Francis Maude: Brilliant atmosphere at Olympics

Last week I wrote about the legacy of London 2012. This week I want to celebrate London 2012! It’s been a long time a’coming, but it’s now full on.

Team GB are starting to bring in the medals and they’ve had phenomenal support from home crowds. The Games are also – touch wood – running smoothly, with hardly any complaints about transport, queues or security. The thousands of volunteers helping to run the day-to-day operation have really stepped up to the mark and are helping ticket-holders from every corner of the world. The empty seats are filling up, and the atmosphere’s brilliant.

In fact, the whole country has stepped up to the mark and we really are celebrating this once-in-a-lifetime event. As I look out of my office window, I can see the beach volleyball competition - an amazing stadium and beaches - erected in four short weeks set against the backdrop of St James’ Park and historic Government buildings. And all my meetings are conducted against the background noise of a roaring capacity crowd.

And what a stellar start the Opening Ceremony gave us. For 18 months I chaired the Cabinet Committee on the Olympics and so I had the real privilege of a ticket to the Opening Ceremony.

It was totally different from the Beijing extravaganza of four years ago - and much cheaper! Instead of the disciplined ranks of regimented military we had thousands of volunteers, dancers, nurses, bikers, cattle, sheep, goats and geese, in a drama that was intelligent, funny, self-deprecating, exciting and profound. It brilliantly captured our eclectic, innovative, exciting, industrious, beautiful, quirky, multi-racial land, with all we have achieved and with all the promise for the future.

We had choirs from around the United Kingdom; Kenneth Branagh; the NHS; Mr Bean; EastEnders; corgis; the industrial revolution and the founder of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee; Voldermort; James Bond; the Rolling Stones and the millions of intakes of breath as viewers realised that yes, it really was the Queen with Daniel Craig! That hilarious clip showed a totally justified confidence in the respect and affection in which both the Queen and the monarchy are held.

And the finale: the drama of the arrival of the torch; the superb touch of the young athletes chosen by fabled Olympians to light the cauldron, was beautiful and profoundly moving. No wonder so many who started sceptics ended won over: moved, inspired, proud of their country and of her people. A night to relive and remember.