The Paralympic opening ceremony launches with a spectacular light-show narrated by Professor Stephen Hawking, who tells spectators: "Look up at the stars, and not down at your feet."

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Stars from Britain's stage, screen and music took part in a ceremony aimed at portraying a "sea of ideas" to launch the Paralympic Games.

In a rare public performance, British scientist Professor Stephen Hawking offered a global message of hope and optimism.

"Look up at the stars, and not down at your feet," Professor Hawking told spectators [see Channel 4 video above]. "Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious."

Shakespeare once again made an appearance, with British actor Ian McKellen speaking words from The Tempest that "the greatest adventure is what lies ahead," and a fictional Miranda from the same play explored the world created before her eyes.

Paralympics Games open with a message of inspiration

The theme of the extravaganza, directed by Bradley Hemmings and Jenny Sealey, was enlightenment, and began with a portrayal of the Big Bang - a giant sphere was ignited before fireworks were set alight around the stadium.

The ceremony also paid homage to Isaac Newton's discovery of gravity, by creating the world’s biggest apple bite. The massive collective crunch took place in the appropriately named gravity section of the ceremony and involved more than 60,000 audience members simultaneously taking a bite from thousands of apples that were given on arrival at the ceremony.

TV viewers were also asked to bite an apple at home at the appropriate moment.

The show includes 73 deaf and disabled professional performers and 68 disabled people among its 3,250 volunteers.

Performers began by dancing with umbrellas to Rihanna's famous hit song. The tone then changed with a new choral commission, Principia, by Greenwich composer Errollyn Wallen, which was performed by six London based choirs including the Hackney Singers, London Gay Men’s Chorus, the London Chorus, Lewisham Choral Society, Barts' Choir and Hackney Community Choir.

The Queen was then introduced before an estimated 60,000 spectators united to sing the British national anthem.

Ticket sales at this year's Games have surpassed expectations: 2.4 million of the available 2.5 million have been sold, a record number while the remaining 100,000 will be released in batches of 10,000 each day.

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South Africa's "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius who became the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics earlier this month, told a news conference ahead of the Paralympics he had seen a "shift" in interest towards disabled sport.

"Up to 2004 I didn't know much about Paralympics. The biggest turnout we had was maybe 20,000. Usually around 7,000 a day," said Pistorius, who runs using carbon-fibre prosthetic blades after he was born without a fibula in both legs.

"The UK deal with disability in a really amazing way. There are a lot of people who don't focus on the disability anymore, they focus on the athletes' abilities. They're treated as elite sportsmen and women," the 25-year-old added.

The Paralympics were conceived at the 1948 London Olympics by German neurologist Ludwig Guttmann, who had opened a spinal injuries centre at Stoke Mandeville in England for injured world war two soldiers.

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