THE countdown to the millionth finish of the Bupa Great North Run will start with a bang – the Big Bang to be precise.
Charting the history of the region from the dawn of time, a creative team led by artistic director Bradley Hemmings will transform the NewcastleGateshead Quayside and the River Tyne into a spectacular outdoor arena at 8.30pm on Thursday, September 4.
North-East author David Almond will weave his magic through the opening ceremony, with an epic story narrated by actors Tim Healy and Jill Halfpenny.
Speaking of his mounting excitement as the event approaches, the award-winning author says: “When I was approached by Bradley Hemmings and (Great North Run founder) Brendan Foster I jumped at the chance.
“The opening ceremony has everything – words, music, theatre, video, fireworks, lights, barges, bridges, northern history, the River Tyne.
“What a great way to celebrate the success of the ground-breaking Bupa Great North Run. What a great way to dramatise the dynamism of our culture.”
The author of Skellig, My Name is Mina, The Savage, Clay, The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean, and many other novels, stories and plays, says: “The challenge has been trying to write something that can also accommodate dance, music, light . . . the whole shebang.
“It’s a big story and starts with the Big Bang – at the moment of creation – going to the Great North Run and beyond.
“It will take in some of the achievements of the North-East of the past, and what is happening right now and things that will happen in the future.
“The metaphor of a run is perfect for a story about life, change, history and development.”
He adds: “It gave me a chance to write something in very accessible northern language, rhythms and dialect as well.
“One of things I want say is the culture of the north is not just about coalmining and ship building, which we all know about – and that has to be celebrated.
“But what I also want to do is say our history is much more than that. It goes much deeper and is more exciting.
“There are the Lindisfarne gospels, of course, but also the great things are happening now in the sciences in Newcastle, such as at the Centre of Life.
“What I try to do as a children’s author is to inspire my readers and listeners to take part in arts themselves and to realise how amazing life is. And I think that’s what I’ve tried to do with this piece.”
The Great North Run Million Opening Ceremony will feature a stunning set and a giant floating sculpture by designer Jon Bausor, who worked on the opening ceremony of the 2012 Paralympic Games in London and more recently the kinetic sculpture to light the flame for the 2014 Paralympic Games.
Co-artistic director Nathan Curry is working with thousands of volunteer performers, who will form a giant choreographed circuit around the Quayside.
Specially-commissioned film and animation by video artists Tal Roser will be projected onto Sage Gateshead, while music written by Dan Jones will be performed by the Royal Northern Sinfonia.
There will also be live performances by Mark Knopfler, The Unthanks and Chase & Status, Sting and Northumbrian piper Kathryn Tickell.
David Hemmings says: “Almost exactly two years ago, I co-directed the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games and had the privilege of working with internationally-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking.
"His declaration that, “there should be no boundary to human endeavour”, could equally apply to the historic One Millionth Finish, which reminds us that the Great North Run is very much an event born out of the North-East’s proud traditions of mass participation, endeavour, industry and ingenuity.
"This is the story which runs throughout ceremony - the story of how, by acting together, we can achieve the most extraordinary and transformational things.”
On Sunday, September 7, the Great North Run will become the first running event in the world to reach a landmark one millionth finish.
Anyone who has ever taken part in the Great North Run, or who has a place in this year’s event, is eligible for one of 10,000 free tickets for the opening ceremony, by applying at greatrun.org/ticket_giveaway.
For those not eligible for the free tickets, they are on sale for the event at www.gnrmillion.org priced at £12 for adults and £7 for children.