18 May 2004 | London on the Shortlist for the 2012 Olympics: The London Eye

Today at the London Eye big wheel on the river Thames there is a party to thank those who have supported London's Bid to host the 2012 Games here. Ian McKellen was invited to give speech of welcome:

Who here was born in London? Which means the majority here are visiting today or like me have chosen to live in the greatest city in the world. London has always welcomed outsiders, foreigners, immigrants, country-bumpkins — whatever we call ourselves. And temporary visitors too.

200 years ago a poet visiting from up north stood over there on Westminster Bridge and wrote his sonnet in praise of London:

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear

The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky,
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

Not any more it isn't! These days London's heart beats noisily and pounds with the throb of dealing in the nation's business, its politics, culture, arts and more. And today all our hearts must be thumping with joy and relief that London is definitely on the shortlist, has been awarded the Rings and is en route to host the Olympic games once more — after 64 years. About time too!

In 1948 I watched the UK Olympics at home on television - the first Games ever to be televised. In 2012, the image of the host city will speed round the world faster than Denise Lewis even, so that in a sense everybody wherever they care about sport and excellence can join in the excitement. In UK of course we would be particularly involved — most of all in London if we win the bid. So in congratulating the team of professionals and volunteers and advisors who have succeeded so far, it's a good time to imagine what might be. How London will swell not just with pride but literally grow, reviving east London, providing lasting sports facilities — such things that ought to be done anyway but mightn't happen unless the Games end up coming here.

It's more than just hoping, it's about feeling good about London and what it already offers all its residents and visitors. The Olympics and Paralympics would encourage us not to wallow in past glories but to live in the present as the torch is lit, as the starting gun cracks or as the flags are raised and to imagine the future - not dream about it but actually build it. Who better than to ask us to toast London than the Mayor of London Ken Livingstone?

"Upon Westminster Bridge" written by
William Wordsworth, 3 September 1802

Ian McKellen, 2004

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