Iain Farrington

Pianist, organist, composer, arranger

Olympics Opening Ceremony London 2012

Iain performed Chariots of Fire in a comedy sketch with Rowan Atkinson, the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle. Below are some pictures of the event. The video can be viewed here.

In May 2012, I received a phone call asking whether I could play the piano in a comedy sketch for the London Olympics Opening Ceremony. Once I had checked that this wasn’t some elaborate prank, I accepted. Would it be a Morecambe and Wise style routine, I wondered? Would I have to take on any eccentric Victor Borge characteristics? As it turned out, thankfully all the acting was by that comic genius Rowan Atkinson in a rendition of the Chariots of Fire theme, complete with a big Romantic piano part. We met at the Olympic Stadium the week before the show, without the orchestra, and the advice he gave was simple – play the music straight and don’t look round. Rehearsals were fun and relaxed but always professional, nothing taken for chance and all elements scrupulously prepared. With the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle performing, the standard was exemplary but with some delightful ironies. As the show was taking place outside, the string players wouldn’t be using their normal concert instruments, in case the rain or extreme heat damaged the wood. So, one of the world’s great orchestras was kitted out with bargain-bucket instruments, the sort you can buy from a shopping catalogue. Secrecy was a major issue, so rehearsal announcements used pseudonyms of all kinds (“conducted by Joe Bloggs”) and Simon Rattle, one of the most amiable of conductors, had to act as the stern taskmaster, ticking off the errant keyboard player. On the night, the usually sedate off-stage scene for a classical concert (players milling about in tails) was replaced by a carnival spectacular, with riotous colours, costumes and cacophony. It was impossible not to be swept up in the excitement or the quirky nature of the event, such as waiting to go on stage behind a hundred nurses with fluorescent hospital beds. Although I’ve performed in large and unusual venues (an aircraft hangar being one of the strangest), the Olympic Stadium was certainly the most thrilling in terms of scale and atmosphere. No amount of rehearsal prepares you for hearing 80,000 people laughing together, but as the whole event felt like a big party, there were no nerves at all. I only got the sense of the vast global audience when I later received a flood of emails and text messages from friends who had seen it around the world. Watching it when I got home was the first time I had seen the routine, and I was amazed by Rowan Atkinson’s comic brilliance, a humour that crosses every language barrier. A few days later, I was at the Royal Albert Hall for more British excellence, to hear the Wallace and Gromit Prom, where my new jazz guide to the orchestra Wing It was premiered. It was a fitting end to an extraordinary few days and I feel lucky to have been part of it all, but the occasion was overshadowed by difficult personal events. My mum had been taken seriously ill just before the first rehearsals, and passed away on the morning of the opening ceremony. It was an emotional day, but I hope I would have made her proud.