Queen Elizabeth II has declared the London 2012 Paralympics officially open, during a spectacular opening ceremony watched by some 80,000 spectators.
Britain’s first Paralympic Games gold medallist, Margaret Maughan, 84, had the honor of lighting the cauldron.
Paralympics chief Lord Sebastian Coe told the crowd: “Prepare to be inspired, prepare to be dazzled, prepare to be moved.”
The Queen said: “The Games are returning to the country where they first began, more than 60 years ago.”
Earlier, athletes paraded around the Olympic Stadium, with Paralympics GB entering last to huge cheers.
The opening ceremony, co-directed by Jenny Sealey and Bradley Hemmings, signalled the start of 11 days of competition by 4,200 athletes from 164 countries, including more than 300 athletes from the home nation.
Queen Elizabeth II has declared the London 2012 Paralympics officially open, during a spectacular opening ceremony watched by some 80,000 spectators
Wheelchair basketball, shooting, swimming and track cycling are among the events set to feature on the opening day.
Lord Coe told the crowd at the east London stadium: “It is my great honor to say welcome home to the Paralympic Games.”
Eight members of the British under-22 wheelchair basketball team were given the honor of carrying the Paralympic flag into the stadium. It was raised by members of the armed forces, before the Queen declared the Games open.
British swimmer Liz Johnson, a medallist from Beijing 2008, wheelchair rugby judge Richard Allcroft and David Hunter, who is coaching the Paralympics GB equestrian team, each stepped forward to take the official oaths on behalf of competitors and officials.
At the close of the ceremony, 24-year-old Royal Marine Commando Joe Townsend – an aspiring Olympic triathlete, who lost both legs while serving in Afghanistan – descended on a zip wire into the stadium from the top of the nearby Orbit tower.
He handed the flame to David Clarke, a member of the Parlympics GB five-a-side football team, who passed the torch to Margaret Maughan, who won gold in archery at the 1960 Rome Paralympics.
She lit a tiny flame on the ground, igniting more than 200 copper petals. Long stems then rose towards each other to form a cauldron, signifying unity.
Like the impressive Olympic cauldron, it was made by designer Thomas Heatherwick, and 166 of the petals bore the names of competing nations at the London 2012 Paralympics.
Bradley Hemmings said it was “extremely spectacular and like nothing you have seen in previous ceremonies”.
The Paralympics GB athletes earlier entered the stadium to David Bowie’s Heroes, led by Peter Norfolk, the two-time Paralympic wheelchair tennis champion, who carried the union jack. He later described it as a “wow moment”.
In one heart-stopping moment during the show, six Paralympians and former competitors – including Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson – were flown into the stadium in golden wheelchairs.
Disabled ex-serviceman David Rawlins flew a twin-engined Tecnam P2006 light aircraft over the stadium to kick off the proceedings.
A sphere ignited the “big bang” – something which Prof. Stephen Hawking, a world-renowned physicist who has motor neurone disease, has written about extensively – to start the show and fireworks lit up the stadium.
Prof. Stephen Hawking and actor Sir Ian McKellen played prominent roles in the ceremony, which also featured a host of deaf and disabled artists, local children and performers newly-trained in circus skills.
Some 3,000 volunteers took part in the event, which organizers entitled Enlightenment and said was “profoundly about science and humanity”.
Throughout the ceremony, Prof. Stephen Hawking acted as a guide to Miranda – a character from William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, who was central to the show – while actor Sir Ian played Prospero, another character from the play.
Inspired by uncertain British weather, umbrellas were also a big theme in the ceremony, which was described as “both spectacular and deeply human” by organizers.
The Queen was welcomed by Sir Philip Craven, President of the International Paralympic Committee, before the union jack was carried in by representatives of the armed forces.
It is the first time the monarch has officiated at the openings of both the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Teams from all 164 countries paraded into the stadium to music mixed and played by three London-based DJs.
The Paralympic torch began its journey in Stoke Mandeville, Buckinghamshire, the spiritual home of the Paralympic Games, on Tuesday night.
It was carried by 580 torchbearers in total, and after being carried past some of London’s most famous landmarks, was used to light a scaled-down version of the Olympic cauldron.
The torch had earlier been delayed but Games organizers LOCOG confirmed the flame arrived at the stadium in time to light the cauldron.
More than 2.4 million tickets for events have already been sold, including half a million to overseas visitors.
In a statement released before she opened the Games, the Queen said: “It is with tremendous pride that the people of London and the United Kingdom welcome the world to the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
“We look forward to celebrating the uplifting spirit which distinguishes the Paralympic Games from other events, drawing on Britain’s unique sporting heritage.”
Paralympics in numbers
• 4,280 athletes from 166 countries are to compete throughout the 11 days of sport
• Over 2.4 million tickets have been sold so far – including half a million to visitors from abroad
• There are 503 gold medals to be won in 21 sports
Paralympic torch has reached outer London as part of a 24-hour relay to herald the start of the 2012 Games.
Four national flames, kindled last week, were united in a cauldron at a ceremony in Stoke Mandeville – the spiritual home of the Paralympics.
A flame lit from that cauldron is being carried 92 miles from Buckinghamshire to London’s Olympic Stadium.
