MUHAMMAD ALI is set to take centre stage at the London Olympics opening ceremony, joining David Beckham to light the cauldron in the Stratford stadium on Friday.

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Details of the £27 million opening ceremony are being kept as secret as possible, despite tens of thousands of people turning up for a rehearsal last night (23.07.12), but the fact both Ali and Beckham have flown in to London is seen as a significant clue.

Also in line to take some part in the cauldron-lighting – the denouement to the ceremony – are legendary British Olympians such as Dame Kelly Holmes, Sir Steve Redgrave and Daley Thompson.

As for the rest of the show, overseen by Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle; it has been revealed that the theme is to be Isles of Wonder, borrowed from William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.

*** Spoilers coming up, for those who want a total surprise come Friday***

Highlights are said to include the Queen and Daniel Craig in a specially contrived James Bond scene set in Buckingham Palace and beamed into the Olympic stadium; pastoral evocations inspired by William Blake’s “green and pleasant land” line from Jerusalem; characters and skits from children’s classics like Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and Mary Poppins, and a magical showdown with Harry Potter villain Voldemort, possibly providing the pretext for Sir Paul McCartney to belt out Hey Jude – “take a sad song and make it better” – which could tie the theme together.

Ali embodies the triumph-over-adversity angle, as explained by wife Lonnie:
“My husband’s whole life has been an embodiment of the struggle for survival, change and justice, and he has used the power of sport to change lives and attitudes around the world,” she said.

Those at the rehearsal were asked to keep schtum about what they saw, but some have leaked bits of info on twitter. At least organisers can be happy that the comments are overwhelmingly positive.

“If you’ve got plans Friday night, cancel them. Opening ceremony is out of this world. Danny Boyle, I salute you” and “All will say is BEIJING IS GOING DOOOOWN” were two typically effusive takes on the ceremony posted on the savethesurprise feed.