LONDON (Reuters) - Office workers paused on their way to their desks to watch the Olympic flame weave its way through central London on Thursday before it moved on to some of the city’s most famous landmarks.
Confounding initial cynicism, more than 10 million people have turned out to watch the flame during its 70-day tour of the country, eliciting national pride and a sense of occasion.
As the flame arrived at the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral on a sunny morning, workmen and office workers hung out of windows to catch a glimpse of the flame.
An entourage of cheerleaders and blaring music atop the lurid-colored sponsors’ buses heralded its arrival.
A video of soccer player David Beckham looked down from the side of one of the buses.
“It’s amazing - look, people are hanging out of the windows to watch,” said Ulla Davis, a 61-year-old sales assistant.
“The country has always been enthusiastic: it’s just the newspapers that haven‘t.”
Organizers have used some of the country’s most famous landmarks as a backdrop to the torch relay in the hope of luring visitors to Britain.
It has scaled some of the nation’s highest peaks, been carried by royalty on horseback and abseiled into the grounds of the Tower of London in the hands of a Royal Marine Commando.
Christopher Wren’s 300-year-old cathedral, which late last year inadvertently became a focus of anti-capitalists who had pitched dozens of tents on its doorstep, was now full of hundreds of city workers.
Lawyer Jonathan Arr, 29, had brought his young family to soak up the “party atmosphere”.
“It’s nice to do something as a family and as a city,” he said.
“London looks fantastic at the moment. When the weather is like this, it is stunning. Happy to live here, and proud.”
Christina, 54, who works in the financial district, said: “It’s exciting. It’s the closest the workplace can come to the Olympics.”
She said it brought “pride and unity” to the city, something it desperately needed as Britain sank further into recession this week, and the financial district, the City, remained embroiled in various banking scandals.
“It’s a booster, and we can do with that in the City.”
The torch later visited the Globe, the theatrical base for Britain’s most famous playwright William Shakespeare.
It was then due to travel to Downing Street, the official residence of the prime minister, and Buckingham Palace, the central London home of Britain’s monarch.
Prince William, second-in-line to the throne, his wife Catherine, and younger brother Prince Harry, will give it the royal seal of approval.
“It is showing off the best of the city,” Christina added. “It will encourage people to come and visit.”
The flame has been carried by about 8,000 people since it began its journey on May 19 at Land’s End, the most southwesterly point of mainland England.
Torchbearers have included celebrities, athletes and people chosen for their good works.
The flame will officially launch the Games when it lights the Olympic cauldron on Friday evening.
But the hiccups that have marred some of the preparations for the Games have not been completely forgotten.
Qiang Wu, a Chinese translator who has lived in Britain for the past 14 years, said: “You would have thought everything would have been done and dusted by now.”
But for others, nothing could spoil the moment.
“Even the weather came to the party,” Michele Cox, 43, a football director from New Zealand, said.
Reporting by Avril Ormsby, editing by Justin Palmer