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Wednesday, 24 July, 2002, 17:15 GMT 18:15 UK
Brave Kirsty given baton honour
The opening ceremony at Sydney Olympics
Ceremony advice has come from the Sydney Olympics

Kirsty Howard, the terminally ill child who won the heart of England footballer David Beckham, has been chosen to symbolise the fighting spirit of Manchester at the opening ceremony of the city's Commonwealth Games.

The six-year-old, born with her heart back-to-front, will hand the baton to the Queen at the launch of the biggest multi-sporting event ever to be staged in the UK.

Up to 500m television viewers across the world are expected to watch as Kirsty carries the Jubilee Baton - which flashes in time with the carrier's heartbeat - from the final runner to the Queen.

Beckham rumours

But organisers were remaining coy about naming any of the sporting personalities who would be taking part in the closing stages of the baton relay at the end of its long journey... and Beckham is tipped as a possible candidate.

It is not the first time Kirsty has been in the world's spotlight.

Kirsty Howard was a mascot for the England football team
Kirsty Howard captured the nation's heart
She captured the imagination of her nation when walking hand-in-hand on to the pitch with England captain Beckham before last year's World Cup qualifier against Greece at Old Trafford.

Now her battle against her rare condition will be highlighted around the globe

It will no doubt also boost further the 1.5m her appeal has raised for the Francis House Children's Hospital in Didsbury, Manchester.

Commonwealth Games creative director Sue Woodward said Kirsty had been chosen to be the final baton carrier because her courageous fight "embodies the spirit that is Manchester".

"She is a superhuman person in the same way as the athletes are," she said.

"I can't think of anyone who better symbolises Manchester's fighting spirit than Kirsty Howard."

Party boast

The ceremony is not only being billed as the biggest opening ceremony ever staged at a Commonwealth Games but one that will take the genre of stadium theatre to a new level.

It would, said Woodward, confirm Manchester's status as the "party centre of England, if not western Europe".

open quote
She is a superhuman person in the same way as the athletes are
end quote
Creative director Sue Woodward
But those harking back to the days of the Madchester music scene of the 80s and 90s are likely to remain disappointed.

Rather than The Smiths, New Order or The Happy Mondays, the show's music is likely to highlight the club culture of today.

Sounds by the likes of the Bee Gees, who made the first public appearance in Manchester, will also ensure an international flavour and understanding.

While a cloth cap will be tipped in the direction of the city's industrial past, the 4,000 performers and their 1,000-strong backstage team will attempt to present an image of what it is like to be Mancunian in the 21st century.

The show is designed to reflect what Woodward says is their reputation for being "robust, very resilient, very inventive and with a great sense of humour".

Creative teams drawn from the Sydney Olympics, Hollywood and projects such as Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Lost In Space and Harry Potter also promise major changes to the traditional parade of athletes.

It all begins at 2100BST to ensure a night backdrop for the promised spectacular of lighting effects and pyrotechnics.

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24 Jul 02 | Features
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