At 9pm tomorrow night in the United Kingdom (3am in Cambodian time), 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 other countries. But together we like to think they make up a pretty extraordinary whole.
The challenge for Danny Boyle, artistic director of tomorrow night’s Opening Ceremony, was to capture all this, with just three hours to portray the British people and our society to the world.
Whether he has achieved this or not, you will judge for yourselves. But I hope that every one of you watching – if you will stay up late to see it – 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 UK 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.
Our openness has always influenced the way we connect with the world. We have a long history of looking outwards and taking the global perspective, and we help other people connect too.
Our 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 of you 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.
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.
So tomorrow night’s ceremony will also be unpredictable and inventive. It will reflect the rising urban population and life in Britain’s cities, as well as our traditional landscapes. While one side of the stadium will evoke the classical music celebration of the Last Night of the Proms, the other will re-create the spirit of the Glastonbury music festival.
Because both of these are exuberant occasions where the British people love to let their hair down; both show different sides of a dynamic and passionate society. Nothing demonstrates this better than the astonishing dedication of the 10,000 volunteers who have given up hours of their free time to rehearse for this momentous occasion. They truly represent the best of who we are as a nation.
When you watch the spectacle tomorrow night, I hope you will take away a snapshot of the heritage, diversity, energy and creativity that defines the modern United Kingdom and celebrates who we are as a people.
And when you listen to the sounds of the show, I hope you will take away a musical memory too, from the ringing of Europe’s largest bell to the soundtrack created by electronic music duo Underworld.
But above all, I hope you will see that the British people are incredibly proud to welcome the world, both this summer and in the future. As Caliban says in The Tempest: ‘Be not afeared. The isle is full of noises’.
Mark Gooding is the British Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia.