Owen Gibson, Olympics editor 

Olympic organisers aim to provide entertainment for all at Festival 2012

Music and comedy festival – the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad – caters for those not interested in track or field, unless the field features a stage filled with entertainers
  
  

For all that London's Olympic preparations have been going comparatively well compared with other recent Games – no mass resignations (Sydney), no half-built stadiums (Athens), no human rights controversies (Beijing) – large sections of the population remain unmoved by the prospect.

All the most recent surveys show a roughly 50/50 split between those excited by the looming advent of the biggest sporting event ever to hit these shores and those who couldn't care less or – worse – are actively opposed.

Waking to another day of pouring rain and news of a double-dip recession, perhaps that's not surprising.

So while the stage is built, organisers recognise they need to engage and enthuse those who they hope will generate the atmosphere that will mark these Games out as truly memorable.

They have long acknowledged they can't compete with Beijing for scale and instead hope to follow Sydney's example of good humour and good cheer.

They hope that the torch relay will help with that task but, while it will push buttons for some with its feelgood local community stories, others will feel it too stage-managed and sponsor heavy.

Festival 2012, which was launched officially on Thursday, is their other major weapon, bridging the diamond jubilee celebrations and the Olympics and – they hope – reaching parts of the population who couldn't care less about the badminton preliminaries or even whether cyclist Sir Chris Hoy is selected for the sprint.

It was the brainchild of Cultural Olympiad chair Tony Hall and director Ruth Mackenzie after they were brought on board to rescue a project that had become consumed in esoteric luvvie-ness.

Unashamedly populist in parts while also pressing all the relevant cultural buttons and aiming to surprise, the hope is that it will reinforce the point that this is – to use the marketing tagline – "a summer like no other".

It features 25,000 performers in more than 12,000 events – a pretty broad church – and hopes to reach a huge audience.

From Jay-Z and Rihanna at a Radio 1 festival in Hackney to Busk on the Usk – a new free live music and literature festival in Newport, Gwent – the aim is to cover all bases.

Free events such as the Radio 1 festival and the BT River of Music, 160,000 tickets across six Thames-side locations, will be key – even if the lineup so far announced for the latter appears a little underwhelming.

Existing cultural highlights – such as the Proms – will also be corralled into the programme.

The hope is that the events will also introduce a new, refreshing strand of cheerleaders for the Olympic project – perhaps those who were always more inclined towards Steve Ovett than Seb Coe.

It was notable, for example, that Danny Boyle's enthusiastic plans for his Tempest-themed opening ceremony engaged sections of the population as yet unmoved by the Olympics when they were revealed earlier this year.

The large-scale music and comedy festival will also allow laughter to infuse an Olympics project that – quite naturally, given its focus on large scale infrastructure projects and the minutiae of ticket sales and logistics – hasn't oozed warmth so far.

It may even allow some of those taking part to poke fun at the elements present when hosting an Olympics – the corporate straitjacket placed over the host city, the motivation of some sponsors, the security demands, the invasion of VIPs.

Engaging the capital and the nation beyond those who have purchased one of the 8.8m tickets is one of the biggest challengers facing organisers and here too they hope the festival can help.

They have cannily figured that in an era where comedians sell out arenas, summer music festivals have become an annual pilgrimage for millions and arts festivals from Edinburgh to Manchester to Meltdown draw big crowds, the festival could do them the huge service of being the ultimate warm-up act for the Games.