Natural cynic that I am, any review I might have attempted of last night’s Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony – reputedly beamed live to over 1 billion viewers throughout the Commonwealth – was always destined to be awarded a disappointing ‘5’ upon a scale of ten.
And ‘5’ is what I awarded it, having tuned in at 9.00pm on BBC1 specifically in order to see what Glasgow had to offer the world, i.e. in terms of a window upon Scotland’s supposed mix of historic traditions and modern, edgy relevance as it welcomed competitors and spectators alike to the party.
Going back in history, it has been the role of Olympic Games, rather than the Commonwealth variety, to provide onlookers with memorable images to lift sporting gathering beyond the triviality of competition. That said, I can recall nothing of Athens in 2004 and just some waterfall or infinity pool effects at Sydney in 2000.
Beijing in 2008 – now there was something special worth waiting up for – a series of brilliantly-choreographed dances, a man on a wire ‘running’ around the inside of the stadium and a classical pianist.
The only downer at Beijing’s Closing Ceremony (perhaps marginally outside the brief I’ve given myself) was the ‘entertainment’ accompanying the handing over of responsibility to London.
I mention it because – given the subsequent acclaimed success of London’s Opening and Closing Ceremonies in 2012 – it was a numbingly-poor and worrying precursor, consisting as it did (in my memory at least) of an eight-minute sequence featuring a battalion of ‘young, beautiful people’ cavorting around a red London bus, as if transplanted from Swinging London in 1966, whilst above them X-Factor winner Leona Lewis warbled and a now white-haired and be-suited Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page did his best to single-handedly dismantle forty years’ worth of rock legend status by pumping out a rickety version of the riff to Whole Lotta Love. Beholding this catastrophe on my domestic television set – and assuming it to be Britain’s very best effort to ‘connect’ with what it saw as the world’s perception of us in 2008 – my heart sank to its boots in anticipation of what might happen four years later.
However, back to Glasgow in 2014.
From about the middle of last week, I had done my level best to avoid exposure to the BBC’s relentlessly enthusiastic build-up to the Commonwealth Games. Every so often the British media drops all pretence at reserve or impartiality, assumes the role of chief national cheerleader and bombards the population with hour after hour of sledgehammer ‘puffs’ for the event at hand – giving it hundreds of millions of pounds’ worth of free promotion. This was one of them.
Having deliberately steered well clear of the vacuous The One Show’s presenters Matt Baker and Alex Jones affable build-up on BBC1, at 9.00pm last night I tuned into to some aerial shots of the Glaswegian skyline, an opening message from the well-preserved-looking actor Ewan McGregor and then – right on cue – the show began inside a Celtic Park stadium that looked only about 75% full.
Like the curate’s egg, it was good in parts.
Inevitably, what was laid before us suffered from comparison with London 2012. In budget terms – no disrespect intended – it was like a village hall production laid alongside Miss Saigon at the West End’s Prince Edward Theatre. The two lead performers – a female who looked rather like Muriel Gray but wasn’t and that awful showman John Barrowman – were obliged to ‘sing’ a specially-composed ditty, or series of ditties, name-checking everything we ever knew or thought of Scotland … Clyde ship-building, the Loch Ness Monster, malt whisky, kilts, golf, caber-tossing [you get the kind of thing] … whilst, yes, hanging off a bus and surrounded by a cast of fancy-dressed thousands, with and without props. The naff-o-meter was cranking up to ‘9’ at this early stage, scarcely improved by cameo appearances by Rod Stewart – croaking through the climax of a singalong number, rather than belting out some of his greatest hits which might have improved things – and Susan Boyle (the unlikely ‘Suebo’ from Britain’s Got Talent) who essayed Paul McCartney’s Mull of Kintyre whilst plainly wracked with nerves.
However, the evening wasn’t a complete mess of porridge. Midway through there was an interval in which a couple from the Scottish Ballet danced movingly to a classically-arranged version of The Pretenders’ classic anthem I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles). In a separate pre-recorded section elsewhere in the city, singer Amy Macdonald began a song solo on a street corner that was gradually, in a clever and heart-warming sequence, picked up by hundreds of genuine members of the public and taken to its chorus in the stadium.
About 40 minutes in, the Queen and Prince Philip arrived and, not long afterwards, the ‘welcoming of the athletes’ began. For this viewer, the prospect of sitting through all 71 national, or protectorate, or colonial teams circumnavigating the stadium, waving at the seated crowd and taking selfies [once you’ve seen one of these sequences, even if it was in 1996, you’ve seen them all] was a bridge too far and I immediately retired to bed.