If ever there was a show that ended a multitude of times better than it started, this was it so let’s go in chronological order and get the bad out of the way before we get to the very, very good.
John Barrowman kicked things off. Never has twitter sighed with discontent so loudly.
Critics of Mr Barrowman would do well to remember that his politics during an event like this are unimportant, as are where he was raised and where he lives. It would be nice to say his accent is an irrelevance as well, but given that he insists on putting one on every time his Scottish roots are raised, unfortunately he ensures that’s not the case. Being Scottish is not about sounding Scottish, nor is it about spending every moment of your life in Scotland. It’s an identity which all are welcome to embrace and discussions of how Scottish someone is are distinctly unpleasant and have no place in civilised discussion. The pertinent question of last night was whether the distinctly camp (or ‘fabulous’ if you prefer) Mr Barrowman represented Scotland as most Scots would like. The answer, sadly, was a resounding no.
Twee, cringe-worthy and deliberately wiped from memory by most who watched it, the opening act of the 20th Commonwealth Games was an embarrassment that would have been perfectly suited to Eurovision or Christmas panto. For an event marketed as one of the biggest in modern Scottish history it was something that will be best left out by future scholars.
Joined by a notably manic Karen Dunbar who most will have been forgiven for wondering who she was and quite why her eyes were so wide, Mr Barrowman’s manic, CBeebies tour of what makes Scotland great (Nessie, heather and Tunnock’s marshmallows, apparently) was thankfully brief leaving the visiting Commonwealth with little time to consider why his Scottish accent disappeared when he sang, or why in a land as musically rich as Scotland, the organisers had picked a patient from the Priory Hospital to sing with him.
There were moments of positivity to enjoy, not least among them a gay kiss beamed to 45 countries where homosexuality is a crime, but by and large the opening of the opening was better forgotten than recorded.
In actual fact this was not the first thing to take note of. Shown on a 100m wide screen that weighed between 46 and 300 tonnes dependant on which journalist you listened to, we first got to see Billy Connelly’s introduction to his hometown, and it was as heartfelt, warm and funny as you’d expect from the Big Yin. Halfway through the countdown to the Barrowfest, Ewan McGregor popped up and it says something about the actor that presuming he wasn’t promoting Star Wars VII, everyone’s immediate thought was Unicef. Ewan talked of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help the world but was coy on the details, evidently hoping that when finally revealed after an hour’s entertainment, ‘text X to Y’ would seem more exciting than it usually does.
Post Barrowman, things improved. Kicked off by the ever wonderful Amy MacDonald who earlier along with Barry McGuigan and others had made even The One Show bearable, a VT of George Square bursting into song was shown, featuring real life Scottish people with real life Scottish jobs like ‘council worker’ and ‘police’. By the magic of television the troupe appeared in the stadium and were joined by… Rod Stewart?
Rod’s actually a decent example of what I mentioned earlier. Born and raised in London, half English and now resident in LA, there’s no doubt that the hundred-and-sixty-nine-year-old Celtic fan loves his Scottish heritage. Perhaps it’s because he’s never falsified an accent to ‘fit in’ but most Scots seem accepting of this and though it’s fair to point out that there are any number of younger, more contemporary acts in Scotland that would have meshed better with MacDonald, Stewart was welcomed as one of us. It’s not where you come from that makes you Scottish. It’s how you act.
Jovial pisstaking aside, Rod did rock it, particularly in contrast to what followed. Trailed all day by a luvvie BBC, Susan Boyle was wheeled out to phone in Mull of Kintyre, and promptly duffed up the opening line. No doubt sensing that their reputation was on the line, the ever reliable Scottish Regiment fired up the pipes and took centre stage filling Celtic Park with a sound that may not be unique to this country, but is unmistakably Scottish.
Then the Queen showed up and in the first concerted ‘Fuck You’ of the night to those unionists who’d secretly prayed for the worst of Glaswegian culture to make an appearance, got a rousing round of applause. Such was the surreal nature of God Save the Queen blaring out from the stands at Celtic Park that even republicans such as yours truly couldn’t help but be proud of the support, despite the ugly irony of paying homage to a multi-billionaire in a city blighted by child poverty. So warm was the welcome, the Queen beamed a smile throughout. I shit ye not. The Queen smiled.
Following this up was a nice but uninspired and all-too-short performance by two dancers from the Scottish Ballet to a touching reimagining of I Would Walk (500 Miles), which sadly underlined just how hard it is to give an intimate performance when the nearest spectator is over fifty metres away. Fear not though, because an altogether larger and more lively dance number was on the way, focusing on the touching story of brightly coloured people nicking chairs from Argos. Or something. Good fun, in any case.
