BLAZING pyrotechnics, moving music, powerful dance sequences and spectacular fireworks combined to create an unforgettable ceremony marking the countdown to millionth finish of the Bupa Great North Run.
Thousands of people lined the Quaysides of the River Tyne, which were transformed into a huge outdoor arena with a stunning set featuring a giant floating sculpture.
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After months of preparations, the opening ceremony lived up to every expectation, as organisers pulled out all the stops, including man-made lightning bolts.
Music celebrities Sting and Mark Knopfler rubbed shoulders with athletic greats, including Great North Run founder Brendan Foster, Haile Gebrselassie, Paula Radcliffe, Mo Farah, Tanni Grey-Thompson and Mike McLeod.
Television presenters Ant and Dec opened proceedings by introducing “a local hero who became global superstar” - Mark Knopfler. The Dire Straits star gave a stirring rendition of Local Hero, which has become an anthem of the event.
International Association of Athletics Federation president Lamine Diack, who was on hand to unveiled the millionth finish flag, said: "The Great North Run has for many decades given ordinary citizens from all over the world the chance to be inspired and motivated and seek to improve themselves - and through charity to give generously to others as well.”
The event, planned by the team behind the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic openings, told the inspiring story of the North-East from the Big Bang to the present and beyond.
An epic poem of creativity, ingenuity, innovation and determination, penned by North-East author David Almond was narrated in the Geordie cadences of actors Tim Healy and Jill Halfpenny.
A specially-commissioned film and animation by Bafta-winning artist and filmmaker Tal Rosner was projected onto the Sage Gateshead.
Among the 12 boats on the Tyne were a depiction of raiding Vikings, a display of powerful water cannons on a fireboat and a towering pit-wheel, which later transformed into a flaming runner.
Accompanying the story was dramatic music written by composer Dan Jones and performed by Royal Northern Sinfonia.
In a spectacular display of choreography, dancers in overalls and hard hats encircled both Quaysides.
Also contributing to the event were Northumberland-based folk group The Unthanks, as well as the multi-platinum selling dance duo Chase & Status.
Sting performed songs from his musical and the album The Last Ship, about the demise of shipbuilding in his native Wallsend.
He was joined by Auf Wiedersehen, Pet star Jimmy Nail, who is also in the musical.
Adding authentic regional tones to music was Northumbrian piper Kathryn Tickell.
Just when thought they had seen it all, the crowds were treated to the high-octane adrenaline fuelled Lords of Lightning, who gave a literally electrifying performance, as two men dressed in metal suits interacted with the raw power of lightning.
The evening finished with a climactic fireworks display as the dancers donned foil blankets worn by participants finishing the Great North Run – Run – followed by members of the audience who were given their own.
As the crowds filtered away it was clear they all thought the evening a triumph – and fitting precursor to the historic millionth finish on Sunday.