London Games open with rollicking ceremony

Hey Jude, hey Becks. What a party.

And nice skydiving form, Your Majesty.

London kicked off its record-setting third Summer Games with a rollicking opening ceremony Friday night at the Olympic Stadium.

The festivities culminated in the lighting of the Olympic cauldron by seven young torchbearers and Paul McCartney leading the crowd in a singalong to the Beatles classic "Hey Jude."

Indeed, any worries that London would have a hard time throwing an opening ceremony on the heels of Beijing's instant-classic four years ago fizzled quickly in front of tens of thousands of athletes and spectators and a projected 4 billion TV viewers around the world.

If the din of nearly 1,000 drums and notes from some of the greatest British rock songs of all time didn't take care of it, surely the sight of a stunt diver playing Queen Elizabeth II leaping from a helicopter did.

These guys are known for their humor, after all, and man can they put on a good show.

Seven people, not one, lit the cauldron -- ending months of speculation about how the iconic moment would play out.

David Beckham arrived on a boat outside and passed the flame to five-time Olympic champion rower Steve Redgrave, who carried it into the stadium.

The flame, lit more than two months ago, was passed off as it moved around the track inside before seven young athletes triggered the ignition of more than 200 petals that rose to form the cauldron in the middle of the stadium.

Soon after, the crowd joined in with McCartney to sing the lengthy "Na na na, na-na na na ..." chorus at the end of "Hey Jude."

Earlier, the queen entered the stadium with Jacques Rogge, the outgoing IOC president presiding over his last games. But not before a tongue-in-cheek taped segment that showed Daniel Craig, the latest James Bond, escorting the British monarch into a helicopter that passed famous landmarks on its way to the Olympic Stadium.

Stunt divers, supposed to be the queen and Bond, leapt from a helicopter above in real time, parachuting down outside the stadium. The queen showed up in the stands, wearing pink, as the crowd stood.

Later, she officially declared the games open.

"I have never been so proud to be British and to be a part of the Olympic movement as I am on this day," said the chair of the London organizing committee, Sebastian Coe.

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama also attended, as did dignitaries from all over the world. Muhammad Ali, who lit the flame at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, was one of the bearers of the Olympic flag.

Gray clouds appeared overhead in the early evening, a breeze picked up and the temperature cooled but the rain stayed away until minutes before the start of the ceremony.

It began to fall lightly, causing reporters near the floor to throw tarps over their workstations while the crowd embraced the weather. It drizzled a little later, too, but not enough to dampen the celebration and it was dry the rest of the way.

The ceremony was overseen by Academy Award-winning film director Danny Boyle and was studded with stars.

Beckham, the longtime England captain, had his role. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling read the opening paragraph of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan and Rowan Atkinson -- yes, Mr. Bean -- feigned tickling the piano keys as the London Symphony Orchestra played "Chariots of Fire" in one of the guest appearances organizers wanted to keep most secret.

British music played a big part. Not since Turin in 2006, in fact, was the soundtrack so good.

Longer portions of songs -- including The Beatles' "She Loves You," The Who's "My Generation," the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," David Bowie's "Starman" and "Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight" -- played near the beginning of a segment highlighting music from the 1960s to today.

Tunes by Adele, Bee Gees, Pet Shop Boys, Electric Light Orchestra, U2 and Bowie (again) played during the parade of athletes. Arctic Monkeys played their single "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" and covered the John Lennon-penned "Come Together."

There's no doubt London had big shoes to fill. Beijing's grand spectacle four years ago is generally considered to have set a new standard for Olympic ceremonies.

Even Rogge said earlier in the day that London would do well not to try to emulate the 2008 ceremony.

The theme Friday was "This is for everyone." Based on what computer scientist and Londoner Tim Berners-Lee -- who made an appearance -- said after inventing the World Wide Web, it was meant to celebrate the achievements of key British figures and the British people.

The stadium's first centerpiece was a replica of a British meadow, complete with a water wheel and cottage and almost 80,000 square feet of real turf.

Actors wearing pastoral costumes played soccer on the field before it was transformed into a set piece to celebrate Britain's role in the Industrial Revolution. Smoke stacks rose out of the floor, spilling smoke into the air, and 965 drummers kept a pounding beat reminiscent of the start of Beijing's ceremony.

The stacks went down and glowing rings emerged, floating into the center of the stadium to form the Olympic logo as sparks fell.

U.S. athletes, wearing the controversial ceremony gear made in China, were led into the stadium by flag bearer Mariel Zagunis, a fencer.

An usher waved his arms trying to get part of the long procession -- including some of the men's basketball team -- to hurry up.

As usual, many athletes skipped the ceremony to rest. Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte were back at the village. They will swim in the most anticipated race here Saturday, the 400-meter individual medley. Fellow U.S. swimmer Natalie Coughlin tweeted that she would have to watch a replay; she was off to bed long before the ceremony was over.

Canada, wearing red tops and khaki pants and holding mini flags, were led into the stadium by Simon Whitfield, who won the first-ever Olympic triathlon gold medal in 2000.

Taking host Great Britain into the parade was multiple gold medalist Chris Hoy, who was the first cyclist to ever carry a country's flag in an opening ceremony.

"WOW!" Hoy tweeted. "So lucky to have experienced that, what a privilege. A moment I will remember forever."

Athletes entered in alphabetical order by country, as usual -- except for Greece, which traditionally leads the procession as founder of the Olympics, and Great Britain, which went last as the host nation.

Seven billion pieces of paper fell, a storm of confetti meant to represent each person on the planet.

"It has taken a lot of hard work to get us to this moment," Rogge said in his address.

It's the first time all participating countries at the Olympics are represented by female athletes.

Rogge mentioned Saudi Arabia's inclusion of female athletes on its team for the first time, calling it a great moment for gender equality.

The ceremony did not include a moment of silence to mark 40 years since the killing of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian guerrillas at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

The London Games will conclude in 16 days with the closing ceremony on Sunday, Aug. 12.