The Olympic cauldron burns in the centre of the stadium
AFP LIVE REPORT CLOSES. That's it from us on the live report in London at the end of a night of drama, spectacle, humour and sporting celebration. Join us tomorrow for our live report on the first full day of sporting events at the London 2012 Olympics.
0010 GMT: Crowds are flooding out of the Olympic stadium now buzzing after the three-and-a-half-hour extravaganza.
Javier Gonzalaz, 26, from Guadalajara, Mexico, says: "It was an amazing ceremony, the most spectacular show imaginable. It represented Britain in the best possible light and showed the rest of the world what a proud country this is."
2354 GMT: British cyclist Hoy tweets: "WOW! So lucky to have experienced that, what a privilege. A moment I will remember forever."
2348 GMT: The burning cauldron stands as a dramatic centrepiece in the stadium as the celebrations come to an end.
US gymnast Shawn Johnson sums it up on Twitter: "The passing of the torch and lighting of the Olympic cauldron flame blew me away.... Beautiful".
2343 GMT: Ex-Beatle Paul McCartney leads the crowd in a chorus of the anthem "Hey Jude".
2338 GMT: The cauldron consists of 204 blazing petals, one for each competing nation or territory, which were lit by the seven young athletes. A spectacular display of fireworks erupts in the skies above.
2335 GMT: OLYMPIC CAULDRON IS LIT.
2330 GMT: An athlete, coach and judge from the host nation take the Olympic oath and the TORCH ENTERS STADIUM. Redgrave hands it to one of seven young athletes who have been nominated for the task by British Olympic champions of days gone by.
2327 GMT: Boxing legend Muhammed Ali, now 70 and suffering from Parkinson's disease is introduced, to respectful applause, and also places his hand on the flag.
Outside the stadium British rowing champion Steve Redgrave is seen taking the torch from Beckham on a speedboat and running with it towards the arena.
2322 GMT: "I declare open the Games of London, celebrating the 30th Olympiad of the modern era," the queen says.
The Olympic flag is then carried onto the platform by eight high-profile figures representing the values of the Olympics. Among them is UN chief Ban Ki-moon, revered musician Daniel Barenboim, and Shami Chakrabarti, director of British rights group Liberty.
2317 GMT: QUEEN DECLARES THE GAMES OPEN.
2317 GMT: IOC president Jacques Rogge up now, hailing London as a "diverse cosmopolitan city" and the "birthplace of modern sport". He then welcomes the queen to the stage.
"In a sense the Olympics are coming home," says Rogge, recognising Britain's central role in in the development of sport.
2314 GMT: Coe says London 2012 will seek to capture all that makes sport "irresistible" and to "inspire a generation".
"The next two weeks will show all that has made London one of the greatest cities in the world -- the only city to have hosted the Games three times.
"Each time we have done it the world faced turbulence and troubles and each time the Games have been a triumph."
2309 GMT: Chief Olympic organiser Sebastian Coe takes to the podium to welcome the world to London. "I have never been so proud to be British and to be part of the Olympic movement, as I am on this day and at this moment." he says.
2304 GMT: The Arctic Monkeys on stage now, playing "Come Together".
2259 GMT: The arrival of Team GB finally marks the end of the parade of athletes. Before them came the Zimbabwe team, led by Olympic champion swimmer Kirsty Coventry who won triple gold in Athens 2004. She enters to enthusiastic applause.
2254 GMT: OLYMPIC HOST TEAM ARRIVES led by top cyclist Chris Hoy to cheers from the crowds.
2249 GMT: US team arrives, dressed in navy blue Ralph Lauren jackets and sporting berets. They are led by fencing star Mariel Zagunis. Tyson Gay is also among the delegation but notable by his absence is America's biggest star, swimmer Michael Phelps, who has already said he's staying away to rest up for his first big event on Saturday.
2244 GMT: Togo arrives now in vibrant green and yellow shirts and led by canoist Benjamin Boukpeti. The team includes the youngest competitor in the Games -- 13-year-old swimmer Adzo Kpossi.
2237 GMT: Seychelles... Sierra Leone... Singapore... Slovakia.... Slovenia...Solomon Islands parade in... and Somalia, which has just two competitors.
