Olympic Flame arrives in Britain as Princess Royal and Beckham greeted by cheering crowds
Friday, 18 May 2012
May 18 - The Olympic Flame, the most potent symbol of the modern Games, finally arrived on British shores this evening in the most significant milestone to date for London 2012.
Under gray but dry skies and amidst tight security, the gold-coloured British Airways flight carrying the Flame from Athens touched down bang on time to be greeted by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg here near Helston on Cornwall's Lizard Peninsula.
As the bright lights of the plane, assigned the number BA2012 specially for the occasion and emblazoned with the slogan "Our Moment to Shine", came into land between low clouds at one of Europe's largest helicopter search and rescue bases, about 500 handpicked guests, who had been given plenty of time to rehearse waving their yellow and white torch-shaped flags, raised their eyes skywards and burst into applause.
They were joined in the cheering by hundreds of other wellwishers squeezed against a high barbed wire fence 100 yards away.
Following the plane's brief taxi along the runway, the high-profile delegation on board – including British Olympic Association (BOA) President The Princess Royal, 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe, London Mayor Boris Johnson, Sport and Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson and England football icon David Beckham - disembarked for the eagerly awaited arrival ceremony amid a phalanx of cameramen, television crews and reporters.
The sense of pride and emotion was almost tangible as, seven years after London clinched victory over Paris to host the Games for the first time since 1948, the Flame – formally handed over in Athens last night and assigned its own seat on the plane encased in a lantern – was brought off by The Princess Royal before igniting a torch which in turn was given to Beckham to light a ceremonial cauldron.
"It's an extraordinary moment that has been 10 years in the making," Coe told the assembled gathering.
"The arrival of the Olympic Flame on home soil is a magical moment for any host country.
"It will connect millions of people around the UK to the Games in a unique wa. It's now a 70-day countdown."
The Princess Royal echoed such sentiments before going on a brief meeting and greeting walkabout.
"It's only really when the Torch comes into your possession and actually gets here that you really realise, this is it," she said.
Beckham, who grew up in the East End of London, was as ever every inch the diplomatic sporting ambassador just as he had been in Greece.
"It's been an incredible week to have been in Athens and now to bring the flame home," he said.
"I'm proud to be part of this – whether I end up playing [for Team GB] or not."
After spending the night at Culdrose, the flame will be flown 23 miles by Sea King naval helicopter to nearby Land's End – a 15-minute journey to the most westerly tip of the English mainland – ready for the start of the official Torch Relay early tomorrow morning which, it is hoped, will capture the essence of the Olympic spirit and galvanise an entire nation.
The 70-day relay will involve 8,000 torchbearers of all ages and walks of life, some of whom have still not been named, covering 5,000 miles either by foot or in convoy.
It will be started by triple Olympic sailing gold medalist Ben Ainslie, who grew up in Cornwall, just after 7am from the world-famous signpost at Land's End, an iconic venue visited by generations of tourists.
After 300 metres, Ainslie will hand over to 18-year Tassie Swallow, a local surfing champion, before the torch continues on its marathon journey, culminating in being carried into the Olympic Stadium in London on July 27 for the landmark Opening Ceremony.
May 2012: I hope it lights, jokes Beckham as Olympic Flame Lighting nerves get to him
May 2012: Anticipation grows as Britain prepares for arrival of Olympic Flame
May 2012: Philip Barker - Even British-style weather fails to dampen Athens handover of Olympic Flame
May 2012: Olympic Flame passes to British hands
May 2012: "Posh" and Becks to attend Olympic Flame ceremony in Athens