London: A giant bell rang out on Friday to start an unusual opening ceremony for the London 2012 Games as sheep, geese and cows frolicked on the Olympic Stadium floor.
In front of 80,000 spectators and VIPs, women in smocks and bonnets shepherded the animals on landscaped grass with a cottage and windmill, in the "Isles of Wonder" vision dreamed up by Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle.
Large fluffy clouds circled the stadium's covered track and birdsong was played over the loudspeakers before children counted down to the bell, sounded at exactly 9pm (2000 GMT), by popping giant balloons.
A formation of Red Arrows jets flew past trailing red, white and blue smoke at 8:12 pm (1912 GMT) and there was a party atmosphere in the stadium as a comic actor and folk singer warmed up the crowd in light rain.
The stirring strains of Elgar were replaced by techno and then the Sex Pistols before Tour de France champion cyclist Bradley Wiggins rang the huge, specially constructed bell.
"It's a real privilege to be able to present this show to you," director Boyle told the crowd as he appeared briefly. "We're a warm up act for the real business of the evening, which is the athletes coming in."
The tightly packed, three-and-a-half-hour show will also feature football icon David Beckham, plus James Bond and ex-Beatle Sir Paul McCartney - and even Britain's National Health Service.
Tickets were in high demand with two spectators telling AFP they paid 1,600 pounds (US$2,500) for their seats on the Games website.
Boyle's "liquorice allsorts" opening ceremony, costing #27 million (US$42 million) kicks off a two-week festival of sport, seven years and billions of pounds in the making, on a former industrial wasteland in east London.
Excitement in Britain, which has built up to the Olympics with a nationwide torch relay, was at fever-pitch ahead of the ceremony with Union Flags visible in gardens, windows and streaming from cars.
Millions of Britons packed pubs and gathered with friends and relatives for the grand opening of the greatest sporting show on earth, while fans gathered at big screens at London's Hyde Park and other outdoor locations.
"I think this is the biggest day of my life. I think this is just extraordinary," Games chief Sebastian Coe said earlier.
Michelle Obama, Angelina Jolie and members of British royalty were among the dignitaries, along with about 80 heads of state.