HUGE crowds packed into Festival Square last night to soak in the breathtaking opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics.
Despite the chill evening the special arena was jammed with spectators entertained by everything from rousing Scottish medleys to Brazilian beats from the country’s largest youth Samba band – while Highland dancers kicked and twirled.
Organisers interwove the live acts on stage with profile clips of Scottish Olympians which were beamed on to the huge screen.
And many of the torch bearers from the Scottish leg of the Olympic Torch Relay were presented to the audience on stage shortly before the London ceremony kicked off.
Aerial images of Edinburgh Castle flashing up from the broadcast in London earned the largest cheer of the evening, while there was also palpable excitement when the iconic Olympic Rings began a dazzling rain of fire high above the ceremony.
Capital native Lesley Forrest, 55, who lit the celebration cauldron at Edinburgh Castle last month, was among the crowds. “The entertainment tonight has been excellent and very Scottish in theme,” she said. “The backdrop to it was also stunning with Edinburgh Castle in the distance.
“For me, this is one of these days that I will remember for the rest of my life.”
Heather Mann, 17, another torch bearer who was recently presented with a Youth Compassion Award by the Dalai Lama, said: “It’s really exciting being here and just the same as during the Olympic Torch relay where everyone is in good spirits and coming up to talk to you.”
Olympic fever had started early in the Capital, when a bell at The Hub in Lawnmarket was rung in a nationwide chorus.
“All the Bells” saw buildings across the UK join with Holyrood and Big Ben to ring as loudly as possible.
The old bell of the Edinburgh library service was used to launch the event when Lord Provost Donald Wilson rang it at 8.12am.
Four hours later, thousands of people looked to the skies as the Red Arrows performed a dramatic 600mph display to mark the opening day in their own jaw-dropping style, with nine aircraft flying in the famous “Big Battle” formation over Holyrood Park, the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle and finally over Festival Square.
Spectators were then treated to a series of Olympic sports demonstrations and “come-and-try” events, including judo, weightlifting and table tennis.
The crowd also lapped up a lively performance of numbers from Footloose by the kids from the Playhouse Stage Experience.