How do you cap off a spellbinding, two-week spectacle of sporting endeavour, subtlety, skill, brilliance, unity and raw emotion while simultaneously reminding the world that it all happened in the UK? The answer, at least according to the Olympic closing ceremony’s creative director Kim Gavin, is with an unstructured gallimaufry of tasteless performances, chintzy melodrama and high camp. Such a shame.
There were some nice touches, although these were swamped by the rest of the three-and-a-half-hour-shambles. The appearance of Eric Idle (of Monty Python fame) offered a welcome dose of the wry surrealist humour on which Britain prides itself, while ballerina Darcey Bussell’s elegant contribution was a rare example of poise amid the melee. The unfolding of Thomas Heatherwick’s Olympic cauldron was stunning in its symbolism too, but the weight of these moments wasn’t enough to offset the rest of the ceremony.
Aging rockers, lip-syncing and gross errors in taste and judgement appeared to be the themes of the evening; the ostentatious acts were sometimes astoundingly devoid of irony. When Jessie J sang “it’s not about the money” from inside a gleaming white Rolls Royce in a Stadium built in a neighbourhood renowned for social deprivation it was ironic – but not in a good way.
There was an awful lot of music, but not enough of the right sort. A song by the boyband One Direction was repeated at least once (count yourselves lucky that they haven’t managed to infiltrate the US charts yet) and George Michael followed up his well-loved classic Freedom with a mimed rendition of some new material. It was neither the time nor place for that. We were treated to recordings of Kate Bush and David Bowie, but neither was there in person. The Rolling Stones were conspicuous by their absence too.
We always knew the event would be designed as a party – something to send the competitors into the reputedly libidinous post-Games chaos of the Athletes’ Village on even more of a high – so, perhaps it was too much to expect it to measure up to Danny Boyle’s wacky, yet well-received, opening gambit. Even so, this was a deflating experience.
London has been blessed with the most wonderful festival humanity has to offer for the past two weeks and, as a local, I feel as though the city has acquitted itself well. The volunteers have been unfailingly polite and joyful, the fans from different nations have mixed without a hint of animosity (take note, soccer hooligans), the mood of the place has been elevated to a level that few thought possible in a time of economic difficulty – and I haven’t even mentioned the actual sport.
The Paralympics are still to come, but as the Greatest Show on Earth rolls on to Rio, there is no doubt that post-Olympic ennui is already setting in. It’s as though London has parted company with a lover. It feels like life in the city is missing something that once made it whole. It’s true that nothing can take away the time we spent with the Gamesor the memories that we have, but – reflecting on the closing ceremony – I just can’t help but think:
Did it have to end like this? Did it have to end at all?