Millions watch Games’s glittering opening

The Paralympic opening ceremony provided “a reflection of all impairment groups”, organisers said yesterday, after the Games started in spectacular style at the Olympic Stadium.

Some 62,000 spectators and a television audience of more than 11 million people watched the curtain-raiser to the Games, which featured thousands of entertainers and athletes from across the world.

There were starring roles for the Queen, Professor Stephen Hawking and a double amputee Afghan war veteran who stunned the crowd by riding a zip wire into the stadium.

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Sir Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), and London 2012 chair Lord Coe addressed the packed crowd as they celebrated the homecoming of the Games, which trace their origin back to Stoke Mandeville, in Buckinghamshire, in 1948.

Craig Spence, the IPC’s director of media and communications, said yesterday: “It gave a reflection of all impairment groups and I think it showed how far the Paralympic movement has come.

“It had global appeal in Stephen Hawking. I thought his narration of the ceremony was fantastic. Every word he said meant something.

“I think there was a line in Sir Philip’s speech that said the Paralympics will make you reassess how you think about yourself and how you think about others. I think Stephen Hawking’s words did that as well.”

Those in the Olympic Stadium and millions more across the world watched as Joe Townsend, 24, who lost both legs as a Royal Marine in Afghanistan, flew in on a zip wire to start the sequence that lit the Paralympic cauldron.

After his breathtaking descent, he handed the flame to David Clarke, a member of the ParalympicsGB five-a-side football team, who in turn passed it to Margaret Maughan, winner of Great Britain’s first Paralympic gold medal at the 1960 Rome Games, who lit the cauldron.

In another ceremony that showed the world Britain’s creativity – and eccentricity – there were stunning special moments, including a sign language choir performing the national anthem and a section in which six Paralympians led by Baroness Grey-Thompson were flown into the stadium in gold wheelchairs.

The ceremony heralded the start of 11 days of elite sporting action featuring athletes from across the world and before sell-out crowds who have made this the most successful Paralympic Games in history.