Stephen Hawking to speak at Paralympics opening

There had been whispers that someone “very special” was being lined up for a starring role for Wednesday’s opening of the London Paralympic Games, but few reckoned it would be someone as special as Stephen Hawking, Britain’s most famous living scientist and universally admired for his courage in overcoming a potentially debilitating disability.

The surprise announcement — barely a few hours before the opening ceremony — that Prof. Hawking had agreed to make an appearance and help narrate a “scientific journey of discovery” was greeted with genuine excitement.

Praising him for his “humanity and humour”, organisers said that his involvement was a perfect fit for a show designed to challenge popular perceptions about disability.

“We worked very closely with Professor Hawking to develop a series of messages which are very much integrated into the storytelling of the ceremony. We have spent time with him in Cambridge and have been so incredibly gratified with him giving his time,” said Bradley Hemmings, the ceremony’s artistic director.

Mr. Hemmings, who himself is hearing challenged and spoke through an interpreter, described Prof. Hawking as “the most famous disabled person anywhere in the world”.

Prof. Hawking, former Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge University and author of A Brief History of Time which sold millions of copies around the world, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 1963. He was 21 at the time and given only a few years to live. Nearly 50 years later he is still creating waves.

Describing him as “a fun guy”, Mr. Hemmings said Prof. Hawking would speak about “the origins of the universe and how humanity has tried to understand how everything is ordered and how things came to be”.

His fellow director said Jenny Sealey promised a “most exquisite journey of discovery inspired by the wonder of science”.

The ceremony, to be opened by the Queen and attended by an estimated 80,000 ticket-holders, would kick off the 11-day Paralympic Games which began in 1948.