Olympic torch in Leeds: Carnival mood as Harehills unites to party

OLYMPIC POSE: Sebastian Wilson Dyer.

OLYMPIC POSE: Sebastian Wilson Dyer.

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IT’s one of Leeds’s most vibrant, multicultural areas, and on Sunday (June 24) it proved itself a beacon of Britishness.

Thousands flocked to Harehills and Richmond Hill as the Olympic torch wound its way through inner city Leeds to its overnight resting place at Temple Newsam Park.

There was a carnival atmosphere as the crowds started building well before the torch’s arrival at around 6.30pm.

Families came out of their houses, businesses displayed all the red, white and blue wares they could find, and Union and St George flags adorned everything human, animal and otherwise.

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Hearts swelled with pride and solidarity, in an area rocked by riots a decade ago that has been rebuilding itself ever since.

Lynne Mitchell, who was there with son Joshua Wheeldon, nine, said: “It’s been absolutely fabulous, especially for Harehills Lane.

“I lived here 10 years ago when things were different.

“Our community really pulled together today and it was great to see.”

Makela Kasongo came along with several family and friends, including daughters Lilian, 6 and Kristina, five.

The group have origins in Malawi, the Congo and the Philippines, with a little bit of Czech thrown in.

But they said the torch’s fleeting appearance, and the community spirit it inspired, made them proud to be British.

“It was just here for a couple of minutes but it was very exciting,” he said.

“The children have been excited all day. Events like this really bring people together in a peaceful way. It’s like a carnival atmosphere and it makes you proud.

“I wore my red and white tie especially, and now I’m off to watch the England match!”.

Among the torchbearers was Aidan Dixon, 19, who was selected as one of the lucky Leeds 55 after turning around a troubled background.

“It was fantastic, the best moment of my life,” he said.

“I didn’t expect that many people. They were cheering at every point. It was manic but brilliant.”

Aidan ended his evening at East Leeds Cricket Club, where he received a rapturous welcome.

Army veteran Simon Buckton capped his torch moment by proposing to his girlfriend.

And marathon runner Phil Marshall, whose relay leg was in East End Park, said: “It was just unbelievable. The story and ethos of the torch is about passion and community anyway It’s a great way for everyone to come together.

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