.

Boyle unveiled the model to reporters at 3 Mills Studios, near

the Olympic Park, where craftspeople are working to create almost

3,000 props and 23,000 costumes for the Olympic and Paralympic

opening and closing ceremonies.

Boyle said even though most Britons now live in cities, “it’s in

our brains as part of ourselves, this ideal. It’s like a childhood

ideal, in a way.”


The opening ceremony will begin with the tolling of a 27-ton

bell forged at London’s 442-year-old Whitechapel Bell Foundry,

which made London’s Big Ben and Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell.

The bell is inscribed with a line from William Shakespeare’s

play “The Tempest” – one of Boyle’s main inspirations for the

ceremony – in which Caliban says: “Be not afeard; the isle is full

of noises.”

“It’s a wonderful thing that we’ll be able to open our games

with a symbol of peace, the ringing of a bell,” Boyle said. “You

will feel different when you’re in there and you hear it



Some 10,000 volunteers have begun rehearsing for the opening

ceremony, which will be held in front of 60,000 spectators inside

the stadium and a television audience estimated at 1 billion.

Boyle acknowledged the challenges of staging a large-scale show

for live TV – not least capturing the British sense of humor.

“You can’t do a show about Britain, really, if you don’t try to

reflect our sense of humor,” he said. “That’s hard to do in stadium

shows. They are the enemy of humor.”

But he said he hoped to create “a sense of inclusiveness” – and

keep the running time to three hours. The ceremony starts at 9

p.m., and the International Olympic Committee says it must be over

by midnight so athletes can get to bed on time.


Boyle hopes to keep many details of the ceremony secret,

although some have already trickled out. Former Beatle Paul

McCartney has revealed he will be the closing act and Boyle has

said there will be a sequence celebrating the country’s National

Health Service.

A pre-recorded segment has been filmed inside Buckingham Palace,

reportedly involving Queen Elizabeth II – who as British head of

state will officially open the games – and Daniel Craig’s James


Boyle said the ceremony’s creators had an impossible task: To

offer a vision of Britain with something for everyone.

“We’re bound to fail,” he said. “But we’re going to try very

hard not to.”

Jill Lawless can be reached at