South African runner Caster Semenya carries the flag for South Africa. She'll be seeking to reclaim her 800m golden girl crown at the Games after a controversy over her gender.
2231 GMT: Usain Bolt tweets: "Such a joy and honour to carry the Flag..let the games begin.. "To the world me say".
2226 GMT: US sprinter Tyson Gay is seen taking photos as his team waits to come on. British flagbearer Chris Hoy is also waiting in the wings. In the parade, Russia's Sharapova gets a wave from President Dmitry Medvedev.
2222 GMT: Some of the themes of the opening ceremony show -- universal healthcare, the trade unions’ struggles and even a brief clip of Britain’s first televised lesbian kiss -- have sparked a mini-political row on Twitter in Britain. Aidan Burley, a controversial lawmaker from the ruling Conservative Party, said it was “the most leftie opening ceremony I have ever seen -- more than Beijing, the capital of a communist state!”
Alastair Campbell , who was spin doctor to prime minister Tony Blair, retorted: “Brilliant that we got a socialist to do the opening ceremony”.
2217 GMT: Some of the front pages of tomorrow’s newspapers are coming through now with an incredibly positive reaction to the opening ceremony from the normally sceptical British press.
The Times’s headline calls it “A Flying Start” and the paper has a special front page covered with a huge photograph of the Red Arrows flying over the stadium. The Guardian says it was a “Night of Wonder”.
2212 GMT: South Korea enters the stage. They've already got something to celebrate after legally blind archer Im Dong-Hyun set the first world record of the London Olympics earlier Friday and then added another as South Korea broke the team record.
We are nearly half way, the BBC reports...
2206 GMT: USAIN BOLT JOINS THE PARADE carrying the flag for Jamaica, to rapturous applause.
2205 GMT: Fencing star and double Olympic champion Laura Flessel carries the flag for France. France took home 41 medals from Beijing, including seven golds. Watching the team in the stadium is French prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.
2200 GMT: Czech Republic's team give a cheeky nod to the British climate, entering carrying umbrellas and wearing wellies.They are led by badminton player Petr Koukal.
2156 GMT: Prince William and his wife Catherine, picked out in the crowd by a AFP photographer, seem to be enjoying the show. The former Kate Middleton is wearing a light blue jacket and Olympic ring-type earrings, while the second-in-line to the throne has opted for a blue suit and red tie. His brother Prince Harry is lapping it up as well.
2153 GMT: Indian tennis player Mahesh Bhupathi tweets: "Jamaica few countries behind us... Fleeting glance of Usain Bolt.. Crowd is going bananas!!
US female sprinter Lolo Jones posts on Twitter: "About to walk on the track for Opening Ceremonies... Doesn't seem fitting for us track athletes to do that... so if u see me running instead."
2250 GMT: We're only on "E" in parade, with each nation being announced in turn, so we could be in for a long night. Egypt's team walks on.
Many athletes have stayed away because of the late finish, ahead of the first full day of events tomorrow.
2143 GMT: Olympic megastar Usain Bolt arrives and is waiting in the wings with the Jamaican team. "It’s a party vibes" he tweeted earlier followed by "What can I say?" Not clear whether he's excited or just bemused.
2130 GMT: Among the flagbearers are Chinese basketball player Yi Jianlian, Italy's female fencer Valentina Vezzali and Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova.
There's a big welcome from the crowd for Australia as they come in dressed in green and gold, led by basketball player Lauren Jackson.
2125 GMT: In line with tradition, teams enter in alphabetical order, apart from the Greek team which enters first and the host nation which will enter last. The Greeks are led into the Olympic Stadium by taekwondo fighter Alexandros Nikolaidis.
2121 GMT: ATHLETES PARADE BEGINS.
2120 GMT: The lights are dimmed now in the stadium for a moment of reflection for "loved ones who couldn't be with us tonight". Emeli Sande sings the hymn "Abide With Me", said to be a favourite of Mahatma Gandhi and played on the Titanic when it sank. Inextricably linked to sport, it has been sung by spectators at every FA Cup final since 1927.
