On your mark, get set, ogle!
This is it: The wildly anticipated 2012 London Olympics kicks off tonight with a snazzy opening ceremony that will do its best to pull out all the stops and bring the requisite shock and awe to an expected global audience of more than a billion people. Yep—billion!
It's got some pretty big shoes to fill, after Beijing set the gold standard by which all other ceremonies will henceforth be judged.
That doesn't mean London won't try to make a medal-worthy dash for it. The opening ceremony is being helmed by Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle. And if there's one thing we've learned from the quirky British visionary, it's that he knows a thing or two about pulling surprises—and staging upsets.
With that in mind, here are 10 things to keep an eye out for at tonight's bonanza:
1. Prepare to Have a Cow—Literally! The opening ceremony, titled "Isles of Wonder," reportedly cost $42 million and is inspired by Shakespeare's The Tempest. Boyle plans to turn the Olympic Stadium into a "green and pleasant land" complete with—as of the last count— 70 sheep, 12 horses, 10 chickens, 10 ducks, nine geese, three cows, three sheepdogs. Talk about animal magnetism!
2. The Joy of Becks: David Beckham may not have made Great Britain's Olympic team, but that doesn't mean he'll be MIA entirely. Posh's other half, who helped bring the Olympic torch to London, revealed that he's got a part in the ceremony; natch, he's keeping mum on deets. "It is some kind of role in the opening ceremony which I am honored to be involved in," he reportedly said.
3. Bond Meets…the Queen? Boyle has reportedly created a short film starring Daniel Craig as his famous James Bond big-screen alter ago. His costar, though, will likely be getting all the attention: Queen Elizabeth II, who'll supposedly play—but who else?—herself in a skit that kicks off at Buckingham Palace before zipping through London. It won't be the last you'll see of the queen, though: She's later set to declare the games open.
4. Will, Kate and Harry Do the Wave! The queen won't be the only blue blood in the crowd: The three younger royals are also expected to attend the opening ceremony, just one of a bevy of events that are on their busy schedule. Indeed, they plan to attend, among others, tennis, swimming and equestrian matches (where they'll no doubt be cheering on cousin Zara Phillips, who'll be competing).
5. Time to Weather Up: Sure, the event is expect to bust out anything and everything British, including a giant replica of Glastonbury Tor, a game of cricket, a mosh pit and Maypoles. But Boyle hasn't forgotten one quintessentially British standby: gloomy weather! The opening ceremony will reportedly feature synthetic clouds strung above the stadium, which will create rain on cue. Weather forecasters are predicting only a 10 percent chance of rain tonight, but hey—it's a great way to beat Mother Nature at her game!
6. Downton Abbey Parties Down: The cast of the hit period miniseries will reportedly make a cameo somewhere, although details remain scant. No surprise there: The deliciously acerbic Maggie Smith has practically made a sport out of shooting zippy barbs on the show. Give her a gold medal!
7. Fashionably Athletic: Sure, the opening ceremony will have its share of eye-popping moments, but don't forget that it'll also serve as one of the biggest fashion runways, as thousands of athletes will parade around the stadium in a colorful array of patriotic outfits. It's the perfect chance to admire Team USA's Ralph Lauren threads (which have fired up their own controversy).
8. Michael Phelps—MVP Goes MIA: There'll be lots to see at the opening ceremony, but here's someone you won't see: the record-breaking 14-time gold medalist. Phelps has opted to skip the opening ceremony in order to amply rest up for his first event, which kicks off the following morning. Not to worry: There're more than enough Olympics hotties to go around for all your gawking needs.
9. Crank Up the Tunes: Boyle's supposed playlist for the opening ceremony leaked last month, offering audiences a very intriguing preview of what they might expect to hear tonight. And—oh, Danny boy!—it's quite the eclectic hodgepodge. Expect ditties from the Rolling Stones, New Order, Led Zeppelin, Duran Duran, Adele, Queen, the Kinks and the Beatles, among others.
10. Speaking of the Beatles…: Paul McCartney will be bringing the opening ceremony to close with a big musical performance. Speculation is running high as to what exactly he'll sing, but the Daily Mail is reporting that it'll be "Hey Jude," and that he'll ask the crowd to sing along. It's not a far-fetched theory: McCartney reportedly declined to perform the tune at Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee concert last month, which means it's still up for grabs.