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Games Opening Ceremony head: yes, it was camp and kitsch...it was meant to be

The kiss was choreographed, the baton ceremony had been practised, and no, Susan Boyle did not forget her lines - she was just overwhelmed by the size of the roaring crowd.

So says the man behind the opening ceremony of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games; an evening of theatre, dance, music and humour at Celtic Park that has received both plaudits and brickbats.

David Zolkwer, the head of ceremonies and artistic director for the Games, has revealed his delight at the reaction to the much-anticipated show, and also outlined his vision for the most criticised part of the ceremony, the 15-minute section at the beginning led by John Barrowman and Karen Dunbar.

The staged and musical opening section, featuring tartan and dancing teacakes, a rubbery Loch Ness monster and a list of Scottish inventions, as well as Barrowman's kiss with a dancer, split opinion, with some vociferous online criticism of its tone and content.

However, Mr Zolkwer said the tone was entirely intentional, a "kitsch, camp, piss-take" of what a serious opening ceremony should be.

He said the pantomime parade of Scottish emblems and icons was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek version of the kind of triumphalism often featured in large Games opening ceremonies, which revolve around "telling everyone how fantastic we are."

Mr Zolkwer said the elements of the section were inspired by an email he received listing the Scottish cultural and historical elements the show "had to" include, as well as an email he received listing things he should possibly avoid - both lists contained the roughly the same items.

"We tried to make a ceremony that was not only Glaswegian in conception but had a Glaswegian accent," he said yesterday.

"For me the most important part [of that section] is what Karen Dunbar said at the beginning and at the end.

"Our plan was to take the piss out of the conventional way of telling people how great you are, to take all the cliches and stereotypes and send them up - I don't know how it could have been more tongue-in-cheek.

"It was camp and kitsch and it was meant to be, although some people have taken it at face value, which is interesting."

Barrowman's kiss of a male dancer came at the end of a section mentioning Gretna Green, and Mr Zolkwer said that although it was planned it was not a deliberate political statement about laws regarding homosexuality. It is still a crime to be gay in 42 countries of the Commonwealth.

"It was a conscious decision, it wasn't planned as a 'gay kiss', it was planned as a kiss, but given that John is gay it would have been abhorrent to me make him kiss a woman," he said.

"John is gay so he kissed a man in a piece about Gretna Green - it was not political, it was all about Scotland and Glasgow as a city."

Read Herald columnist Catriona Stewart's account of her role in the ceremony

Mr Zolkwer, 50, has been the creative director, producer and consultant of large shows across the world.

His credits include both ceremonies of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games, the 2008 Beijing ceremonies and the 2010 Fifa World Cup in South Africa. Now he is concentrating on the Closing Ceremony of Glasgow 2014, which he will not direct but did conceive.

He said the most prominent glitches in the opening show could be put down to nerves.

Prince Imran of Malaysia, the president of the Commonwealth Games Federation, had trouble opening the baton at the end of the ceremony, while the singer Susan Boyle appeared to forget the opening lines of the 1977 Paul McCartney and Wings song Mull Of Kintyre.

The Prince even cut his thumb fiddling with the baton's metal top.

"He practised three or four or even five times, and it was fine, but then you stand in front of a television audience of a billion people and your mind goes a little blank," Mr Zolkwer said.

"But I think no-one took it too seriously, everyone had a good sense of humour about it.

"Susan did lose the first couple of lines, she absolutely knew them but was faced by a stadium of 45,000 people and it affected her: but it all proved that the performances were live."

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