The extravagant Paralympic opening ceremony scored one of the biggest audiences in Channel 4’s 30-year history.

Paralympic Opening Ceremony (C4) 8pm-12.20am
7.56m (38.93%) / 116k (0.8%) +1

The extraordinary momentum of the Olympics lit up C4’s ratings as its coverage, anchored by Jon Snow, got underway at 8pm with an audience of 7.11m (33.69%), according to overnight Barb figures supplied by Attentional.

The broadcaster’s half an hour of build-up and analysis averaged 7.8m (35.69%) up to 8.30pm, when the main event got underway at the Olympic Stadium.

At that point, C4’s audience had reached 10.11m (43.15%) before climbing to its eventual five-minute peak of 10.89m at 8.45pm. This represented nearly half of the available viewing population at the time (44.68%).

The high point coincided with the entrance of the Queen, who became the first ever head of state to open a Paralympics, and the performance of the national anthem.

It was by some margin C4’s biggest audience in more than 10 years, beating recent instalments of Big Fat Gypsy Weddings - one of which peaked with 8.14m (31.38%) in February last year - and an episode of Celebrity Big Brother. This drew a high of 8.79m (43.16%) on 19 January 2007.

Given this context, it is likely to be among the highest rating events in C4’s history, even though it was unable to unseat the channel’s top rated show - 1985 drama Woman of Substance, which attracted 13.9m viewers.

The Paralympic ratings tailed back below 10m viewers after 9pm when the athletes began to enter the stadium under the watchful eye of Krishnan Guru-Murthy, who commentated on the proceedings.

Overall, C4’s total coverage of the Stephen Daldry-directed curtain raiser averaged more than 7.5m, meaning it far surpassed the opener in Beijing.

BBC1’s coverage of that event on 6 September 2008 averaged 2.15m (21.69%) viewers and peaked with 2.93m (27.39%), although it was broadcast much earlier in the day.

The 2012 opening ceremony also obliterated C4’s slot average of 1.32m (7.5%) for the past 12 months.

“Last night’s opening ceremony was a spectacular start to the London 2012 Paralympic Games and I’m delighted that so many viewers enjoyed it with us,” said Jay Hunt, C4’s chief creative officer.

Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC1) 9pm-10pm
3.57m (15.6%)

As a result of C4’s complete dominance on Wednesday night, BBC1’s celebrity family history show slipped to one of its lowest audiences on record.

Celebrity Big Brother (C5) 9pm-10pm
1.8m (7.4%) / 155k (0.79%) +1

Page three model Rhian Sugden’s exit from the Big Brother house helped Channel 5 to third place in the 9pm battle.

Vexed (BBC2) 9pm-10pm
865k (3.54%) / 50k (0.2%) HD

The drama sunk to its second lowest audience of the series, but it still beat ITV1.

Britain Then and Now (ITV1) 9pm-10pm
600k (2.5%) / 51k (0.26%) +1

The Olympic pain continued for ITV1 as its doc recreating a street party for the Queen’s coronation woefully underperformed.

It was one of the channel’s lowest ever audiences between 9-10pm and was around 4m viewers under ITV1’s slot average of 4.46m (18.4%) for the past 12 months.