The Olympic Flame visited London - the 23rd city to greet it on its great journey across five continents - on Saturday, 26 June 2004, for the first time since 1948.
The rain did not prevent thousands of Londoners and visitors to the city from patiently waiting alongside the Olympic Flame's route to cheer the 140 Torchbearers, who included celebrities from the worlds of sports, art and business, as well as ordinary folks, such as 93-year-old Fauja Singh, who runs marathon races for charitable causes, actor Sir Ian MCKELLEN, known from his many years in theatre and cinema, Sebastian COE, Heather MILLS-MCCARTNEY, Matthew PINSENT, Kriss AKABUSI, and Sir Richard BRANSON. They ran for roughly 48 kilometres across eleven municipal districts of Great Britain's capital. London has hosted the Olympic Games of 1908 and 1948.
ATHENS 2004 representative George BOLOS delivered the Flame at Heathrow Airport to Sylvia DISLEY, who had participated in the 1948 London Games. The welcome ceremony was held in the royal lounge at Heathrow Airport, ordinarily used to greet heads of state. This show the importance the British have given the Flame's visit to their country.
London Mayor Ken LIVINGSTON said: "The Flame's arrival is a great honour for the Torchbearers, for London, and for Great Britain. London is a city where the world comes together. Nearly every nation that will be participating in the Athens Games is represented by a community that will be cheering the athletes in August".
The Torch Relay began from Wimbledon. British track legend, Sir Roger Bannister, the first man to break the four-minute mile barrier, handed the ATHENS 2004 Flame to current champion Tim Henman, cheered by 9,000 spectators.
Jonathan EDWARDS, the great triple-jumper, then brought the Flame to the seat of the British Olympic Committee. In cooperation with ATHENS 2004, municipal authorities prepared a series of events to celebrate the Olympic Torch Relay. Notable among participants were more than 100 schools whose students painted banners around the theme of the Flame's reception. The students' works decorated the Torch Relay route.
The Olympic Flame passed significant monuments and characteristic sites of the British metropolis, such as Wimbledon, Buckingham, Hyde Park, Big Ben, Chinatown, Oxford Street, Greenwich, Piccadilly Circus, Victoria & Albert Museum, Soho, Brixton, Trafalgar Square, the Mall, London Bridge, Saint Paul's Cathedral, and the Cutty Sark, the famous 19th century tall ship that now serves as a museum. Other than Torchbearers, traditional London transport means were also used to carry the Flame, such as a black London cab, a red double-decker bus and a rowboat that ferried the Flame across the Thames.
The ceremonies peaked with the Flame's arrival to the Mall, where the Altar was lit by Britain's greatest Olympic medallist, Sir Steve Redgrave, who had won five gold medals in Olympic Games in the sport of rowing. In an address during the ceremony, Princess Anne said: "As the Flame continues on its journey to Greece we wish the best to the Athens Olympic Games".
As the Altar was being lit, the Red Arrows, the RAF's acrobatic wing, performed complex maneuvers overhead. According to estimates released by local authorities, more than 80,000 people were gathered at the scene, where a concert was given with such well-known musicians as Rod Stewart and the legendary James Brown.
The Flame visited Madrid and Barcelona on Sunday, 27 June and Rome on Monday, 28 June.