Great North Run will mark one millionth finisher with Olympic scale ceremony

An event, costing in excess of £1m, will celebrate the one millionth finish of the Great North Run in September

Great North Million Opening ceremony press launch at Baltic Square, Mike McLeod, David Almond, Beth Bate, Bradley Hemmings and Brendan Foster
Great North Million Opening ceremony press launch at Baltic Square, Mike McLeod, David Almond, Beth Bate, Bradley Hemmings and Brendan Foster

A unique celebration of the North East has been planned to mark the moment the world’s biggest half marathon clocks up a global first.

This year the Bupa Great North Run will be the first event of its kind to have its one millionth finisher, ahead of marathons in London, New York and Berlin.

To celebrate that landmark, an event will be held on both sides of the River Tyne, which will see the Quayside transformed into an arena fit for an opening ceremony on an Olympic scale.

Internationally-recognised artists will work with regional figureheads and thousands of volunteers for an event involving live music, writing, mass choreography, a giant floating sculpture along the river and videos projected onto the Sage Gateshead.

There will also be fireworks and a specially commissioned film from a BAFTA-winning artist, with the event showcasing the region on a national stage during the BBC coverage of this year’s race.

The Great North Run Million Opening Ceremony will take place on September 4, four days before the race, and will welcome an additional 25,000 people to the region.

Organisers will announce headline music acts over the next few weeks as excitement surrounding the event continues to build.

Some of the world’s biggest names in art and culture have already pledged their service to this world-first event which will cost in excess of £1m to stage.

Bradley Hemmings, co-artistic director of the world-renowned London 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony, will bring the story to life alongside thousands of volunteer performers stretching both lengths of the Quayside.

And BAFTA-winning artist and filmmaker Tal Rosner is creating a specially-commissioned film celebrating past, present and future ingenuity in the North East to be projected on to the Sage Gateshead.

At a launch event to mark the countdown to this year’s Great North Run and opening ceremony, event founder Brendan Foster, said: “When we started the run 33 years ago we could only dream of the millionth finish across the line.

“The millionth finish will be an ordinary person who will become the focus of this year’s Great North Run. That is what the run’s ethos has always been - ordinary people, of all abilities, taking part and coming together as a region.

“We’ve already received record entries for this years’ race with 57,000 signed up to take part.

“When we launched the Great North Run is was monumental and 33 years later we’re doing something else spectacular. Who knows what we’ll come up with in another 33 years time!”

BAFTA award-winning composer Dan Jones is writing music for the Royal Northern Sinfonia for the event and designer Jon Bausor, who worked on the opening ceremony of the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, will create a huge floating sculpture on the Tyne.

Award-winning author, David Almond, who hails from Felling, in Gateshead, will write a unique story of the North East which will be brought to life by more than 1,500 performers.

He said his inspiration came directly from the Tyne itself.

“I was sat with Bradley along the Quayside recently, discussing our ideas for the event,” he said. “When all of a sudden a salmon leapt from the Tyne and straight back under the water.

Great North Run, 17 June 1984
Great North Run, 17 June 1984

“For me, this is a marked reflection of the North East. Our ingenuity across all sectors - from heavy industry to sport and culture - may disappear for a short time like the salmon but always jumps back.

“The story will be written like a ballad using distinct Northern language. We often assume the North East’s only history is attached to heavy industry but that’s simply not the case.

“We have a rich cultural heritage stemming as far back as the Lindisfarne Gospels and this diversity has provided ample inspiration for my story.”

Mr Hemmings, who earned an international reputation for his work on the London Paralympic Games, said this project would be bigger and better than anything he had worked on before.

“I did have this little sports day event to organise back in 2012,” he quipped. “That was an amazing opportunity to work in an arena but this is far more exciting.

“Here, we are in one of the most iconic locations in the world and I’ve been given a beautiful space to work within.”

Also read:

Great North Run 2014 interactive route map - see what's ahead

Millionth runner will cross Bupa Great North Run's finish line

Read our 'Great North Run training: how to survive the day' from last year


David Whetstone
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