The Prince of Wales has said the Commonwealth Games “reminds us of our connection with one another… as a family of nations” as he officially opened the event on behalf of the Queen.
Fireworks, a music set from the city’s own Duran Duran and a 10-metre high bull greeted a sell-out crowd at the Alexander Stadium in Perry Barr on Thursday evening for the biggest sporting event in the UK since the London Olympics in 2012.
Charles was not the only high profile speaker at the event, as activist Malala Yousafzai spoke of how “every child deserves the chance to reach their full potential and pursue their wildest dreams”.
In a short but powerful message, the activist and author said competitors represented millions of children and “our shared hope for the future”.
“Tonight, teams from 72 countries and territories join the people of Birmingham to celebrate friendship across borders,” she said.
“The young athletes who will compete over the next few weeks represent millions of girls and boys across the Commonwealth – our shared hope for the future. A future where every child can go to school, where women are free to participate in society, where families can live in peace and in dignity.
“Over the next two weeks when we watch the incredible athletes of the Commonwealth Games, remember that every child deserves the chance to reach her full potential and pursue her wildest dreams.”
The Duchess of Cornwall joined her husband as they entered the arena in a blue soft-top Aston Martin DB6 Volante – the car used to depart their wedding in 2011 – to huge cheers from the audience.
The couple then stood on a platform while 72 other red, white and blue cars with links to the Birmingham car industry formed a Union Jack flag.
They then took their seats as the red arrows display team flew over the stadium leaving a red, white and blue trail.
Birmingham was awarded the Games after scheduled host Durban in South Africa pulled out over financial problems.
Over the next 11 days, more than 5,000 athletes from 72 nations will compete in 280 events across 19 sports.
Addressing the crowd on behalf of the Queen, Charles said: “On October 7 last year, this specially created Baton left Buckingham Palace to travel across the Commonwealth.
“Over the past 294 days, it has carried not only my message to you, but also the shared hopes and dreams of each nation and territory through which it has passed, as it made its way to Birmingham.
“Over the years, the coming together of so many for the ‘Friendly Games’ has created memorable shared experiences, established long standing relationships, and even created some friendly rivalries.
“But above all they remind us of our connection with one another, wherever we may be in the world, as part of the Commonwealth family of nations.”
Charles continued: “Tonight, in the words of the founder of the Games, we embark once again on a novel adventure here in Birmingham, a pioneering city which has drawn in and embraced so many throughout its history.
“It is a city symbolic of the rich diversity and unity of the Commonwealth, and one which now welcomes you all in friendship.
“I wish each athlete and team every success. Your hard work and dedication, particularly in recent times, have been an inspiration to all of us.
“It now gives me the greatest pleasure to declare the 22nd Commonwealth Games open.”
As well as Duran Duran, other West Midlands celebrities were also in attendance at the ceremony, including comedian Sir Lenny Henry who commenced the athlete parade.
The mechanical bull provided a spectacle for many, but for the families of Birmingham pub bombings victims its introduction proved a moving moment as their names were displayed on its head.
Earlier before the ceremony, Charles posed for selfies and team photos as he toured the main athletes’ village.
He met with sportsmen and sportswomen from dozens of nations, and posed for group photographs with teams including Scotland, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and – naturally – Wales.
On Thursday morning, Boris Johnson said he was “supremely confident” there would be a legacy from the £778 million of taxpayers’ money which has gone into the games – which are being held as the country faces a cost-of-living crisis.
The outgoing Prime Minister told the Commonwealth Business Forum in the West Midlands city: “You can feel the excitement here in this mighty city of Birmingham because the athletes are already here in their thousands, from 56 countries, 72 nations and territories around the world.”
He added: “Should we have done it with the pressure on the cost of living? Will there be a legacy from the £778 million of taxpayers’ money that has gone into these Games?
“And so right now, I want you to know I am here to tell you that I am supremely confident that the answer to that question is yes. A thousand times, yes.
“I say so because I remember, almost exactly 10 years ago, an identical moment of nerves just before the beginning of the London 2012 Games.”
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries also defended the expense of hosting the event, which had a £778 million budget funded by the Government and Birmingham City Council.
In his speech, the Prime Minister joked the “whole EU” should become a Commonwealth member.
“I think we have consistently beaten France. Every time we have consistently beaten Germany and more importantly, still, we have beaten Australia,” he said.
“And though France and Germany are not members of the Commonwealth, or not yet. Why not? Get them in. Get the whole EU in. A logical solution.”