Then the parade of athletes, so often the dullest part of any ceremony, here the centrepiece of a real party atmosphere, helped by breaking up into continental groups and interspersed with stories from Glaswegian Unicef ambassadors (and requisite celebrities) from around the world building up to the final appeal. Throughout, it was the Celtic Park crowd that made a procession of some 4000 people round a track the real star of the show, as the Scots cheered each nation (almost) as if they were their own and walking out behind a Saltire (though in lieu, a procession of Scottish terriers surely helped).
Highlights include every country who made an effort with their parade dress, those that danced, those that jumped and flipped, those that doffed their hats to their hosts by wearing tartan, Aberdeen hats, Celtic shirts and more, and the entrance of Team England. If ever there were doubts about what sort of welcome Glasgow would give its neighbours (and after a few weeks of unionist shit-stirrers in the press doing their best to hype it up, such worries could be excused), this was the moment when the city that did as much as any to build the Commonwealth stood tall and proudly showed it was one of the world’s greatest. Despite cynicism from some in the press (see below) athletes such as Mo Farah, Nicola Adams and the Bringley brothers received one of the largest cheers of the night.
Not quite the biggest however. That wold have been strange. “When the sporting Gods do shine their light on our pasty faces,” says IRN-BRU’s latest excellent advert, “Martians need earplugs.” Celtic Park put that to the test. It’s debatable whether any stadium in Scotland has ever heard such a roar as when the largest squad the country has ever presented to the Commonwealth Games took centre stage. Faces we knew and more we didn’t; every one was a hero last night, resplendent in the controversial parade dress that as it turned out, fitted perfectly with the unashamedly multi-coloured ceremony. Even had the sun not been beaming down on Glasgow all day, the range of colour within the stadium would have ensured that everyone there went home with brightness in their hearts.
Thereafter Rod Stewart made another appearance, killing off hopes that we might see the true breadth of Scots influence on popular music followed up by Unicef ambassadors Sir Chris Hoy and James McAvoy, prompting some imaginative ideas on Twitter, the best of which was that the kilt-wearing duo should fight crime together. Chris and James introduced Unicef’s unique world event, which as it turned out was exactly like texting X to Y so not all that unique at all. Still, all in a good cause and it seems an excellent idea for the organisers to have embraced. Unicef really did have a starring role last night, and as good causes go, theirs is hard to beat.
Text FIRST to 70333 to donate £5 to UNICEF for children around the world.
When the flag of the games was brought in, it was to the wondrous tones of Nicola Benedetti’s violin version of Loch Lomond which despite a new arrangement and lack of choir or central singer, was met with full song around the stands. A tribute then to Nelson Mandela who always had a special relationship with this city; it being the first in the world to back his struggle and giving him the freedom of Glasgow twenty-eight years ago, and a beautiful rendition of Freedom Come All Ye by South African singer Pumeza.
As all not gripped by hatred of the First Minister expected, Alex Salmond then led a sombre and professional moment of silence for those who lost love ones on Flight MH17. Thereafter it was simplicity itself, politics taking a backseat to the real message of the evening. “Fàilte gu Alba. Welcome to Scotland.” If brevity is the mark of a statesman, something must also be said for volume control. Following up Mr Salmond was Glasgow City Council leader Gordon Mathieson who as one quick commentator on Twitter noted, had evidently prepared for his speech by shouting at passing cars. Thankfully Prince Imran restored civility to proceedings before the real heroes of proceedings thus far, the volunteers without whom none of the games would be possible, took turns in bearing the baton on its final short journey towards the Queen.
When it got there, Prince Imran struggled with the seal for a moment, joining in the crowd’s good-hearted laughter before Sir Chris Hoy jumped in to help with the lid and the speech was passed to Her Majesty who declared the games open. That, in a nutshell, was Glasgow’s opening ceremony. Not without hitches, or flawless in any way. Kind though; warm-hearted, a shining example of the difference people make. Buoyed by a crowd representing a city and country always willing to be there to help others when it can, always eager to welcome the world to its doorstep, always ready to stand up and impress but as the sight of the Duke of Wellington’s cone-headed statue in the centre of the athletes brilliantly reminded us all, never one to take itself too seriously.
As Billy noted at the off and Glasgow has been saying for centuries. You’re most welcome. Come on in.