On 27 July 2012, Gary Connery adjusted his wig, pulled up his tights, and put on a peach-coloured dress that was fit for a queen.
The London Olympics were about to get under way, and the professional stuntman was preparing to carry out the biggest job of his life in front of an estimated 900 million people around the world.
Months earlier, Mr Connery had been called in for a surprise meeting with Danny Boyle – the British film director who had been hired in as the artistic director of the opening ceremony.
The spectacle would be a celebration of British life – with nods to the Industrial Revolution, the National Health Service, and popular music and culture.
There was only one person suitable to open the Olympics at the ceremony, and that was the figure who holds all of these elements together, Her Majesty the Queen.
However, as the spectacle aimed to capture the great British sense of humour – she wouldn’t be making the kind of entrance people had grown to expect from the head of state.
The idea was that James Bond would chaperone the Queen to the ceremony via helicopter. Once they were hovering over the stadium they would both jump out, open their parachutes, and make their descent to the stadium.
With decades of service to her country and a fine upbringing, the Queen is a woman of many talents, but even so, it wasn’t deemed appropriate for the monarch to complete such a dangerous jump herself from the skies above east London.
And that’s where Gary comes in.
“I was asked to double as the Queen, while my friend and fellow stuntman Mark Sutton was asked to be James Bond. It was a one-off attempt, in front of a worldwide audience, so we had to get it right. That’s why our level of fear and focus was at its upmost.”
On the night itself a pre-recorded film showed Daniel Craig, the latest Hollywood actor to play James Bond, walking through the corridors of Buckingham Palace before meeting the Queen.
Her Majesty and 007 then boarded a helicopter before passing over significant points in London’s skyline. Minutes later they were hovering over the Olympic Stadium.
The famous Bond theme tune played out and nearly a billion people watched on in astonishment as a figure who appeared to be Her Majesty pulled open a Union Jack parachute, spiralled through the air, and landed just outside the stadium.
The Queen herself then entered the royal box before addressing the crowd.
Gary remembers: “We nailed it. If someone was to ask me the what has been the pinnacle of my career, I would say it was that jump.”
Sky’s royal commentator Alastair Bruce, who is also the governor of Edinburgh Castle and the godfather to Prince Edward’s son, was a key part of the Sky News team that covered the opening ceremony.
“Sometime later I had the chance to speak to the Queen about that moment, and she told me she had been kept in a dark room during the stunt, so she couldn’t see what we saw.
“I was hugely surprised that she had decided to do this, but she has this amazing sense of humour. People often don’t realise that she has it, because she has what she describes as a face that often looks quite angry when it’s in a relaxed mode, but the truth is she has a very gentle sense of humour.”
The opening ceremony was a huge success, and was followed by two weeks of competitive sports featuring over 10,000 athletes from more than 200 countries.
You can listen to Gary and Alastair’s story in The Queen’s Stuntman – the latest episode of StoryCast ’21, a Sky News podcast telling 21 personal stories from some of the biggest news events of the century.
Subscribe to Storycast ’21 now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Spreaker
Click the link below to explore the series and listen to all of the episodes released so far.
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