A city noisily split between “Olympists” and “non-Olympists” came together on Friday as Londoners, seduced by hype and the promise of spectacle, let their hair down to kick off the 2012 Olympics in style.

The tone for the two-week Games — being held in the city for the third time since 1908 — was set by a £27-million cultural tour de force of Britain conceived by Oscar winner Danny Boyle with a musical track by A.R. Rahman celebrating the Indian influences on the U.K.

The three-hour show, whose contents were so secretly guarded until the last minute that those who attended its previews were sworn to secrecy, was watched “live” by an estimated one billion-strong global audience.

With the world watching and the city buzzing with foreign dignitaries and celebrities, including a host of Hollywood stars, Londoners put their best foot forward. There was no public whinging and moaning that famously prompted The New York Times to brand Britain a nation of “persistent low-grade” whingers.

‘Useful diversion’

Even the cynics got into the spirit of the occasion comforting themselves with the thought, as the Left-wing New Statesman noted, that the Games provided a “useful diversion” from the country’s economic gloom.

Breathless wall-to-wall media coverage ensured that it was impossible not to catch the Olympics bug.

The place everyone wanted to be as the evening approached was the once-neglected Stafford suburb of East London, now transformed into a gleaming multibillion pound Olympic Park with its very own surface-to-air missiles to foil a terror attack. The Olympic site swarmed with people as Prime Minister David Cameron declared that Britain was ready to welcome “the greatest show on earth.” A “justice for Bhopal” protest against Dow Chemical’s sponsorship was overshadowed by festivities.

Earlier, crowds cheered as the Olympic flame travelled down the Thames on the last lap of its 13,000-kilometre nationwide journey before arriving at the opening ceremony for the customary “cauldron lighting” to mark the start of the Games.

The day began with mass bell ringing and ended with spectacular fireworks that lit up the city sky for miles. The party London had been preparing for seven years had finally begun.

More In: Sport | News | International