The Olympic flame arrived on British soil on 18 May 2012. The following day the torch started its 8,000-mile (12,900-kilometer) journey across the country from Land’s End in Cornwall. Over the next two months I watched some of the coverage on TV, saw pictures from some of the best known locations it passed and picked up the names of some of the celebrity torchbearers on the news, but all of it felt quite unreal. The flame arrived in London on 20 July and toured all London boroughs during the last week before the start of the Games. On Thursday 26 July, the second-last day of the relay, the torch finally came to a place near me. All day I saw friends post their pictures from the relay route as it passed through familiar areas of West London.
It was my second day as a Games Maker based at the Hilton hotel on Park Lane. I left the hotel around 3.30pm and made my way through sunny Hyde Park to Bayswater Road. I was hoping that it would be a bit quieter there than later in the afternoon when the torch was due to pass through Oxford Street, Regent Street, Charing Cross Road, Whitehall and Buckingham Palace on its way to the evening celebrations at the BT London Live site in Hyde Park. When I got to Bayswater Road, there were no signs of road closures and only the presence of a few police officers indicated that something was about to happen. I approached one of them and was told that only half the road would be closed for a short while as part of a rolling road closure. I crossed the road but then decided to try my luck on a traffic island in the middle of the road to get better pictures.
People were slowly gathering by the side of the road when a red Coca Cola bus went past to announce that the Olympic flame was coming. However, we had another 20 minutes to wait and traffic was still running normally. This only changed around five minutes before the arrival of the torch. I realised that I stood just past a torch handover point but decided not to get closer to it as I expected it to get particularly busy there. Children and friends of the torchbearer were dressed in green shirts which said either ‘Run Martin Run’ or ‘Run Daddy Run’. I didn’t know who I would see carrying the torch as I hadn’t tried to get the full list of torchbearers for the day. From the list on the London 2012 website I later worked out that it was someone called Martin Hughes.
The first sign of the rolling road closure was the arrival of some police officers on motorbikes who closed down the side roads. I was rather pleased that they didn’t mind us standing on the traffic island. A man in a red suit cycled past us on a nicely decorated bike, followed by a police car, a golden BMW, a bus with relay security staff, some large vehicles from the main sponsor companies and some guys on BMX bikes and unicycles. By this point traffic on the other side of the road had come to a standstill and the street was now lined with people, although it was nowhere near as crowded as in some other areas on that day. Unfortunately we didn’t see the actual ‘torch kiss’ because of a bus displaying the relay motto ‘Moment to shine’, but once that started moving again we saw the flame. Martin looked very proud with the torch raised above his head as the crowd cheered him on. Seeing the flame made me feel quite emotional. This was the moment when I finally believed that London was ready for the Games.
Moments later the crowd dispersed, the street reopened and around 100 cyclists who had been held up behind the relay vehicles were led past us by policemen on bicycles. Ten minutes later all that was left from the spectacle were some of the freebies handed out by the sponsor vehicles lying on the pavements. But the torch relay had done to me what it had done to millions of others lining its route over the the last 69 days: it left me with an immense feeling of excitement ahead of a very special time in my life.
I later found out from the rolling coverage on the BBC website that I had missed the Crown Prince of Denmark carrying the torch at Notting Hill Gate by about half an hour and that soon after I had seen it, the torch went through a very crowded Oxford Street on top of a London Routemaster bus.