Over 80,000 people turned up to bid farewell to the London Olympics here in Stratford, and they were treated to a pop culture smorgasbord that had touches of brilliance, beauty, and bewilderment - often at the same time.

As actor Russell Brand rode a psychedelic-themed bus into the Olympic Stadium, in the guise of that delightful trickster Willy Wonka, he charmed the crowd with his tuneless rendition of 'Pure Imagination,' straight out of the film starring Gene Wilder. Brand then put the crowd right off with an equally tuneless and unforgivably charmless rendition of The Beatles' 'I am the Walrus.'

He wasn't the only act to win some and lose some. George Michael, one of the most beloved stars of British pop, made his grand return to the stage after a near-fatal battle with pneumonia. His first number was an all-time hit in 'Freedom', which also gave viewers their first look at the incredible LED technology which turned every stadium seat into a single pixel in what might have been the biggest screen ever seen. But rather than back it up with another classic, Michael chose to showcase a new single.

If there had been remote controls here in the stadium, people might have been reaching for them.


Annie Lennox riding a ghost ship was another moment from the book of bizarre, but it doesn't do to dwell when there was so much to be excited by.

Queen guitarist Brian May entertained the crowd with several minutes of solo shredding and chugging, before being joined by pop princess Jessie J for a rather different but altogether powerful rendition of 'We Will Rock You', and Liam Gallagher turned up with his new band to treat the crowd to 'Wonderwall', the Oasis singalong standard.

The show was bookended by boy bands. One Direction were one of the first acts off the truck (literally), and at the official end of the ceremony, Take That performed to a shower of affection as Gary Barlow performed only a week after he and his wife suffered the loss of their baby daughter.

There were two undisputed champions. First, the Spice Girls. It is difficult to reflect on their performance without gushing, but the energy was just ridiculous, from them and from the crowd. They delivered a very decent performance of 'Wannabe,' but it was their bass-heavy 'Spice Up Your Life,' performed from out of a fleet of London taxis, which had fans going spice-mad.

After the Olympic flame was extinguished, the stadium went rather quiet. It was all over, wasn't it? Not even close. A familiar synth loop cut through the silence, the lights flared up, and there in all their pomp and bombast were The Who.

Roger Daltrey led his band through a blistering, energetic medley of 'Baba O'Riley,' 'See Me, Feel Me' and - of course - 'My Generation.'

Of course, there were the formalities too. These are Rio's Olympics now, and no less of a superstar than Pele was in the house to help usher in the change.

If the opening ceremony showcased the history of British grit and the evolution of its popular culture, then today's grand finale showed us Great Britain as we know it.


So there we go. It's all over. The London Olympics signed off today in a triumphant fashion, talking about our generation.