London Paralympics Opening Ceremony

The Paralympics Opening Ceremony is underway at Olympic Park. Credit: Press Association

The London Paralympics 2012 Opening Ceremony is underway at the Olympic Park.

The ceremony was opened with a flypast by Aerobility, a charity that trains disabled people to become pilots. And a monologue by Professor Stephen Hawking.

The ceremony will be an "exquisite journey of discovery" its co-artistic director has said.

Empowerment and challenging perceptions are some of the themes of the show, called Enlightenment, which also stars Sir Ian McKellen and references Shakespeare's The Tempest.

Performers surround a giant umbrella at Olympic Park as part of the Opening Ceremony. Credit: Press Association

Sir Ian McKellen said ahead of the ceremony: "I'm the least sporty person I know but thrilled to have a small part to play in the Paralympic opening ceremony in praise of endeavour and enlightenment," he said.

"British athletes shone at the Olympics. I am hoping the same is true of the Paralympics."

A performer during the Opening Ceremony for the London Paralympic Games 2012 at the Olympic Stadium. Credit: Press Association

Many details of the show have been kept under wraps, but Bradley Hemmings, who has been responsible for its organisation alongside fellow artistic director Jenny Sealey, promised it would be "both spectacular and deeply human".

A performer takes part in the Opening Ceremony. Credit: Press Association .

The show signals the start of 11 days of competition by nearly 4,300 athletes from 166 countries.

Performers create sea of umbrellas at Paralympic Opening Ceremony. Credit: Press Association

Professor Stephen Hawking, who enjoyed a starring role in tonight's Opening Ceremony, said the Paralympic Games is about transforming our perception of the world.

"We are all different. There is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being but we share the same human spirit," he said.

Performers take part in the Opening Ceremony. Credit: Press Association

"What is important is that we have the ability to create. This creativity can take many forms, from physical achievement to theoretical physics. However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.

"The Games provide an opportunity for athletes to excel, to stretch themselves and become outstanding in their field. So let us together celebrate excellence, friendship and respect. Good luck to you all."