THE Queen turned Bond girl and some of Britain’s greatest Olympians teamed up with young athletes to light the Olympic Stadium flame as the London 2012 Games opened in spectacular fashion.
In a block-busting opening ceremony there were moments of humour and emotion and some stunning surprises, not least the unique design of the stadium cauldron, made up of over 200 flames.
Tour de France hero Bradley Wiggins, who within hours will be cycling for Team GB in the men’s road race, rang the giant bell which marked the start of the show at the Olympic Stadium.
Wearing a yellow jersey Wiggins, who less than a week ago became the first British man to win the tour, was greeted with huge cheers.
It was the dramatic start of a breathtaking ceremony capturing the best of Britain and masterminded by Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle.
The Queen stole the show with her movie acting debut as she joined James Bond.
In a scene filmed in advance and screened for the first time, Bond actor Daniel Craig arrives at Buckingham Palace in a dinner jacket, striding past the corgis towards the royal study.
"Good evening Mr Bond," says the Queen, before they leave together, apparently heading towards the Olympic Stadium in a helicopter.
Back in real time, to laughter and delight from the crowd, "the Queen" followed by "Bond", parachuted from a helicopter towards the arena.
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Seconds later the real Queen and Prince Philip received a standing ovation as they arrived.
Some details of the Bond stunt had emerged in advance of the £27 million opening ceremony.
But the Queen’s role - played to perfection - still left the audience awe-struck both in the stadium and around the world.
"The Queen made herself more accessible than ever before," Boyle said earlier.
Even as the show was going on, there were calls for Boyle to have his own date with the Queen - to receive a knighthood.
In another surprise Rowan Atkinson in his Mr Bean character created comic havoc and loads of laughs as he joined Sir Simon Rattle conducting the theme from Chariots of Fire.
Another tightly-kept secret was how the Olympic torch would make its final journey from central London down the River Thames to the stadium in east London.
The surprise was that it was former England captain David Beckham, who was shown steering a speedboat with young footballer Jade Bailey past Tower Bridge.
The show started simply with the stadium turned into a meadow, a green and pleasant land.
The world’s largest harmonically-tuned bell, weighing 23 tonnes and measuring two metres tall and three metres wide, rang to start a Shakespeare-inspired spectacle featuring 900 children from the six east London host boroughs.
The bell stood at one end of the stadium in Stratford, east London, while at the opposite end a version of Glastonbury Tor - a holy hill in south west England - was topped off with a giant oak.
A huge waterwheel stood parallel with the 100 metre finish line where, in just a week’s time, the fastest men in the world will race to be named Olympic champion.
Oscar winner Boyle, the man responsible for the the remarkable transformation of the stadium where the athletics will take place, said: "Tonight’s a warm-up act for the Games.
"That’s one of the things you have to keep remembering.
"You big it up for different reasons, and you hear it bigged up or slammed or whatever it is and you’ve got to keep remembering we’re the warm-up act."
As warm up acts go, it was hot.
A digital 10-second countdown flashed on to the crowd, with balloons popping on each number, and the ceremony began.
The five Olympic rings, attached to four balloons, were released and floated up into the sky, set to reach the stratosphere by the end of the ceremony.
Sir Kenneth Branagh, dressed as Isambard Kingdom Brunel, entered the scene reciting Caliban’s speech from Shakespeare’s The Tempest as some 62,000 spectators saw Boyle’s spectacular Isles of Wonder unveil.
In sharp contrast, the pounding of the drums began, ushering in Britain’s industrial revolution as the stadium darkened and the atmosphere changed.
Pandemonium broke out, with the peaceful countryside torn to pieces as the age of industry sprouted from the ground, with banging so loud the audience felt their seats vibrate.
A cast of hundreds swarmed on to the centre of the arena as the darker, grimier, urban landscape emerged, with giant smoking chimneys rising up from the ground.
Suddenly, everything stopped as silence descended for a moment to remember the fallen.
A poppy field was revealed at one side of the stadium as a sense of calm prevailed while the audience stood to remember the dead.
A vigorously upbeat tone greeted hundreds of dancing nurses and their young patients on 320 luminous hospital beds in a celebration of the National Health Service.
Staff and patients from the world-famous Great Ormond Street Hospital (Gosh) were given a special cheer as the hospital’s name was spelt out by the beds.
Musician Mike Oldfield played Tubular Bells as one young girl read beneath the bedsheets in a tribute to the world of children’s literature.
In a rare public appearance, Harry Potter author JK Rowling started the tale of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan as Boyle’s "Second to the right, and straight on ’til morning" segment got under way.
A memorial wall on the stadium screens was one of the touching moments of the ceremony, showing images of spectators’ loved ones who have passed away, including the late fathers of Boyle and Olympics supremo Lord Coe.
Dancers dressed in red, representing the struggle between life and death, were picked out by a spotlight in the darkness of the stadium as the clear powerful vocals of Emeli Sande pierced the air with Abide With Me.
Then the athletes arrived, first those from Greece, birthplace of the games.
Usain Bolt led out the Jamaican team, drawing a massive cheer from the crowd.
But that was dwarfed by the ticker tape reception for Sir Chris Hoy, Britain’s flagbearer, as Team GB became the last of the nations to enter the stadium.
Four-time Olympic cycling champion Sir Chris said: "I don’t think any of us were expecting it to be this good."
Then came the final surprise as Britain’s greatest Olympian Sir Steve Redgrave ran into the stadium holding the torch to be greeted by seven young athletes each nominated by himself and British Olympic heroes Lynn Davies, Duncan Goodhew, Dame Kelly Holmes, Dame Mary Peters, Shirley Robertson and Daley Thompson.
It was the young athletes who each lit one of the copper petals which had been brought into the stadium with the teams.
Within moments over 200 of the petals were ablaze and rose up to form a spectacular cauldron.
Following the ceremony, London 2012 organiser Locog revealed the cauldron would remain in the Olympic Stadium throughout the Games.
A spokesman said: "The Olympic flame which has been seen by nearly 15 million people on its 70 day journey around the UK will be moved overnight on the 29th of July to its resting position in the same position as the opening ceremony bell.
"It will be projected on the stadium’s big rooftop screens during the first week."