• A monumental opening ceremony at Wembley Stadium in front of 90k mostly German football fans in the stadium plus a 150m TV audience, directed by Hamish Jenkinson and Jonny Grant.

    Most volunteers in this show were recruited from the Pandemonium Drummers and other volunteer performers from the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony, and as I could not make the first two rehearsals due to family commitments, I did not join the 300+ group of drummers, but a much smaller group of knights, with the benefit of being kitted out with a full body armour, including shield, helmet and a long and heavy sword.

    Concept

    The idea for this opening ceremony was based on a dramatic chess game, played by two actual representatives of the opposing sides: Lars Ricken for Borussia Dortmund, and football legend Paul Breitner for FC Bayern München.

    The two representatives were shown moving figures on a chess board in a preproduced video, but then the game unfolded live on the grounds of Wembley Stadium.

    The various chess figures were represented in some form: 
    • The club reps were clearly the kings, 
    • Joey from the renowned National Theatre production War Horse was an impressive knight, perhaps in combination with a dozen archers either side, 
    • flag bearers acted as rooks, 
    • a mass of drummers in light rugged shirts as the pawns vastly outnumbered all other figures,
    • two really tall gladiators were obviously the queens,
    • and I was among the bishops: groups of armoured knights entering from all four corners of the field.
       

    The Battle

    The battle on the ground unfolded in various stages, starting with pawns taking position, archers firing shots while my bishop groups ran appropriately diagonally through the pawns to our first position, enacting a slow-motion battle, after which the gladiators entered the centre circle, framed by us shield-banging bishops.

    The gladiators engaged in an impressive sword fight that ended in a fair tie with a handshake, and we bishops then formed a guard of honour along the centre line, crossing and opening our swords and axes while a camera whizzed through our tunnel.

    While we bishops retired to the field corners, the pawns battled it out and stormed against each other after an expectant moment of silence, fighting in a rhythmic and chaotic choreography.

    The club emblems were then rolled out, the club reps in full stately armour presented the trophy, the players walked out and the UEFA hymn was played, which represented the end of the opening ceremony.


    Rehearsals

    Such an ambitious performance with 400 performers requires adequate preparation, however, due to the Olympic experience of most volunteers, we were able to effectively nail the choreography in only four rehearsal sessions, plus two dress rehearsals at Wembley Stadium one and three days before the event.

    The first rehearsals were held at The Hive in Edgware on an almost full size astro turf pitch, with quite a bit of experimentation as well as costume fittings.

    I was quite impressed that as a bishop, I would be equipped with a proper authentic armour: a very heavy black chain armour, a shiny breast plate, thick gloves, a cape for elegance, and a choice of a helmet - I of course opted for the heaviest, fully enclosed model that, as it turned out, was not the most popular choice for a reason, though it definitely looked best.

    The pawn drummers were happy to be reunited with Mike Dolbear, who was the lead drum co-ordinator for the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony; Mike also designed the new instruments: proper riot shields played with a wooden baton.

    For the dress rehearsals, our unglamourous holding area was outside the stadium at a former furniture store, which was just big enough to hold all performers and related equipment and costumes.

    Coincidentally, the branding of two stores in this small commercial park matched the colour schemes of the two competing football clubs - red/white for FC Bayern München and yellow/black for Borussia Dortmund - and volunteers spontaneously incorporated a battle of the furniture stores into their recap exercises in the car park between those stores.

    Stephen's Story

    During rehearsals we were introduced to Stephen Sutton, a teenager with incurable cancer, who created a bucket list, one item being to drum in front of a large crowd.

    Several months later, Stephen's Story was all over the news, even attracting global attention, and not even a year after the UEFA Champions League Final Opening Ceremony, Stephen sadly passed away.

    Directly after the Opening Ceremony, Stephen was made the first honorary Pandemonium Drummer, and the drumming group shared further episodes of Stephen's Story, culminating in a performance at his funeral service in Lichfield.

    Stephen's relentlessly positive and inspiring attitude touched all fellow volunteer performers, and while his Opening Ceremony participation was threatened by acute problems caused by a tumour in his leg, he managed to perform on the day thanks to an effective dose of painkillers.

    The ceremony production company Films United created a short documentary, which was released by UEFA several months after the event.



    Performance

    None of the rehearsals were ever as good as the performance, so all stakeholders were happy with the result.

    My own part was relatively short, but still had five segments and involved a lot of relatively fast running plus some acting, and we were happy that we managed to keep the slow-motion sword fight element in the show, as it was in the danger of being cut due to timings.

    While not recognisable due to my face not being shown, I appear in the TV coverage several times as a dynamic knight with the sword held high.

    I opted to perform with an open helmet visor, otherwise my field of vision would have been dangerously restricted, and we had to move as quickly as possible.

    Interestingly the final featured two clubs from my native Germany, and although not a football fan, I was happy to be in the yellow/black Dortmund team - despite them losing the game.