LONDON: Queen Elizabeth II opened the London Olympics early Saturday as Britain celebrated its rich culture and heritage in a spectacular ceremony.
Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn grants an audience to the Thai Olympic contingent on Thursday.
A packed stadium featuring countless dignitaries and a TV audience estimated at one billion saw seven young British athletes light the Olympic cauldron, consisting of 204 copper stems, after the monarch was brought to the stadium by "James Bond" Daniel Craig in a short film.
Britain presented itself not only as the cradle of modern sport but also of the industrial revolution and pop music in the fast-paced, $42-million extravaganza titled "Isles of Wonder" masterminded by "Slumdog Millionaire" director Danny Boyle.
Boyle's stunning production won universal praise for its portrayal of the quirky British character and creativity.
"The greatest show on earth," headlined The Times, which said the three-and-a-half hour spectacle left spectators "shaken and stirred".
The Sun dubbed Queen Elizabeth the new "Bond Girl" after her cameo with Craig, while the Daily Telegraph hailed a "Night of Wonder".
"It was loud, it was defiant; above all it was gloriously, tumultuously, spinetinglingly British," said the Telegraph.
The Guardian declared: "From a bucolic green and pleasant land via the belching chimney stacks of the industrial revolution to the internet age, Danny Boyle's attempt to define Britishness ... was a madcap, surreal, moving and often confounding affair."
The Washington Post called the show, which also featured Mr Bean, Harry Potter, Mary Poppins, Sir Paul McCartney and a grab-bag of the famous and bizarre, "the world's biggest inside joke".
Music ran the gamut from the stirring strains of Elgar to techno and the Sex Pistols before Tour de France champion cyclist Bradley Wiggins rang a huge bell to start the show as sheep, geese and cows frolicked on the Stadium floor.
Team GB got the biggest roar at the parade of nations with flag-bearing cycling legend Chris Hoy. David Beckham arrived by speedboat to pass on the torch for its final entry into the stadium.
About 10,500 athletes from 204 countries are competing for 302 gold medals in 26 sports until Aug 12 as London becomes the first city to host the Games in third time, following 1908 and 1948.
"I think this is the biggest day of my life. I think this is just extraordinary," Games chief Sebastian Coe said earlier.
Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, Michelle Obama, Angelina Jolie and members of British royalty were among the dignitaries, along with about 80 heads of state.
The princess had told Thailand's Olympic delegation to do their best and uphold sportsmanship when competing in London.
The Princess granted an audience to the Thai athletes and officials on Thursday. She wished them all the best and told them to perform to their highest standards.
"Winning or losing is part of sport. What is more important is you have to perform to your standards and do your best," the Princess said.
"The spectators will see and know if you have tried your best or not. You will gain physically and mentally from the Games. This will be beneficial to yourselves and your career."
The Princess also granted an audience to the Thai contingent at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, where the kingdom won two gold and two silver medals.
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Writer: AFP, Kittipong Thongsombat