Eight years ago, Britain was preparing itself for a Big Moment – the Opening Ceremony for the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Like today, another Big Moment for our nation, there was a great deal of uncertainty – would we be able to pull it off? With the world watching on, just how would we express our culture, our history, our heritage?
In post-crash Austerity Britain, the prevailing mood in the days leading up to the opening ceremony seemed to be one of national self-doubt, cynicism, even a fear that it would all just be a bit crap.
Then, at 9pm on Friday July 27, it started.
At first, it seemed entirely possible that it was actually going to be pretty cringeworthy, with groups of dancers running around a clichéd vision of bucolic Britain, farm animals, cricketers playing beneath Glastonbury Tor and a maypole.
So far, so awkward.
But then something amazing happened.
The next sequence painted a dark and intense picture of the dramatic transition from a pastoral Britain to one that defined the Industrial Revolution, embodied in the five Olympic rings slowly being forged in fire, ascend into the sky and then join together in a mesmerising crescendo that brought tears to the eyes.
Now, we were paying attention.
Then James Bond took a taxi to Buckingham Palace to pick up The Queen and off they went to parachute together out of a helicopter into the Olympic Stadium. Rowan Atkinson played a one-finger solo with the London Symphony Orchestra and David Beckham piloted a jetboat along the Thames to deliver the Olympic Flame into the stadium.
Here was an Opening Ceremony with a sense of humour, determinedly British and damn proud of it – hilarious, quirky, subversive.
Essentially, this was a love song to Britain.
For four hours on the night of Friday 27 July, the whole country basked in all of its multi-faceted history, its multiculturalism, its massive contributions to the world and the national mood quickly went from indifferent cynicism to joy, jubilation and delight.
Perhaps for the first time in a Very Long Time, there was a reawakening of national pride.
For a nation that had found it all too easy to wallow in self-mockery, it was a rare moment to be able to revise that with a new and positive view of itself, shorn of irony and doubt.
Tonight, on the day of another Big Moment, equally freighted with uncertainty and national self-doubt, it seems like a good idea to try to remember that we are actually a Better Nation than we might think sometimes, still capable of Surprisingly Great Things.
For me, those summer weeks in 2012 represented a high-water mark for our country as we presented ourselves proudly to the world and absolutely bowled them over with our art, music, culture and technical prowess, with an unrivalled ability to Put On A Show.
Let’s hope we can still remember to do that in the years to come.