The region’s rich musical heritage and inclusivity were at the heart of the 22nd Birmingham Commonwealth Games opening ceremony here as a joyful evening offered a stupendous cornucopia of colour, light and dance.
Drummer-percussionist Abraham Paddy Tetteh started things off at the Alexander Stadium that was packed to the rafters, and then, Indian classical vocalist and composer Ranjana Ghatak took the lead, the section intended to showcase the diversity of the city.
It was refreshing as the Birmingham Games is the first multi-discipline event since the start of the pandemic to be held without major COVID-19 restrictions.
Meanwhile, as many as 70 cars in red, white and blue got together to form a Union Jack, even as Prince Charles, representing Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, arrived in his Aston Martin car along with the Duchess of Cornwall. The formation of cars was a tribute to the city’s incredible motor industry history.
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Just before that, the city paid a tribute to the Queen, even as a montage featuring her stretched back to the black and white era.
After a spectacular demonstration of Birmingham’s culture and diversity, the evening paid a tribute to Charlie Chaplin, with the legendary comedian being hailed as one of the city’s heroes. Between London and Birmingham, his place of birth, in fact, has been subject of much debate. There was an honorary mention of William Shakespeare too, as the broadcasters spoke about the Shakespeare First Folio which is in the new Library of Birmingham — the largest public library in the UK.
Through its printing press, the place’s history was shown in all its glory. Then there was a gargantuan bull in the stadium, pulled along by overworked, underpaid female chain makers of the Industrial Revolution. Till the time the raging bull was there going on a rampage, it was the cynosure of all eyes at the glittering ceremony. Perry the Bull, the Games mascot, got its name because of the city’s iconic Bull Ring market, which has been around for hundreds of years.
”Our 72 nations and territories are all here – and Birmingham looks magnificent,” Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) president Louise Martin said.
”I believe this event will be one of the greatest and most important editions of the Commonwealth Games in our 92-year history,” she added.
Then began the Parade of Nations. As per CWG tradition, Australia, being the host of the last Games, entered first during the Parade, followed by the rest of the Oceania region. Then, other countries made their way into the arena in alphabetical order from their respective regions.
The countries from Africa, America, Asia, the Caribbean followed, and then came the turn of 2010 Games host India, with double Olympics medallist badminton ace PV Sindhu and men’s hockey team captain Manpreet Singh leading the contingent out amid loud cheers from the stands.
Again, as is the norm, hosts England entered last with ”We will, we will rock you” playing in the background.
Birmingham got into the spirit of the Mexican Wave right at the start of the ceremony showcasing grandeur, rich culture, diversity and heritage.
The ceremonial Commonwealth Games flag was brought out and hoisted after which CGF president Martin walked out to give a speech, at the end of which the Prince of Wales read out the Queen’s message to declare the Games open. LGBTQ+ activist and British Olympic champion Tom Daley, a winner of four Commonwealth golds in the pool, brought the Queen’s Baton into the Alexander Stadium accompanied by a entourage of LGBTQ+ flag-bearers.
One of the highlights of the two-and-half-hour long ceremony was local favourite chart-topping band Duran Duran who delivered the finale to the stunning night in the city where their career began 44 years ago.
Renowned musician Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra also performed, while talented young singer from the Ribble Valley, Samantha Oxborough, sung the British National Anthem ‘God Save the Queen’.
A massed choir of over 700 voices, comprising 15 choirs from across the West Midlands reverberated the arena, led by Carol Pemberton and Black Voices, one of Europe’s leading female Acapella groups.
The Royal Marines dished out a rousing trumpet fanfare, while Grammy-winning guitarist Iommi and saxophonist Soweto Kinch led a dream sequence entitled Hear my Voice, based on the title track from 2020 film Trial of the Chicago Seven, re-imagined by Birmingham-born R&B vocalists Indigo Marshall and Gambimi.
Creator of acclaimed British crime drama ‘Peaky Blinders’, Steven Knight was the creative mastermind behind the ceremony that had more than 2,000 performers tracing the story of the city’s glorious past and present, while also reflecting the links between the 72 countries and territories in the Commonwealth Games.
The Games, set to be the biggest and most expensive sporting event in the UK since the 2012 London Olympics, have had to deal with the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It comes almost 10 years to the day since the much-acclaimed opening ceremony of the London Games.
The opening act marked the beginning of 11 days of sporting action in the city. More than 5000 athletes from 72 countries will compete in 280 events across 19 sports in 15 venues.