The Queen and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are among those attending Wednesday’s opening ceremony.
Crowds gathered in the market square in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, to watch the start of the relay on Tuesday night and thousands more turned out overnight to cheer on the torchbearers along the route.
Running about 90 minutes late, the flame, which is being carried by some 580 torchbearers in total, is next due to arrive at Britain’s first traditional Hindu temple, the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Temple in Brent.
It will then visit Lord’s Cricket Ground, London Zoo and the Abbey Road crossing made famous by the Beatles among other famous landmarks in the capital.
Paralympic torch has reached outer London as part of a 24-hour relay to herald the start of the 2012 Games
In Trafalgar Square later, former boxer Michael Watson, wheelchair racer Dame Tanni Grey Thompson and Paralympic swimmer Chris Holmes will carry the flame.
About 3,000 invited guests, including Paralympians, representatives from disability groups and local residents, attended Tuesday evening’s ceremony at Stoke Mandeville Stadium.
Some 150 local residents took part in a lantern procession and formed a guard of honor for eight torchbearers who carried flames representing England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
The children who were invited to take part in the procession, together with their parents, had gathered at Stoke Mandeville last week to make the lanterns out of canes, tissue paper and sticky tape.
One of those involved was 12-year-old William Lansdown from Hazlemere in Buckinghamshire, who has Down’s Syndrome and attends a sports group for disabled children.
“The lanterns looked brilliant,” said William Lansdown’s mother, Lynn.
“It was a great atmosphere, with the emphasis on families taking part and not just disabled people.
“The fact that so many children were involved made it special, given the theme of inspiring a generation to do more sport.”
Earlier, performers entertained the crowds ahead of speeches by International Paralympic Committee (IPC) president Sir Philip Craven, Lord Coe, chairman of Games organizers LOCOG, and Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Eva Loeffler, the daughter of the founder of the Paralympic Games, Dr. Ludwig Guttman, paid tribute to the role the Stoke Mandeville Games – and her father – had in defining the modern Paralympic movement.
Lord Coe addressed the crowd, saying he was “excited” to be at the home of the Games on the eve of their opening.
Speaking of Dr. Ludwig Guttman, he said: “It is simply not possible to stand here without feeling a mountainous debt of gratitude for one of the world’s great visionaries.”
Carrying the English flame was Katie Piper and Paralympian Tony Griffin.
Katie Piper, who suffered major injuries when her ex-boyfriend attacked her with sulphuric acid, was nominated for setting up the Katie Piper Foundation and raising awareness of burns survivors.
During a 10-year career Tony Griffin won 38 medals and works as Bolton’s Sports Ambassador promoting disabled sport.
The Scottish flame was carried by boxer Jon Jo Look, who has a prosthetic leg and coaches youngsters in the sport, and Noel McShane, who set up the National Wheelchair Tennis Association of Great Britain and the British Open Wheelchair Tennis Championships.
Darren Ferguson, a special constable who talked down a distressed man from a bridge, and Joseph Morris, who saved a girl from drowning in a river, carried the Northern Ireland flame.
Julie Gilbert and Marsha Wiseman carried the Welsh flame.
Shortly after 20:00 BST, the first team of torchbearers – Paralympians chosen by the IPC – left the stadium, signalling the start of the 24-hour torch relay.
Just before midnight the torch was carried through the village of Weston Turville, in Buckinghamshire, where residents lit candles to line the route.
A London 2012 spokeswoman said: “It is great. Each place has got a different way of doing things.
“In Weston Turville the candles along the street were superb, in Tring it was the sheer number of people, and in Berkhamsted there was music while the torch went along the High Street, and when it left the church bells rang out.”
Making up the first team of torchbearers were:
• IPC president Sir Philip Craven took part in five Paralympic Games mainly in wheelchair basketball, and swimming
• Baroness Susan Masham represented GB at the first two Paralympic Games winning medals in swimming and table tennis
• Caz Walton has been involved in every Paralympic Games since 1964 as both an athlete and team manager
• Sally Haynes took part in the first Paralympic Games in Rome in 1960 and went on to compete at a further three Games winning medals in the Epee discipline of wheelchair fencing and table tennis
• Jane Blackburn took part in five Paralympic Games between 1972 and 1992 competing in archery, athletics, lawn bowls, swimming and table tennis. and winning 11 Paralympic medals including five golds
When it arrives at the Olympic Park in Stratford, east London, it will be used to light the cauldron during the opening ceremony of the Games.
The event, called Enlightenment and created by Bradley Hemmings and Jenny Sealey, will showcase the skills of disabled artists with a cast of 3,000 adult volunteers including injured soldiers and past Paralympic athletes.
The four national flames were kindled at the summit of the highest peaks in Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales last week.
They were used to light ceremonial cauldrons in London’s Trafalgar Square on Friday, outside Stormont in Northern Ireland on Saturday, at the Mound in Edinburgh on Sunday and outside City Hall in Cardiff on Monday.
Paralympic torch relay
• Average speed – 3.5mph
• 18 hours of torchbearing
• 15 vehicles in convoy
• Travels through 15 London boroughs