Frank Cottrell-Boyce & the secret of the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony


Today marks ten years since the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony.

One of the most talked-about, and widely-watched cultural moments in modern British history. A celebration of society, innovation and identity told my thousands of volunteers and creatives working together against the odds.

Expectations were low, compared with the precision and fireworks of Beijing 2008. But Danny Boyle and Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s story of connectivity through common purpose, and resilience through centuries of change, did something extraordinary.

At always possible, we work with hundreds of businesses, charities and public services to unlock the stories that really define change and creativity in uncertain times. And we remember the power of art and sport in 2012 that had a big ripple effect across places, businesses, communities gathering around one special focus.

In 2018, our CEO Richard Freeman asked Frank Cottrell-Boyce – celebrated children’s author and writer of the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony – about his memories of that process, and the sheer scale of bringing it all together.

The real success, he says, is in how the energy and the joy of the volunteers who performed in the show told the real story of life in Great Britain.

Key quotes:

“I think it was such a lesson for so many.”

“One thing that everyone forgets is that the build-up to it was awful. You know, everybody predicted it was going to be terrible. And we got really hateful, hateful, hateful press.”

“So that’s one thing that take from it, that it’s a really strong experience of knowing that the Daily Mail is not the national conversation, and is actually a bit tin-eared about what the national conversation is – and doesn’t know this nation.”

“Because what you saw in the opening ceremony, I think, wasn’t (as brilliant as they are) Danny and Mark and Surat and Rick are – the people who put it together – but what they did to unleash the creativity, and provide an arena for, the creativity of the good people who came and volunteered.”

“Danny’s always said that when you watch a film, you can tell how it was made at some subliminal level – if it was made out of love or out of cynicism, if the people were bullied, on the set, or loved on the set. And he says people always can feel it. I don’t know if that’s true or not. But that’s something that he really strongly believes. And that’s why it’s always a real joy to work on something with him. And I think there was a huge amount of joy in the opening ceremony actually, happening on the floor. They weren’t just performing it for other people. They were living something. And they were living it voluntarily. They were living it for all the things that are screwing this country up. They were the opposite of it – they were doing it from loyalty, from open heartedness.”

“Really what you’re feeling – as well as it being about chimneys and fireworks and everything -was how you were really relating to it was those people on the stage. I think what Danny did was to provide an arena for people to be creative, and not just to express but to enact all the virtues that this that people in this country have, which somehow don’t make it into our national view of ourselves.”

“They were generous, they were open hearted, fantastically creative for it; really, really up for it and fun.”

“And there are millions and millions of people like that in this country, and we talk as though there aren’t. I think that’s kind of what you’re responding to.”

Listen to the full interview


Never miss another Possibility Club podcast

Access 150+ podcasts featuring a diverse range of innovators, change-makers, leaders and disruptors from across the worlds of business, culture, politics, science and education.

Norman Cook | Andy Burnham | Lemn Sissay | Charlotte Church | Michael Rosen | Jimi Famurewa | Matthew Taylor | Stella Creasy | Tim Harford