LONDON — A fun, festive and fast-moving Olympic closing ceremony got off to a rocking start Sunday with a shout-out to Winston Churchill and a celebration of the Union Jack.
Pop bands Madness, Pet Shop Boys and One Direction kicked off a star-studded extravaganza that promised to keep a worldwide audience entertained well into the night — and dancing all the way to Rio.
Just a few minutes in, the show, put together by artistic director Kim Gavin, already featured a sensory blast including rock 'n roll rickshaws, dustbin percussionists and an exploding yellow car and a marching band in red tunics.
There was also a pageant of monochrome recreations of London landmarks covered in newsprint, from Big Ben's clock tower and Tower Bridge to the London Eye ferris wheel and the chubby highrise known as the Gherkin.
And there was much, much more to come.
The Who, the surviving members of Queen and the Spice Girls were expected to take the stage at a heaving Olympic Stadium during a three-hour paean to British pop and to the country's triumphant turn hosting the games.
Prince William's wife, Kate, and Prince Harry took seats next to Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee. They sang along to "God Save the Queen."
Perhaps the best seats were for the 10,800 athletes, who began marching in as one — the flagbearers first, in a brilliant show of color — to form what Gavin described as a human mosh pit on the field.
The ceremony had something for everyone, from tween girls to 1960s hippies. George Michael, Muse, Fatboy Slim, and Annie Lennox were all expected to perform.
Queen Elizabeth II, who made a memorable mock parachute entrance at the July 27 opening ceremony, was also expected to be on hand.
Eight minutes were turned over to Brazil, host of the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, which promises an explosion of samba, sequins and Latin cool. Following tradition, the mayor of London will hand the Olympic flag off to his Rio counterpart.
There were also to be speeches by Rogge and London organizing committee chief Sebastian Coe, and the extinguishing of the Olympic flame.
What a way to end a games far more successful than many Londoners expected. Security woes were overcome, and traffic nightmares never materialized. The weather held up, more or less, and British athletes overachieved.
It all came at a price tag of $14 billion, three times the original estimate. But nobody wanted to spoil the fun with such mundane concerns, at least not on this night.
Britons, who had fretted for weeks that the games would become a fiasco, were buoyed by their biggest medal haul since 1908. The United States edged China in both the gold medal and total medal standings, eclipsing its best performance at an Olympics on foreign soil after the Dream Team narrowly held off Spain in basketball for the country's 46th gold.
"It's been an incredible fortnight," said Coe, an Olympic champion in his own right.
While the games may have lacked some of the drama and grandeur of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, there were many unforgettable moments.
Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt became an Olympic legend by repeating as champion in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints. Michael Phelps ended his long career as the most decorated Olympian in history.
British distance runner Mo Farah became a national treasure by sweeping the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races, and favorite daughter Jessica Ennis became a global phenomenon with her victory in the heptathlon.
Female athletes took center stage in a way they never had before. American gymnast Gabby Douglas soared to gold, the U.S. soccer team made a dramatic march to the championship. Packed houses turned out to watch the new event of women's boxing. And women competed for Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei for the first time.
And then there was Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee from South Africa running on carbon-fiber blades, who didn't win a medal but nonetheless left a champion. And sprinter Manteo Mitchell, who completed his leg of the 4x400 relay semifinal on a broken leg, allowing his team to qualify and win silver.
"It was a dream for a sports-lover like me," Rogge said of the two weeks of competition.
Coe said the closing ceremony didn't aim to be profound, not even the irreverent romp through British history offered by Danny Boyle's $42 million spectacle on opening night.
The theme for the close, Coe said, could be summed up in three words. "Party. Party. Party."
In a switch from opening night and what appeared to be a concession to its vocal critics, NBC decided to stream the ceremony live online, in addition to broadcasting it during prime time.
London organizers tried to keep the ceremony under wraps, but photographs of their rehearsals, in an old car plant in east London, made the British papers almost daily.
The show will include performances of 30 British hit singles from the past five decades — whittled by Gavin from a list of 1,000 songs.
Gavin said Saturday the show would open with a tribute to the "cacophony" of London life, with a soundtrack ranging from late Edward Elgar, composer of the "Pomp and Circumstance" march, to The Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset." Frontman Ray Davies is expected to perform the 1960s song, a love letter to London.
While creators of the opening ceremony could rehearse for weeks inside the stadium, Gavin and his team had less than a day between the end of track and field competition and Sunday's ceremony before 80,000 people.
Even as spectators filed in early Sunday evening, performers went through their final run throughs, including actor-comedian Russell Brand in top hat aboard a psychedelic magical mystery tour bus. Jets of steam shot up from the stage as dancers in warm up clothes shimmied and shook.
Britons seemed exhausted and exhilarated after two glorious weeks in the world's spotlight. Some acknowledged happy surprise that nothing had gone wrong, and so much had gone right.
"I was a bit worried we wouldn't be able to live up to it," said Phil Akrill, 31, of Chichester. "But walking around here, it's just unbelievable."
Even non-Brits were proud of their adopted homeland.
"It's just been a really nice thing to see," said Anja Ekelof, a Swede who now lives in Scotland. "The whole country has come together."