At 11 p.m. Beirut local time yesterday, a newly cast bell that is larger than Big Ben will ring out from London’s Olympic Stadium and the eyes of one billion people across the globe will be upon us. But what will they see? What does modern Britain look like? Well, it’s a mix of things, many of them characteristics that we share with Lebanon.
The challenge for Danny Boyle, artistic director of yesterday’s opening ceremony, was to capture this diversity, with just three hours to portray the British people and our society to the world. I hope that every one of you watching will be able to take something away from it and think of Britain in a new light.
Danny’s vision for the ceremony came from thinking about the people of Britain: who we were, where we have come from, what our history and heritage is; and then who we are now and where we are going.
The U.K. has always been an open society. It’s in our blood. Sitting on one of the world’s crossroads the British have always thrived on the exchange of goods, ideas and people – much as Lebanon has. For millennia, the Lebanese have set out from these shores to push the boundaries, to pursue dreams. Both of our countries have a history looking outward and taking the global perspective and we help other people connect too.
The English language, the product of centuries of influence, is used all over the world and our greatest writers, poets and playwrights have left behind them a global birthright. It is no secret that Danny’s concept was inspired by a speech in William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” nor that the first scenes you will see celebrate William Blake’s rural idyll of “England’s green and pleasant land.”
It is this rich and vibrant history that so many people around the world associate with Britain: from the pomp and ceremony on display at our great Royal occasions to the Sunday afternoon games of cricket on village greens across the land. Indeed, many of our customs and values, laws and ideals seem to have changed little over the years. But in reality we are constantly inventing ourselves. Just like Lebanon, Britain is at its best when we’re pioneering, when we’re trading, when we’re dreaming. Our deep roots give us enormous energy and our lively origins as a nation of migrants express themselves in a continuing tradition of exploration, discovery and creativity.
I expect that all eyes across Lebanon will be on the 10 Olympic athletes, who will proudly join the parade. These young people represent not only this country’s top achievers in sport but also Lebanon’s great resilience in times of trouble and its ambition to compete on a world stage. The Olympics are a great unifier and I hope that they will unite Lebanon behind their team.
Let’s show that Lebanon can unite in supporting the very best of this diverse, resilient country, at London 2012