The London 2012 Paralympic Games opened in a dramatic and moving ceremony that had starring roles for the Queen and Professor Stephen Hawking.

A packed Olympic Stadium and millions more across the world watched as the "spectacular and deeply human" opening ceremony unfolded before double amputee Afghan war veteran Joe Townsend flew in on a zip wire to light the flame.

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The ceremony was watched by 60,000 in the Olympic stadium

Six Paralympians and former competitors - including Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson - were flown into the stadium in gold wheelchairs.

Accompanying the athletics star were fellow Paralympians Robert Barrett, Kay Forshaw, Tony Griffin, Ian Rose and Marc Woods, the Press Association reported.

The ceremony heralded the start of 11 days of elite sporting action featuring athletes from across the world and before sell-out crowds who have made this the most successful Paralympic Games in history.

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  • London Paralympic Games - Day 0

    A general view of performers during the Opening Ceremony for the London Paralympic Games 2012 at the Olympic Stadium, London.

  • London Paralympic Games - Day 0

    Members of the Armed Services bring out the Union Jack flag during the Opening Ceremony for the London Paralympic Games 2012 at the Olympic Stadium, London.

  • London Paralympic Games - Day 0

    A general view of performers during the Opening Ceremony for the London Paralympic Games 2012 at the Olympic Stadium, London.

  • London Paralympic Games - Day 0

    A general view of performers during the Opening Ceremony for the London Paralympic Games 2012 at the Olympic Stadium, London.

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    The Duke and Dutchess of Cambridge during the Opening Ceremony for the London Paralympic Games 2012 at the Olympic Stadium, London.

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    Performers during the Opening Ceremony for the London Paralympic Games 2012 at the Olympic Stadium, London.

  • London Paralympic Games - Day 0

    Performers during the Opening Ceremony for the London Paralympic Games 2012 at the Olympic Stadium, London.

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    Queen Elizabeth II arrives at a reception at the Olympic Stadium ahead of the opening ceremony for the London Paralympic Games 2012.

  • London Paralympic Games - Day 0

    A performer during the Opening Ceremony for the London Paralympic Games 2012 at the Olympic Stadium, London.

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    General View of the Opening Ceremony for the London Paralympic Games 2012 at the Olympic Stadium, London.

  • London Paralympic Games - Day 0

    General View of the Opening Ceremony for the London Paralympic Games 2012 at the Olympic Stadium, London.

  • London Paralympic Games - Day 0

    General View of the Opening Ceremony for the London Paralympic Games 2012 at the Olympic Stadium, London.

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    The Duchess of Cambridge talks to volunteers as she attends a reception at the Olympic Stadium ahead of the opening ceremony for the London Paralympic Games 2012.

  • London Paralympic Games - Day 0

    Queen Elizabeth II arrives at a reception at the Olympic Stadium ahead of the opening ceremony for the London Paralympic Games 2012.

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    Queen Elizabeth II meets members of the International Paralympic Committee at a reception at the Olympic Stadium ahead of the opening ceremony for the London Paralympic Games 2012.

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    Queen Elizabeth II is presented with three Paralympic medals by Sir Philip Craven, President of the International Paralympic Committee at a reception at the Olympic Stadium ahead of the opening ceremony for the London Paralympic Games 2012.

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    The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attend a reception at the Olympic Stadium ahead of the opening ceremony for the London Paralympic Games 2012.

  • London Paralympic Games - Day 0

    The Duchess of Cambridge attends a reception at the Olympic Stadium ahead of the opening ceremony for the London Paralympic Games 2012.

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    Professor Stephen Hawking during the Opening Ceremony for the London Paralympic Games 2012 at the Olympic Stadium, London.

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    A general view of the Olympic Stadium during the Opening Ceremony for the London Paralympic Games 2012 at the Olympic Stadium, London.

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    An Aerobility flypast at the start of during the Opening Ceremony for the London Paralympic Games 2012 at the Olympic Stadium, London.

  • London Paralympic Games - Day 0

    A general view of performers during the Opening Ceremony for the London Paralympic Games 2012 at the Olympic Stadium, London.

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    (left-right) IOC President Jacques Rogge with his wife Anne, Queen Elizabeth II, The Earl and Countess of Wessex, Lord Sebastian Coe, Carole Annett, Prime Minister David Cameron, Samatha Cameron, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Princess Anne, Mayor of London Boris Johnson and his wife Marina Wheeler during the Opening Ceremony for the London Paralympic Games 2012 at the Olympic Stadium, London.

