Paralympics off to a Big Bang start
The London 2012 Paralympic Games has opened with a dramatic and moving ceremony that had starring roles for the Queen, Professor Stephen Hawking - and a double amputee Afghan war veteran who rode a zip wire into the Olympic Stadium.
A "spectacular and deeply human" ceremony featured thousands of entertainers and athletes from across the world - all with their own special stories to tell.
Among the members of ParalympicsGB was Martine Wright, who was horribly injured in the 7/7 bombings and fought her way back to fitness to win a place in the sitting volleyball team. As she went into the stadium she said: "It's just absolutely amazing that I'm finally here. This has really got me through and when I walk through that stadium I feel like I will have come a full circle and feel so lucky."
The packed Olympic Stadium and millions more across the world watched as Joe Townsend, 24, who lost both legs as a Royal Marine in Afghanistan, flew in on a zip wire to start the sequence that lit the Paralympic cauldron. After his breathtaking descent he handed the flame to David Clarke, a member of the ParlympicsGB five-a-side football team, who in turn passed it to Margaret Maughan, winner of Great Britain's first Paralympic gold medal at the 1960 Rome Games, who lit the cauldron.
In another ceremony that showed the world Britain's creativity - and eccentricity - there were stunning special moments, including a sign language choir performing the national anthem and a section in which six Paralympians led by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson were flown into the stadium in gold wheelchairs.
The ceremony heralded the start of 11 days of elite sporting action featuring athletes from across the world and before sell-out crowds who have made this the most successful Paralympic Games in history.
Prof Hawking and actor Sir Ian McKellen played prominent roles in the opening ceremony, which also featured a host of deaf and disabled artists, local children and performers newly-trained in circus skills.
The Games were officially opened by the Queen, who said in a statement released in advance: "It is with tremendous pride that the people of London and the United Kingdom welcome the world to the London 2012 Paralympic Games. The Games are returning to the country where they first began, more than 60 years ago. We look forward to celebrating the uplifting spirit which distinguishes the Paralympic Games from other events, drawing on Britain's unique sporting heritage."
Prof Hawking said: "The Paralympic Games is about transforming our perception of the world. We are all different. There is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being but we share the same human spirit. What is important is that we have the ability to create.
"This creativity can take many forms, from physical achievement to theoretical physics. However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at."