As unlikely as it sounds, a giant, mechanical, patchwork bull made of scrap metal has provided the emotional core of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games opening ceremony.
The “raging bull” roared into Alexander Stadium mid-way through the show, pulled by the underpaid and overworked female-chain makers of the industrial revolution.
He was brought into a recreation of the Bullring — a famous spot in the city that was once a marketplace, and is now a central meeting place and shopping hub.
It was made from parts sourced from local factories, a nod to Birmingham’s reputation as the “city of 1,000 trades”, but the way it moved and emoted struck a chord, as its journey mirrored that of the city.
It started as hurt and scared, then broke free from its shackles, experienced cultural tensions, and ultimately rose again to become a symbol of light and love, and remained at the centre of the arena for the rest of the show.
It was a common theme throughout the ceremony, as organisers focused on bringing the Commonwealth nations together.
Pride, passion, and fun
One of the most powerful symbols of that came when the Queen’s Baton entered the stadium.
Diver Tom Daley was the first baton bearer, and he was accompanied by athletes and activists carrying Pride Progress flags to call out the 35 Commonwealth members where homosexuality is still criminalised.
Para table tennis player Kim Daybell was another popular baton bearer, the doctor put his sporting career on hold during the early stages of the COVID pandemic to work in England’s publicly funded National Health Service.
The crowd enthusiastically embraced any mention of inclusion and diversity, especially when reminded that there are more medals on offer for women than men these Games, and it will have the largest para sport program in history.
Australia was the first team to enter the stadium in the Athletes Assembly, although many athletes opted to stay in their villages, while others ducked out of the venue once they had marched.
Flagbearers Eddie Ockenden and Rachel Grinham looked joyous as they led the team out, with Ockenden turning to his teammates several times to pump them up and encourage them to join him at the front.
Of course, England received the most rousing welcome, with thunderous claps and stomps as the crowd joined in with We Will Rock You.
Tonga’s legendary shirtless flagbearer Pita Taufatofua wasn’t there, but a Samoan athlete tried to make up for it, producing his own iconic shirtless moment while dancing and revving up the crowd.
Brummies Duran Duran closed the show with several songs, bringing the ultimate 80s dance party vibes, finishing on a high with a rendition of Ordinary World amid fireworks.
The Dreamers and famous faces
Stella and The Dreamers, a group of young athletes from across the Commonwealth, were the central characters in the two-and-a-half-hour ceremony.
They explored the history and identity of Birmingham and the West Midlands, including its proud manufacturing history, its literary credentials, and the pride in multiculturalism — it’s the most culturally diverse city in the UK.
There were plenty of famous faces, including one of the founding fathers of heavy metal, Black Sabbath guitarist and Brummie Tony Iommi.
Pakistan-born education activist, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Birmingham resident Malala Yousafzai addressed the crowd.
“Over the next two weeks, when we watch the incredible athletes of the Commonwealth Games, remember that every child deserves the chance to reach her full potential and pursue her wildest dreams,” she said.
Comedian Sir Lenny Henry, and drag queen Ginny Lemon had entertaining cameos, although there was one big name missing.
Queen Elizabeth could not make it, and instead was represented by Prince Charles who officially opened the Games.