Parachuting out of a helicopter is tough enough. Parachuting out of a helicopter with the entire planet watching? With just 500 feet to spare? Wearing a dress? Yeah, it takes a special kind of fellow to pull that off.
The last time you saw Gary Connery was most likely as he descended into the London night wearing a pink dress and a parachute in the most spectacular moment of the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony. An estimated 1.4 billion people worldwide watched that moment, the culmination of a skit involving Queen Elizabeth and Daniel Craig, the current James Bond. The live stunt worked to perfection … which came as no surprise to its jumper.
"It was not that difficult from a technical perspective," Connery told Yahoo! Sports, "but with the whole world watching, if you get it wrong, you get it very wrong."
Connery, a 42-year-old stuntman with decades of high-profile stunt work, had worked with Opening Ceremony creator Danny Boyle before, giving everyone involved a sense of confidence in the entire process. The sequence involved a segment filmed at Buckingham Palace earlier in the year in which Craig, as Bond, escorts the Queen and two of her beloved Corgi dogs onto a waiting helicopter. The copter then takes off in the direction of Olympic Stadium. (Somehow it was broad daylight at Buckingham Palace and nighttime at the stadium, but we can let that slide.) The "queen" and "Bond" then parachute out of the helicopter and land just behind the stadium, only to enter live and in person to observe the remainder of the Ceremony. And it worked to absolute perfection.
Naturally, this isn't something you throw together at the last minute and hope for the best. The Queen's scenes were filmed months before. And in the weeks prior to the Ceremony, Connery and the rest of the team made about 10 off-site jumps, and then another six on-site late at night.
"The test jumps weren't in costume," he noted. "People knew something was going on, but they didn't know what."
Connery would consider the jump a reasonably routine one, but decide for yourself: "We were jumping from 750 feet. The stadium height was 210 feet with the lights, so that gives you 540 feet to play with. You get out, deploy the chute, make a couple of turns to give the people a show, and get outside the stadium. You have to get it right, but if you know what you're doing, it's not that difficult."
It's been quite the year for Connery (an appropriate name for a star in a Bond stunt, yes?). In May, he set a world record by becoming the first skydiver to complete a jump without a parachute. Using a wing suit that made him look somewhat like a flying squirrel, he leaped 2,400 feet from a helicopter into a pile of more than 18,000 boxes.
So it's been quite the 2012 for Connery. What's next? Plans to recreate the wing suit jump in Vegas, for one, as well as an idea to set even more world records. Plus, there's always film; he's worked in everything from "Batman Begins" to "Game of Thrones," from Indiana Jones to Harry Potter.
The Opening Ceremony will always hold a special spot on his resume, even if he didn't get to meet the Queen. Then again, anything's possible: "I'm expecting she'll have me over for tea and cakes soon."
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