Like a slow fuse burning, the excitement around the 2012 Olympic Games is building in the West Country. Now that the sun's rays have ignited the Olympic flame in the ancient ceremony in Greece at Olympia, birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games, anticipation has increased still further.
In just a few days' time, we will all have an opportunity to be part of a "once-in-a-lifetime" experience when the flame is borne proudly through villages and towns in South West England. It is a time when the eyes of the world will be on us because the Olympic flame will start its epic journey across the UK from Land's End on May 19 – arriving in London for the ceremonial start of the Games of the XXX Olympiad on July 27.
As many will know the first torchbearer will be three-times Olympic Gold medallist Ben Ainslie CBE. It is particularly fitting that Ben should start the 70-day Relay – at the Land's End Landmark signpost at 7.08am – because he grew up in Cornwall. Ben won Gold medals in sailing at the Beijing, Athens and Sydney Olympic Games. He will then pass the flame to 18-year-old Anastassia Swallow and with that, the Torch Relay will be in its stride.
I hope very much that as many as possible will join me in getting into the spirit of this momentous occasion; to line the routes, cheer on the torchbearers and attend the overnight celebrations.
The Olympic Torch Relay will be the culmination of months of hard work and detailed planning by the London 2012 Organising Committee for the Games. Working with Team South West, the partnership of organisations supporting the London 2012 Games in the region. They consulted with representatives from each county to help plan a route which would bring the Olympic flame to within ten miles of 95 per cent of the population. Inevitably some communities will be disappointed that the relay is not visiting them and I hope that their populations can support neighbouring towns and villages in the true Olympic spirit.
With the route now fixed it is to the great credit of our local authorities and the many local organisations who have, at a time of unprecedented pressure on budgets, responded magnificently to the challenge of ensuring that we get the most benefit and enjoyment out of such an amazing event. There will be disappointment too for those potential torch bearers nominated but not eventually selected to carry the flame but they and their friends and families should be proud of the recognition that led to their nomination. Those of us who were involved in the selection of some of the torch bearers will know of the fantastic stories of courage, achievement, dedication, generosity and motivation that led to their selection. They will be worthy ambassadors embodying the Olympic spirit.
Cynicism is a feature of modern life and there will be those perhaps not interested in sport who will question the benefits of London 2012 particularly down here in the West Country. To them I say that we have demonstrated in Weymouth and Portland that we had the first Games venue up and running (at the Sailing Academy) where many international visitors will be introduced to the possibilities and opportunities of doing business in or taking holidays in our wonderful environment in the West. It is perhaps the Torch Relay, however, that will really focus the eyes of the world on the delights, landscape and character of the West Country. We all know how wonderful this part of England is, but some people don't. What better opportunity could there be to tell them as a posse of media are focused on us as the relay begins? We won't need to say anything; they will see for themselves – especially as iconic landmarks along the route, such as St Michael's Mount and the Tamar Bridge, have been chosen as a focus for photo opportunities for the world's TV crews and photographers.
As for those of us who live here, not only do we have the thrill of actually seeing the Olympic flame in our midst, there are all sorts of exciting plans across the region to make the most of this unique occasion – from street parties to cream teas, and from exhibitions, music and dance to sporting activities
At the end of each day, the Olympic flame will be welcomed to its overnight destination with a major programme of entertainment – a free event with national acts and locally programmed content. One of the highlights of each evening event will be the arrival of the Olympic flame and the lighting of a symbolic cauldron. So plan your evening now, get into the mood and I look forward to seeing you there!