2115 GMT: Film footage shows ex-England footballer David Beckham driving in a speedboat down the River Thames carrying the Olympic flame. He's already ruled himself out as the mystery cauldron lighter for the climax of the ceremony but is set to play a role later. Watch this space....
2111 GMT: Another surreal twist... British scientist and world wide web inventor Tim Berners-Lee is welcomed to the stage.
2108 GMT: There's a snippet from Underworld’s "Born Slippy", theme music to Danny Boyle’s breakthrough film "Trainspotting" at the end there too. Electronic duo Underworld were the musical directors for this spectacular.
2105 GMT: Bursts of flames as "Firestarter" plays and the stage turns into a scene from a rave, with flashes of neon. Then in a bizarre leap the audience break into a sing-song of "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" .
2100 GMT: Now it's into a medley of British pop music down the ages as dancers step up the tempo. There's The Sex Pistols, The Kinks and David Bowie, Led Zeppelin and New Order.
Montage of songs includes "Going Underground" by The Jam, "She Loves You" by The Beatles, "Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones, "My Generation" by The Who – best of British classic rock.
2050 GMT: Rowan Atkinson, known worldwide as Mr Bean, is now performing a comic turn as the orchestra plays the evocative Vangelis theme music from the film "Chariots of Fire", conducted by Simon Rattle. A mock-up from the famous beach running scene in the film sees Mr Bean taking the lead in training with Eric Liddle.
2045 GMT: Villains from British literature appear as puppets on strings -- Captain Hook from "Peter Pan", Cruella de Vil from "101 Dalmations", Voldemort from "Harry Potter" and a giant Childcatcher from "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang". But it's all ok, because a throng of Mary Poppins characters have descended from the air on wires to banish the evil forces and tuck the children safely up in their beds.
2040 GMT: Harry Potter creator JK Rowling takes centre stage now. She reads the opening of JM Barrie's classic "Peter Pan", opening what is to be a celebration of British children's literature...
2038 GMT: A tribute now to Britain's revered National Health Service, with doctors and nurses from London's Great Ormond Street children's hospital jumping up and down on beds.
2035 GMT: Children from the Kaos Signing Choir for deaf and hearing children, dressed in pajamas, sing the national anthem while signing the words. They are the only integrated deaf and hearing children's choir in Britain.
2030 GMT: Back at the stadium a helicopter hovers, the fictional MI6 agent apparently on board. Two parachutists are ejected under Union Jack canopies -- Bond and the queen. This is of course a classic display of British humour... the real queen is now welcomed into the stadium, her feet firmly on the ground.
2026 GMT: And now a film... Bond obviously. Daniel Craig, alias British agent 007 arrives at Buckingham Palace where he meets the queen, Prince Philip and the famous corgis, before being whisked away in a helicopter above flag-waving crowds.
2022 GMT: Parading onto the stage now are performers dressed as The Beatles followed by and characters from the Empire Windrush -- the iconic boat which brought thousands of Caribbean migrants to Britain in 1948. There are also Suffragettes and Pearly Kings and Queens -- icons of British history.
2018 GMT: Images of poppies flash up in a moment of reflection to honour those killed in the two World Wars and other conflicts.
2016 GMT: The opening sequence "Green and Pleasant" showed meadows, fields and rivers, dotted with families taking picnics and sports being played on village greens.
Now we are in a different era. Smoke is rising from the six huge chimneys and the tone is darker. The scene is the Britain of the industrial revolution.
2011 GMT: Performers dressed in Victorian costume transform the arena from a rural country idyll to a gritty scene from industrial Britain, as chimney stacks rise from the ground to the beat of 1,000 drummers.
2008 GMT: Actor Kenneth Branagh has just walked on dressed as a 19th century gentleman. He recites Caliban's speech from Shakespeare's "The Tempest", starting "Be not afeard..."
2006 GMT: An angelic sounding child sings "Jerusalem" -- Britain's unofficial national anthem. He's joined by children's choirs from around the British Isles singing their respective national songs.
2002 GMT: Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins arrives to ring a huge bell to mark the start of the ceremony.