  • 2012 London Paralympics - Opening Ceremony

    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: Swimmer Daniela Schulte of Germany carries the flag during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics at the Olympic Stadium on August 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)

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    Artists perform during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in east London on August 29, 2012. AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/GettyImages)

  • 2012 London Paralympics - Opening Ceremony

    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: Wheelchair racer Zhang Lixin of China carries the flag during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics at the Olympic Stadium on August 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

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    Artists perform during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in east London on August 29, 2012. AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/GettyImages)

  • 2012 London Paralympics - Opening Ceremony

    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: Artists perform during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics at the Olympic Stadium on August 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

  • 2012 London Paralympics - Opening Ceremony

    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: Artists perform during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics at the Olympic Stadium on August 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

  • 2012 London Paralympics - Opening Ceremony

    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: A flypast is seen during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics at the Olympic Stadium on August 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

  • 2012 London Paralympics - Opening Ceremony

    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: Professor Stephen Hawking speaks during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics at the Olympic Stadium on August 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

  • 2012 London Paralympics - Opening Ceremony

    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: Artists perform during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics at the Olympic Stadium on August 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

  • 2012 London Paralympics - Opening Ceremony

    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: Artists perform during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics at the Olympic Stadium on August 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

  • 2012 London Paralympics - Opening Ceremony

    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: Servicemen and women from the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force raise the Union Flag during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics at the Olympic Stadium on August 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

  • 2012 London Paralympics - Opening Ceremony

    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: Miranda performs during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics at the Olympic Stadium on August 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

  • 2012 London Paralympics - Opening Ceremony

    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: Swimmer Daniel Dias of Brazil carries the flag during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics at the Olympic Stadium on August 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

  • 2012 London Paralympics - Opening Ceremony

    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: Wheelchair rugby player Greg Smith of Australia carries the flag during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics at the Olympic Stadium on August 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

  • 2012 London Paralympics - Opening Ceremony

    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: (EDITORS NOTE: THIS IMAGE WAS CREATED WITH A FISH EYE LENS) Fireworks light up above the stadium during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics at the Olympic Stadium on August 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

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    (L-R) Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Princess Anne, Princess Royal and London Mayor Boris Johnson attend the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in east London on August 29, 2012. AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/GettyImages)

  • 2012 London Paralympics - Opening Ceremony

    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: Artists perform during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics at the Olympic Stadium on August 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

  • 2012 London Paralympics - Opening Ceremony

    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: (L-R) Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex look on during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics at the Olympic Stadium on August 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

  • 2012 London Paralympics - Opening Ceremony

    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: Artists perform with umbrellas during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics at the Olympic Stadium on August 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

  • 2012 London Paralympics - Opening Ceremony

    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: Artists perform during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics at the Olympic Stadium on August 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

  • 2012 London Paralympics - Opening Ceremony

    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: Artists perform during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics at the Olympic Stadium on August 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

  • 2012 London Paralympics - Opening Ceremony

    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: A general view as fireworks light up the sky during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics at the Olympic Stadium on August 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

  • 2012 London Paralympics - Opening Ceremony

    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: A sphere descends into the stadium during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics at the Olympic Stadium on August 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

  • 2012 London Paralympics - Opening Ceremony

    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: Athlete Leo-Pekka Tahti of Finald carries the flag during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics at the Olympic Stadium on August 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

  • 2012 London Paralympics - Opening Ceremony

    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: Wheelchair rugby player Greg Smith of Australia carries the flag during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics at the Olympic Stadium on August 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

  • 2012 London Paralympics - Opening Ceremony

    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: Swimmer Daniel Dias of Brazil carries the flag during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics at the Olympic Stadium on August 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

  • 2012 London Paralympics - Opening Ceremony

    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: Swimmer Daniela Schulte of Germany carries the flag during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics at the Olympic Stadium on August 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

  • 2012 London Paralympics - Opening Ceremony

    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: Swimmer Daniela Schulte of Germany carries the flag during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics at the Olympic Stadium on August 29, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)

Prof Hawking and actor Sir Ian McKellen played prominent roles in the opening ceremony, which also featured a host of deaf and disabled artists, local children and performers newly-trained in circus skills.

They were being officially opened by the Queen, who said in a statement released in advance: "It is with tremendous pride that the people of London and the United Kingdom welcome the world to the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

"The Games are returning to the country where they first began, more than 60 years ago.

"We look forward to celebrating the uplifting spirit which distinguishes the Paralympic Games from other events, drawing on Britain's unique sporting heritage."

Prof Hawking 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.

"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."

Earlier, the Paralympic Flame was greeted by large crowds as it made its way past some of the most famous landmarks in the capital.

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Professor Stephen Hawking played a major part in the Paralympics opening ceremony

Five torchbearers arrived at the zebra crossing outside Abbey Road recording studios to recreate the pose made famous by The Beatles.

The torch also visited London Zoo, Regent Street, Trafalgar Square and Whitehall on its journey to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford.

Demand for tickets to the Games is still high and 10,000 will be put on sale each day during the event.

London 2012 chief executive Paul Deighton said: "We've tried to get as many people in as we reasonably can. This is a wonderful illustration of how the British public have said we love the Paralympics and want to be part of it."

Prime minister David Cameron said of the Games: "They will create new role models, they will change attitudes to disability and they will have a positive impact on society."

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "For many Brits, this will be the first time they have seen the Paralympic Games at all. It will be a very big moment to really change perceptions and that will be something to be proud of."

Paralympic athletes will compete for 503 gold medals across 20 sports during the London Games, with competitions starting on Thursday.

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