SINGAPORE, Aug 10 — Despite the sweltering heat, Betty Lee was brimming with excitement to resume her annual birthday tradition of celebrating her special day at the National Day Parade (NDP) with 26,000 other revellers.

Lee, who like Singapore turns 57 this year, has attended the parade every year since she was in her 20s, with friends finding a way to get her tickets every year.

While the administrative support staff has been to more than 30 parades, this year’s felt especially meaningful given that celebrations returned in full force to the Marina Bay Floating Platform.

This is the first time tickets have been open to the public for balloting since 2019, following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I think everybody will feel something in their hearts because this (the pandemic) is something that we’ve gone through together,” said Lee, who watched last year's parade on television with family members as spectators were limited to frontline workers and their families.

Lee’s sentiments were echoed by many of the attendees who packed the stands, coming in as early as 4pm when the gates opened.

This year’s National Day Parade themed Stronger Together, Majulah!, was largely-centred on the nation’s pandemic and the lessons learnt, with organisers describing it as a “rallying call” for Singaporeans to strive for a better future as the nation emerges from the pandemic.

The creative director of this year's show is actor Adrian Pang, who is also artistic director of local theatre company Pangdemonium.

For 76-year-old Thomas Ho, the packed parade gave him a sense of pride in seeing how far Singapore had come in its fight against Covid-19.

“Everyone is vaccinated and finally out all together to enjoy the parade. I’m so glad we got through this,” the retiree said.

“I attended NDP years ago, back when it was at the Padang... Then when Covid-19 struck, we could only watch from our homes. I’m so glad my family and I can attend,” said Ho, who was seated with his wife, son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren.

Even simple warm-up mass activities like “the wave” during the pre-parade segment, where spectators synchronise standing and sitting to create a wave-like motion across the arena, brought out big smiles from the audience.

Haziqah Auni, 18, student, who attended the parade with five family members, said she was overjoyed to attend her first National Day Parade.

“Because of the pandemic, our whole family couldn’t even celebrate together,” she said, referring to safe distancing measures which were in place over the last two years.

Once those in the stands were warmed up by hosts Joakim Gomez, Sonia Chew, Siti Khalijah and Rishi Budhrani, crowd favourites the Red Lions took centrestage garnering cheers that shook the floating platform, as they touched down one by one.

But cheers were replaced by gasps when 3rd Warrant Officer Jeffrey Heng — the last of 10 parachutists to land — had to be stretchered out after his landing.

Emcee Joakim Gomez reassured the audience that he is in stable condition and receiving medical attention.

He said: “Sir, if you are watching this right now, the entire nation, we, wish you a speedy recovery.”

After the arrival of Members of Parliament and the parade inspection by President Halimah Yacob, two F-16 fighter jets flying in close proximity as they did a vertical climb through the air — the first time such a manoeuvre has been showcased at a NDP — left many in the audience captivated.

Lee said that the F-16 fighter jets were the highlight of the show for her, especially after catching the blockbuster hit Top Gun 2 in the cinema recently.

When the show segment of the parade started, it was the hit Kpop song Boombayah by girl band Blackpink, which got the crowd singing along and cheering excitedly, with most of the cheers directed at a group of older female dancers.

“I saw the viral TikTok about the performances and was the most excited for it. They’re (the ‘aunty’ performers) so cute,” said Vivian Ong, who was attending the parade with her parents, brother and boyfriend.

Following the dance segment was a film called Connections written and directed by Singaporean filmmaker Ken Kwek, interwoven with live dancers.

The film featured Singaporeans from all walks of life and how they were interconnected through the impact of the pandemic in different ways, but were nonetheless, unified in their resolve to help one another tide through adversity.

Maggie Mar, 30, a nurse, said she resonated with the film and felt that it was what made this NDP particularly memorable for her.

She added that it was very heartwarming to watch the film because she felt that the work of nurses, like herself, was recognised. Others also found the film relatable and conveyed the struggles felt over the pandemic.

“The film and the whole performance really showcases the theme of resilience... it’s really the best NDP ever,” said 47-year-old civil servant Morgan Udaiyar, who attended the parade with his five children, wife and parents.

“My whole ‘kampung’ loved the show,” he said of his family. “My daughters were so excited and want to perform during the parade in the future... They wanted to run onto the stage and dance along.”

As the segment came to a close, former Singapore Idol Taufik Batisah performed a rendition of the theme song Stronger Together, which draws inspiration from the country's emergence from the pandemic.

Across the five acts during the performance, 2,000 volunteers from various schools and organisations performed acts they had practiced religiously during the past months.

When the lights went down during the third act and 35-year-old performer and account manager Abdul Halim Rashid held onto his last pose, a rush of emotions filled him — despite this being his 14th time performing.

“There’s a moment of elation when you see the crowds fill the (Marina Bay Floating Platform) compared to the past two years... finally hearing the audience waving and dancing along was amazing,” said Abdul, who was dressed in a traditional Malay outfit.

As for 25-year-old auditor Kek Tzee Yee, a performer with the Buddhist association Soka Gakkai Singapore, her ending pose with her hands up felt like a victory for her and her team.

“Months of hard work, training twice a week nearing the performance work, all paid off when we made that ending pose... it was a huge victory for us to perform for our country,” she said.

With redevelopment works on the Marina Bay floating platform slated to start in March 2023 to turn the site into the NS square, a bittersweet atmosphere filled the platform as the last parade to be held there came to a close.

As the final chapter of the show drew to its end at around 8.40pm, a grand display of fireworks lit up the sky, drawing collective “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd.

Five-year-old Armand Izwandy, who attended the parade with his mother, could not contain his excitement as the fireworks went off and stood up to dance. “I hope Singapore has more fireworks and we can see even more next year,” he said.

Following the fireworks display, the crowd sang a rousing rendition of the national anthem.

Many among the capacity crowd were visibly moved, with the cameras capturing what Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong called “one of the iconic images” of this year's National Day Parade — that of a spectator in tears, with the image subsequently going viral online and spawning numerous memes after the parade.

Writing on Facebook, DPM Wong said: “It has been a challenging (two plus) years — and for many of us, an emotional one... It's through looking out for one another, even in our vulnerable moments, that we demonstrate our solidarity and Singapore spirit!” ― TODAY