British grand prix driver Lewis Hamilton brought the Love Luton 2012 Festival to a thrilling climax on Monday morning (9 July) by carrying the Olympic Torch through the town centre.
Thousands of spectators lined the streets to watch the former Formula One world champion light the Olympic Flame at the beginning of the 52nd day of its 8,000-mile journey across Britain, and carry the Torch for 300m from St George’s Square into George Street.
Afterwards Hamilton spent more than 45 minutes meeting fans and signing autographs in St George’s Square.
Monday’s Olympic Torch Relay leg from Luton to Dunstable concluded the Love Luton 2012 Festival which comprised Luton Carnival and Mela, the Big Dance, Bedfordshire School Games, outstanding headline sets from The Wanted and Olly Murs plus literally hundreds of free artistic performances and displays showcasing national, international, local and emerging talent across ten stages in Wardown Park and the town centre.
On Sunday the streets were packed as the Olympic Torch was carried through Luton from Stockwood Park to Popes Meadow for an Olympic Flame evening celebration attended by more than 12,000 people.
Early estimates from Luton Borough Council indicate that more than 75,000 people attended the festival from 6-9 July.
Council Leader Cllr Hazel Simmons said: “We promised the most spectacular event in Luton’s history and that is exactly what we delivered.
“While the weather could have been kinder at times it never threatened to put any kind of dampener on proceedings.
“Luton has just enjoyed the best party it has ever had, the community has really come together to back the festival, and together we have put Luton on the map for all the right reasons.”
Cllr Simmons thanked the festival’s sponsors: Levi Roots, the University of Bedfordshire, Heart FM, Motorbodies, Walls Whippy, The Mall, Noble Solicitors, Catalyst Housing and Unison.
For making the festival possible in the first place she acknowledged the support and vision of the Love Luton campaign sponsors: easyJet, Vauxhall, Arriva, the University of Bedfordshire, Barnfield, Wates Construction, Volker Highways, BP, British Land, The Mall, Luton Hoo, Signature Flight Support, London Luton Airport.
The Leader also paid tribute to the dozens of artistic and community groups who worked tirelessly to put the programme together, while behind the scenes an army of more than 130 unpaid volunteers provided a safe and friendly welcome to visitors, and a wealth of unsung heroes helped create the stunning spectacle.
Cllr Simmons said: “The contribution from Luton’s artistic and cultural groups has again proved beyond doubt that our town’s diversity is alive and thriving and a force for good. The wealth of local talent put forward this weekend has been absolutely overwhelming.
“We are enormously grateful to everyone in the community who made this festival happen. The joy on people’s faces throughout the weekend made it worthwhile.
“We hope that the experience many people gained will not only help in their future lives and careers but also benefit our vital voluntary sector going forward.
“The commitment from a range of Council staff has also been phenomenal.”
Watch a clip of Lewis carrying the torch
Some photos of today's torch celebration