At 11pm tonight Kenya 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 on the Olympics Opening Ceremony.
Danny Boyle, Artistic Director of tonight’s spectacle, has just three hours to portray the British people and our society to the world. In one of the largest sets ever built, the whole of the field of play in the Stadium will be transformed into the rolling British countryside, complete with meadows, fields and rivers. His concept, called “Isles of Wonder”, was inspired by a speech in William Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’, and William Blake’s rural idyll of ‘England’s green and pleasant land’. It came from thinking about the people of Britain, our history and heritage but also who we are now and where we are going.
The Britain of 2012 has become a more open, diverse, creative tolerant and prosperous society. This is the Britain not only of Shakespeare, Elgar and the pomp and ceremony of our great Royal occasions; but also of Adele, the Premiership and the inventor of the internet. Our relations with the world are on a completely different footing to days of empire, and we celebrate the Olympics in a spirit of equal partnership, respect, friendship and shared opportunity.
The UK has always been an open society. It is in our blood. Sitting on one of the world’s crossroads the British have always thrived on the exchange of goods, ideas and people. 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 this rich and vibrant history that so many of you associate with Britain. Indeed, many of our customs and values, laws and ideals seem to have changed little over the years. But in reality we are constantly reinventing 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 tonight’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.
Kenya is very much part of this Olympic story. 200,000 people of Kenyan origin work and study in all corners of the UK. The Kenyan Diaspora is growing in influence, strengthening the deep bonds between the UK and Kenya, particularly in trade and investment. They will be waving the Kenyan flag and supporting Team Kenya. Kenyans have taken part in the torch ceremony in Solihull, and seen the naming of the Kip Keino Stadium in Bristol after Kenya’s greatest Olympian. I had the privilege of seeing the final trials of Team Kenya at Nyayo Stadium, and know that these world beating athletes will do their country proud.
The whole world is looking forward in anticipation in particular to seeing Kenya’s runners in action, and wondering whether anyone else will get a look in! Will Kenya’s men and women get gold, silver and bronze in both marathons through the streets of London? How many world records will they break in the next few weeks? The dominance of Kenyan distance running in recent years, for both men and women, has been phenomenal. They are true Ambassadors for their country and will bring home a haul of medals. We say ‘karibuni’ to all Kenyan supporters travelling to the Games, and the best of luck to the Kenyan team, although I think that it is their opponents that will need the luck!
The Olympic movement tells us about peaceful competition and unity in diversity. I hope that every one of you watching tonight will be able to take something away from it and think of Britain in a new light. You will see a snapshot of the heritage, diversity, energy and creativity that defines the modern United Kingdom and celebrates who we are as a people. Above all, I hope you will see that the British people are incredibly proud to welcome Kenya and the world, both this summer and in the future, in a spirit of equal partnership and friendship.
Christian Turner is British High Commissioner @HCCTurner