2000 GMT: LONDON 2012 OLYMPICS OPENING CEREMONY BEGINS
1956 GMT: London Symphony Orchestra plays Elgar's Nimrod. We are moments away...
1955 GMT: Amid frenzied speculation about who may be lighting the flame later media reports are saying that as many as seven people could be involved in the moment including Roger Bannister, the first to break the four-minute mile. Not long to go to find out...
1952 GMT: In a video message played on stadium screens, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says: "I call on warring parties everywhere to lay down their weapons during the Games. One day of peace can lead to a week of peace and eventually an end to war."
1945 GMT: Singer Frank Turner is performing on the grassy knoll in the stadium as sheep and dogs scuttle around him, and actors dressed as milkmaids mill about. This is really is just the warm-up. Show proper starts in less than 15 minutes.
The rain's stopped. The feel-good factor is high, reports my colleague John from the stadium.
1940 GMT: Show creator Danny Boyle tells the audience: "It's a real privilege to be able to present this show to you. We're a warm-up act for the real business of the evening, which is the athletes coming in."
1937 GMT: AFP's John Weaver says the crowds have been issued with instructions in preparation for what is set to be a highly interactive show: "The crowd are now playing with lighted handsets as part of their instructions. The rain's coming down quite hard."
Apparently there's some confusion in the stadium as to whether it's fake or real rain. Definitely real I'm afraid but unlikely to dampen spirits here in Britain.
1929 GMT: Fake clouds inside the stadium...cue rain from above.
1921 GMT: Britons may have appeared sceptical about the Olympics in recent weeks, amid the fiasco over security and fears of transport chaos but all that is now seemingly forgotten. Twitter is going into overdrive with Olympics fever.
One of Team GB's medal hopefuls, pole vaulter Holly Bleasdale tweets: "Watching the opening ceremony is giving me goosebumps! So proud to be British right now!!!"
1912 GMT: The Red Arrows aerobatic display team roar over the stadium trailing red, white and blue smoke to huge cheers.
1911 GMT: TV pictures show that a second-by-second countdown has now started ahead of the start of the event at 2000 GMT (2100 local time.)
1909 GMT: As the excitement builds, it's worth remembering a tragic moment in history shadowing today's event. There will not be a minute’s silence during the ceremony for 11 Israelis killed by Palestinian extremists at the 1972 Munich Olympics, despite a major campaign which drew 105,000 signatures of support. Ankie Spitzer, the wife of one of those killed, has urged the crowd to stand up for a minute instead.
1858 GMT: Animals are now invading the Olympic stadium prior to the opening ceremony, says AFP's Saeed Khan. Birdsong is rippling through the stadium as it continues to fill up with a mounting sense of excitement among the crowd.
Creative director Danny Boyle has already said we can expect to see 12 horses, three cows, two goats, 10 chickens, 10 ducks, nine geese, 70 sheep, and three sheep dogs in his idyllic scene of rural Britain.
1853 GMT: Celebrated Chinese pianist Lang Lang, who was one of the torchbearers for the Olympics relay and co-wrote an Olympics song to cheer on his country's athletes, tweets: "Performers at tonight's opening ceremony include several of my friends... Stay tuned to see which ones".
1842 GMT: As the last of the crowds continue to throng into the stadium, AFP's Thomas Coex sets the scene inside the arena: 10-metre long clouds filled with helium have just entered the stadium held by actors. Spectators greet them with another Mexican wave.
1835 GMT: AFP's Talek says the crowd in the stadium are booing the media for not joining in their Mexican waves. It’s filling up now, about a quarter full.
1829 GMT: Stella McCartney, who designed the Team GB kit for Adidas, tweets: "On my way to the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony! Excited and proud! Going for gold!" Beatles songs from dad Paul are sure to feature later in the best of British show.
1817 GMT: AFP's John Weaver has been chatting to spectators as they arrive at the stadium. David Grindley, 57, from Somerset, southwest England, says: "We're really looking forward to it. It's quite exciting. We haven't been to an Olympics opening ceremony before so it's a once-in-a-lifetime thing.
His partner Jane West, also 57 and sporting a Union Jack poncho, adds: "We paid £3,200 for two tickets three days ago but have since seen they were selling for £20 pounds."
