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Commonwealth Games opens with dazzling celebration of Birmingham as Malala inspires crowd in adopted city


Birmingham was the first winner of the 2022 Commonwealth Games as a giant raging bull, a Union Jack made from 72 cars and a powerful speech from the activist Malala Yousafzai delivered a loud celebration of all things “Brum”.

Packed with references to the host city’s culture and history, the ceremony at the Alexander Stadium marked the launch of Britain’s biggest multisport event since the 2012 London Olympics.

With Prince Charles watching, the ceremony began with a touching tribute to Prince Philip as a Land Rover with the number plate “HRH PP” took its place at the centre of a Union Jack flag made from 72 cars – a nod to Birmingham’s famous automotive industry.

Dudley-born Sir Lenny Henry welcomed the crowd ahead of the arrival of athletes from the 72 Commonwealth teams, hailing the “30,000 spectators… all your little faces smiling at me, black, brown, pink, white and sunburned from last week.”

The two-and-a-half-hour spectacle revolved around Stella and The Dreamers, a group of young athletes from around the Commonwealth who travelled to the West Midlands for the Games.

The show opened to the beat of African sakara drums, as the 72 Commonwealth representatives were summoned to the 2022 Games. Their arrival was signified by a plethora of miniature houses floating down from the sky.

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall represented the Queen at the event, arriving on the stadium floor in a blue Aston Martin DB6 Volante in front of almost 30,000 spectators.

Birmingham Conservatoire graduate Samantha Oxborough had the honour of performing the National Anthem, supported by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

The show depicted Stella and the Dreamers arriving in Birmingham, each bringing a glowing shard, representing a fragment of a star which shines across the Commonwealth.

They were welcomed into the city by the Bards of Birmingham including writer Samuel Johnson and composer Edward Elgar, who introduced them to Brummie greats of past and present.

Giant puppets of literary figures, musicians and scientists ambled around, while parkour artists and stunt cyclists filled the stadium.

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall arriving for the opening ceremony of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games (Photo: Jacob King/PA Wire)

Like the 2012 ceremony, last night’s event was episodic, showcasing the history of the West Midlands from its early manufacturing and industrial era through to modern-day innovation and cultural revolution.

Black billowing smoke and red furnaces reflected the industrial revolution, while a host of dancers dressed in contrasting colours represented the multicultural city.

A giant raging bull – representing Birmingham’s famous Bullring Market – was the centrepiece of the performance.

The heavily armoured metal creature is ten metres high. It was designed by over 50 people and took more than five months to build.

The raging bull was dragged into the stadium by female chainmakers – representing the woman of the industrial revolution who were underpaid and overworked.

The bull broke loose from its chains, but when Stella – played by Lorell Boyce – faced the creature head-on, the women were also emancipated.

Performers around the Raging Bull during the opening ceremony at the Alexander Stadium, Birmingham (Photo: Mike Egerton, PA Wire)

Human rights activist Malala Yousafzai gave a powerful speech welcoming us to Birmingham – the city she now calls her home, after fleeing the Taliban.

She said the young athletes competing at the Games are a reminder that “every child deserves the chance to reach her full potential and pursue her wildest dreams”.

In a short but powerful message, the activist and author said competitors represented millions of children and “our shared hope for the future”.

“Tonight, teams from 72 countries and territories join the people of Birmingham to celebrate friendship across borders,” she said.

“The young athletes who will compete over the next few weeks represent millions of girls and boys across the Commonwealth – our shared hope for the future. A future where every child can go to school, where women are free to participate in society, where families can live in peace and in dignity.

“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.”

The spectacle was staged in the newly developed Alexander Stadium with an audience of over 30,000 people and broadcast live on BBC One.

Much of the music was performed by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under acclaimed conductor, Alpesh Chauha.

Other highlights included performances from Brummie music icons including Duran Duran and Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi.

People across the West Midlands caught a glimpse of red arrows which flew over the Alexander Stadium, as well as parts of Staffordshire and Birmingham, after leaving their Lincolnshire airbase at RAF Scampton.

Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai addresses the crowd with a powerful speech (Photo: David Davies / PA Wire)

Chief Creative Officer Martin Green CBE led a team of proud Brummies, including Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight CBE as producer, novelist Maeve Clarke as head writer, rapper Joshua “RTKal” Holness as music consultant and award-winning theatre director Iqbal Khan.

“Brummies are unique people. We have amazing creative talent right across the West Midlands,” said Mr Khan. “Our show is dedicated to and made from the spirit of our community volunteers who will bring tonight’s show to life – from volunteer performers to those behind the scenes.”

The show officially kicked off the largest sporting event held in the UK since the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Over 1,500 cast members attended more than 250 rehearsal sessions to make the show as slick as possible.

After the show, each Commonwealth team proceeded to do a lap around the stadium, proudly bearing their country’s flag and waving to the crowds.

The stadium was erupting with cheers and applause as representatives from each nation gathered around the armoured bull.

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