Celebrating all the different types of disabilities for their normality was the successful aim of last night's Paralympic Opening spectacular on Wednesday night. JFHC editor Penny Hosie was there:
A dramatic fly past by Aerobility, a charity that trains disabled people to become pilots, marked the dramatic opening to yet another light and dramatic effects spectacular.
However, this was no ordinary opener. It was the Paralympics Opening Ceremony and the creative team responsible knew full well the eyes of the world were on them. Picking enlightenment as the theme the choreographers ensured they delivered a visual and at times humorous feast of disabled acrobatic performers, coloured umbrellas, golden wheelchairs, a glittery whale, bright carousel and bountiful giant rosy red apples (and one huge golden one).The combined effect of the stunning displays to the joyful parade of athletes (their obvious delight at being there couldn't help but make you smile) meant you were under no doubt that the team were on a mission to portray disabilities as something to be celebrated for their normality.
The athletes subscribe to this - as all have individually worked hard to achieve sporting success beyond their perceived physical and mental capabilities - indeed able bodied people can only speculate and marvel at the superhuman types of effort and achievement taken to win their place at the Games. To beautifully illustrate the point further, some choice lines were delivered by the actress playing Miranda (the Tempest theme being pure coincidence), such as "How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world that has such people in it".
Of course these weren't the only memorable lines. In a moving and fitting tribute to symbolise all mankind Professor Stephen Hawking also took centre stage and movingly implored the audience to: "Look at the stars and not down at your feet". He also explained how the Paralympic Games aims to transform our perception of the world: "We are all different. There is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being, but we share the same human spirit. He added: "What is important is that we have the ability to create. This creativity can take many forms, from physical achievement to theoretical physics. However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at."
Team GB received a rapturous applause when they marched out to the tune of David Bowie's Heroes. Part of Bowie's appeal is the fact he dared to not conform and made art and music out of pushing boundaries both creatively and visually. Last night's show strived to echo his vision; to break conventional barriers and prejudice down by spectacularly proving that disability doesn't need to be "hidden away". A great example of this was a feisty performance of Spasticus Autisticus by the Graeae Theatre Company, originally written and performed by the late, great Ian Dury of the Blockheads. Originally written in 1981 it was banned by Radio 1 for being too "offensive", even though Dury had penned it about his own disability and in protest against the "patronising" International Year of the Disabled.
The mood of the crowd was lifted further when the display shifted up a gear with a smorgasboard of visual delights, ending with the moving entrance of the Olympic flame, dramatically carried into the stadium by former Royal Marine Joe Townsend (a double amputee). He handed it to David Clarke, captain of the blind British football team who in turn passed it to Margaret Maughan (Britain's first gold medallist at the first Paralympic Games in Rome in 1960) who then lit the stunningly designed cauldron.
A sudden triumphant blowing up of a statue portraying disabled artist Alison Lapper was akin to a phoenix rising from the ashes to symbolise a new dawn, a brave new world. The original bust by Marc Quinn, entitled Alison Lapper Pregnant, attracted controversy when it occupied the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square back in 2005. Her inclusion in the ceremony was both proudly symbolic and a fitting full stop to any debate questioning the legitimacy of her deserving her moment in the sun.
Beverly Knight belted out the infectious life affirming anthem "I am what I am" in tandem with fireworks and energetic dancing - a great finale to a spectacular show. However the final words have to go to Co-artistic director Jenny Sealey, who was quoted as saying prior to the show that "I want people to see a great show and come out saying 'Bloody hell, I never knew there were so many disabled people.' This is our chance not to be hidden anymore." As an audience member treated to last night's stunning display, I'd say it was Mission Accomplished. And I'll also be making a concerted effort to stargaze from now on…