1811 GMT: Britain's culture minister Jeremy Hunt takes to Twitter after earlier providing a comedy moment when a bell he was asked to ring during the torch relay flew off its handle, nearly taking out a bemused spectator. He tweets: "The world will be blown away by Danny Boyle's opening ceremony. Can't wait to see it -- and everyone's reaction."
1800 GMT: AFP's Talek Harris is at the Olympic Stadium and says excitement is palpable. "Sense of anticipation inside Olympic Stadium," he says. "People arriving are greeted by some very unusual props on the stadium floor. Media seats nearly full already, spectators are slowly coming in now."
There will, according to organisers, be at total of 12,956 props featuring in the three-hour spectacular. That's along with the 100-plus farmyard animals.
1754 GMT: Among those known to be attending later are 70 heads of state and at least 10 royals. US First Lady Michelle Obama will be there along with Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie and Britain's young royals Prince William and his wife Kate and brother Harry.
1745 GMT: Chief Olympic organiser Sebastian Coe says "there won't be an empty seat in the house tonight". He wants audiences to "come out the stadium smiling".
1728 GMT: The queen goes on to speak of the excitement the Olympic torch relay has generated on its 70-day journey across the British Isles which comes to and end today. She says: "Over recent months, many in these islands have watched with growing excitement the journey of the Olympic torch around the United Kingdom. As the torch has passed through villages and towns, it has drawn people together as families and communities.
"To me, the spirit of togetherness is the most important part of the Olympic ideal, and the British people can be proud of the part they have played in keeping the spirit alive."
Earlier the flame was rowed up the River Thames in the queen's ceremonial barge past some of London's most historic sites. Next stop: the Olympic Park.
1722 GMT: The queen and her husband Prince Philip are welcoming world leaders at Buckingham Palace at an Olympic opening night reception. In a televised statement, she says: "I hope that you will enjoy your time in the United Kingdom and I'm sure that you will find a warm reception awaiting you, your athletes, and the visiting spectators.
"This will be the third London Olympiad. My great grandfather opened the 1908 games at White City, my father opened the 1948 games at Wembley Stadium, and later this evening, I will take pleasure in declaring open the London Olympic Games at Stratford in east London."
1715 GMT: Not every athlete will take part in the ceremony later. US swimmer Ryan Lochte, who faces a standoff against 14-times Olympic gold medal winning teammate Michael Phelps in the 400m individual medley on Saturday, will be getting an early night. He writes on Twitter: "I am not walking in opening ceremony because I swim in the morning. Gotta rest. I'm ready!"
1705 GMT: A giant bell will in three hours' time ring in the start of the ceremony, which will see athletes from all of the 204 participating nations parade into the stadium.
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, as head of state, will declare the Games open in line with tradition and the ceremony is set to climax with the lighting of a cauldron with the Olympic flame by a mystery torchbearer -- the identity of whom remains a closely-guarded secret, despite feverish speculation.
Cyclist Chris Hoy, who will carry the flag for Britain later, tweets: "Just arrived in the village, it looks amazing. Everyone is buzzing, can't wait for this evening!"
1700 GMT: Oscar winning film director Danny Boyle, the mastermind of the ceremony, was earlier buzzing with excitement as he prepares to see his showpiece creation broadcast to more than a billion people around the world. The "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Trainspotting" creator said his only nerves were for the 10,000 volunteers due to perform. "The excitement I feel about it is obviously the excitement I think they feel," he told reporters.
Boyle, who this week begged rehearsal spectators to "save the secret" and keep stum about the details, has said his £27-million ($42.6 million, 34.5 million-euro) spectacular will attempt to "capture a picture of ourselves as a nation, where we have come from and where we want to be." The theme, "Isles of Wonder", is inspired by Shakespeare's play "The Tempest".
WELCOME TO AFP'S LIVE REPORT on the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics. Seven years after it won the bid for the Games, the host city is ready to welcome the world with a three-hour extravaganza designed to showcase the best of British culture past and present. Follow our live report for all the build-up to the show which kicks off at 2000 GMT.
With organisers promising that no seat will be left unfilled at the 80,000-seater Olympic stadium, huge crowds have already started pouring into the Olympic Park in Stratford, East London. They will be treated to pre-ceremony entertainment from the symbolic local time of 20:12 before the real action begins.