If Danny Boyle is not already British national treasure, Friday's artfully erratic Olympics Opening Ceremony will surely put him in the running. The London event boasted a 14-year ratings high for the BBC, capturing an average 22.4 million viewers and an 82.5 percent audience share. Millions more watched stateside, albeit hours later thanks to NBC's ire-inducing decision to broadcast the event on a time delay.
But out of the estimated 4 billion worldwide viewers who tuned in for Boyle's sulfur-spewing smokestacks, giant "Harry Potter" puppets and peppy Britpop medleys, many spectators may still be wholly unaware of the humble beginnings from which the man behind the Olympic curtain sprang. That's because the Oscar-winning director of "Slumdog Millionaire" is notoriously private about his personal life.
Nevertheless, a few biographers over the years have managed to cull enough factual tidbits to piece together the unlikely narrative that brought Boyle from point A to point B -- all without swaying from the beat of his own drummer.
God Wasn't Hiring: Born into an Irish-Catholic family on Oct. 20, 1956, Boyle grew up in the working-class stomping grounds of Greater Manchester. As a boy, he set his sights on joining the priesthood, but a real-life priest ultimately talked him out of that calling.
Center Stage: Like many great filmmakers, Boyle cut his teeth in the theater. He graduated from Bangor University in 1978 with a degree in English and drama, and according to one of his professors, he was a "very mature, very focused and down-to-earth student." After graduation, he joined a stock company and went on to become artistic director of the Theatre Upstairs, a small black-box theater operated by the Royal Court Theatre, of which he became deputy director in 1985.
Small Screen: From the boards of British theater, Boyle made the leap into television in the late-1980s, directing several episodes of the detective drama "Inspector Morse."
Indie Cred: In 1994, Boyle managed to scrape together £800,000 from Channel 4 and a Glasgow Film Grant to make his directorial debut, "Shallow Grave," a comic thriller about three friends who find their roommate dead with a suitcase full of cash. The movie, which starred a then-unknown Ewan McGregor, earned Boyle a BAFTA Award for Best British Film, kicking off nearly two decades of critical kudos for the young director. Boyle's next film, "Trainspotting," brought him acclaim on the international scale. A grubby adaptation of Irvine Welsh's novel about aimless Edinburghians struggling with heroin addiction, the film was ranked as one of the best British films of all time by the British Film Institute.
Oscar Winner: From his newly minted status as a certified indie darling, Boyle avoided encroaching further on Quentin Tarantino's turf and continued to prove his diversity onscreen. After dabbling in romantic comedy ("A Life Less Ordinary"), action-adventure ("The Beach"), the zombie genre ("28 Days Later") and children's fantasy ("Millions"), the director went on to score best picture and best director Oscar wins for the 2008 sleeper hit "Slumdog Millionaire," his most commercially successful project to date. The movie, about a Mumbai street kid and his whimsical stint on a popular game show, received criticism for what some saw as exploitative depictions of poverty in India, but Boyle emerged unscathed from that controversy. Last year, he returned to his stage roots to direct "Frankenstein" for Britain's National Theatre, a gig that prepared him for the live-performance event of his career.
Olympic Glory: Boyle landed the gig to direct the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics in 2010. The ceremony took place Friday at the new 80,000-seat Olympic stadium in Stratford. The event was a wildly imaginative, if uneven, mix of British chest-beating, sincere national pride and energetic homages to the U.K.'s endless contributions to pop culture. USA Today called it "Boisterously, Britishly odd," while the Wall Street Journal groaned it was "the wrong energy for the start to the summer games." But Blighty viewers ate it up, with the event attracting more than four times the British audience than the opening ceremony in Beijing had four years ago. Amid ceremony's enormous ratings success, some Britons are already calling for Danny Boyle to be knighted.
Well, we knew it was coming.