London - Bells rang across Britain on Friday to signal the final countdown to the Olympic Games, which open with an exuberant and eccentric ceremony celebrating the nation in an explosion of dance, music and fireworks inspired by Shakespeare's "Tempest".
The three-hour showcase created by Oscar-winning "Slumdog Millionaire" director Danny Boyle takes spectators on a journey from Britain's idyllic countryside through the grime of the Industrial Revolution and ending in an explosion of pop culture.
Watched by 60,000 people at the main Olympic stadium built in a run-down part of east London and a global audience of more than a billion, the event will have passages described by British Prime Minister David Cameron as "spine-tingling".
The spectators will be urged to join in sing-a-longs and help create spectacular visual scenes at an event that sets the tone for the sporting extravaganza, when 16,000 athletes from 204 countries share the thrill of victory and despair of defeat with 11 million visitors.
The Games will also answer the question on Britons' lips -- were seven years of planning, construction and disruptions, and a price tag of $14 billion during one of the country's worst recessions, actually worth it?
"There is a huge sense of excitement and anticipation because Britain is ready to welcome the greatest show on Earth," said Cameron. "This is a great moment for our country so we must seize it."
There have, however, been bumps along the way.
Media coverage was until recently dominated by security firm G4S's admission that it could not provide enough guards for Olympic venues. Thousands of extra soldiers had to be deployed at the last minute, despite the company's multi-million-dollar contract from the government.