30 Aug 2012

Hawking stars in Paralympics opening ceremony

10:57 pm on 30 August 2012

The Paralympics have begun in London with a spectacular opening ceremony watched by some 80,000 spectators and featuring a rare public appearance by Britain's most famous living scientist, Stephen Hawking.

Professor Hawking, who has motor neurone disease and has been paralysed for most of his life, spoke at the event of the quest for understanding the universe.

Afghan war amputee Joe Townsend entered on a zip wire to light the flame.

Some 3000 volunteers are taking part in the show, which organisers have entitled Enlightenment.

The curtain-raiser to 11 days of sport, involving the traditional parade of many of the record 4200 athletes taking part, began with a fly-past by Aerobility, a charity that helps disabled people become pilots.

Six Paralympians and former competitors then flew into the stadium on golden wheelchairs.

Britain's first Paralympic Games gold medallist, Margaret Maughan, 84, had the honour of lighting the cauldron.

The Queen declared the London 2012 Paralympics officially open. It is the first time the monarch has officiated at the openings of both the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the BBC reports.

Organisers said the opening ceremony was intended to take the audience on a journey of discovery, inspired by the wonder of science, starting at the 18th century Enlightenment to the modern era.

Thousands of people had earlier lined the streets to cheer on torchbearers as they took the Paralympic flame through London.

The beacon has been carried past some of London's most famous landmarks, from the Abbey Road zebra crossing made famous by the Beatles to Trafalgar Square, the Houses of Parliament, City Hall and Tower Bridge.

Athletes from 165 countries are taking part in the Games, including 24 from New Zealand.

New Zealand cyclists Fiona Southorn and Nathan Smith are competing on Thursday, along with swimmers Rebecca Dubber and Sophie Pascoe.