Published: 06:00, 19 July 2020
| Updated: 09:01, 19 July 2020
Eight years have passed since hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets of Kent as the Olympic torch made its way through the county.
Taking in Canterbury Cathedral, the Channel Tunnel and the Turner Contemporary, the flame passed through 37 towns and villages during a four-day relay.
Now, days before Tokyo 2020 was set to start, Joe Wright takes a look at the mini beacon's journey in Kent, which saw it spend longer in the county than any other.
But sadly not every area got its chance in the limelight and the torch's visit is riddled with tales of disappointment over nomination snubs, special guest no-shows and a lack of street bunting.
Yet, rising above little hiccups of discontent is the fact the spectacle proved a momentous day for Kent - and one which lives in the memory for thousands.
Each with an inspirational story of personal achievement or contribution to their community, the torchbearers carried the ever-lit beacon in stints - whether it be by running, jogging or walking.
Thousands of people lined the streets - getting their preferred spaces hours before the torch passed through - while hundreds of school children had time out from lessons to witness the great occasion.
Police hailed the four-day relay a success, apart from one arrest in Gravesend when a 17-year-old was apprehended for attempting to grab the torch.
After Tonbridge was snubbed by bosses for the official route, double Olympic gold medalist and Kent athlete Dame Kelly Holmes made a plea for the torch to come through the town.
The middle distance specialist helped persuade the organising committee Locog to hold a separate event at Tonbridge Castle, and she was able to bring the spirit of the Olympics to her local community.
Dame Kelly was joined by Frank Verge, who, in 1948, at the age of 22, ran with the Olympic torch from through Ightham.
In front of 1,400 school children from 13 schools, and a massive crowd, they both carried the Olympic flame from the Castle Gatehouse to a raised stage area in front of the Motte wall, where it was lit.
“The council really did pull out all the stops to organise this event and turn it around at very short notice," she said.
“I really wanted all the children to have their moment to shine and I’m so pleased that there were so many people here.”
Meanwhile, over in Canterbury, the Puerto Rican Olympic team was invited to see the flame carried through the Cathedral grounds by 18-year-old cancer survivor Thomas Clues.
More than 70,000 people packed the streets of Canterbury - adding another momentous day to the city's history.
Up in Medway, kidney transplant recipient Paul German carried the torch through Chatham - a moment he will never forget.
He said: “I’ve heard it so many times on the television but it really was the experience of a lifetime.
“I got there for 5.50am and my slot time was 8.23am which gave me a chance to get to know everyone.
“At that early in the morning you don’t expect that many people to be around but it was absolutely packed.”
Fellow relay runner, Garry Philpott, was the only person to have run with the torch in one hand and a pint in the other.
The then-42-year-old, from Salmon Crescent, Minster, ordered a free Spitfire just before he ran his leg in Faversham.
“I can’t believe that I had a beer delivered in one of the biggest security lockdowns ever in the middle of the torch relay,” he said.
“It was just completely and utterly mad. Everyone’s fear was that no one would be there. It was absolutely packed.”
But while thousands enjoyed the spectacle, pensioner William Booth used the flame's visit to Ashford as a chance to protest against Olympics organisers for not sending his £900 tickets through via post.
Mr Booth paid for two tickets for himself and his disabled partner to see the swimming legend Michael Phelps, but didn't get a delivery.
Despite numerous calls, a replacement was not sent so he stood out on the A2070 with an empty wheelchair and a sign which read: 'Where is my missing Olympic ticket?'
The retired chef said: “I was very disappointed and the customer service has let me down."
After his protest the Olympic delivery committee Locog said Mr Booth would have to collect his replacement ticket from the Olympic Stadium.
He did get to London to watch the swimming but endured more misery when his train journey home took more than two hours.
"I can’t believe that Kent is being left with an inferior service even though it is the Olympics," he said.
Shopkeepers in Maidstone's Union Street were also left angry after no street bunting was installed as part of the town's celebrations.
“It’s up all along Week Street, but what about us?” said trader Mandy Brooks, co-owner of Think Cake.
“No explanation has been given as to why we were not included,” she added.
Simon Burton, the disgruntled owner of Home Media, said: “When we next have a big event I just hope someone in the council will remember Union Street.”
Another tale of disappointment came in the form of the then-Mayor of Ramsgate, Cllr David Green, who was due to be a special guest at Cliffsend - yet failed to arrive.
Cllr Beryl Harrison said: “It was very disappointing because we’d set out a special place for him right where the torches were due to kiss along with other visitors such as Minster carnival court.
“It was all booked weeks ago but I can’t understand why he didn’t even leave a message to explain why he wasn’t coming. I’d like an apology because we feel very let down.”
Ramsgate town clerk Richard Styles said: “Unfortunately due to the road closures it was logistically impossible to get the mayor’s vehicle to the site so we decided at the last minute that we couldn’t do it. I’ll be writing to the parish council to apologise.”
The Olympic torch did, however, spend longer in Thanet than any other Kent district.
But some Birchington residents faced disappointment after waiting for the arrival of the flame, only for it not to turn up.
About 40 people had gathered at the bottom of Broadley Avenue after seeing signs for road closures earlier in the week, but the torch was transferred to a coach to be driven to Upstreet and Sturry for the Canterbury leg shortly before it reached the group.
Disappointed resident Rosalind Connolly said: “There were a lot of elderly people who had made a big effort to get themselves to the end of the road, including one woman who had been in an accident and was in plaster but we saw nothing except the side of the coach.
“It made me so mad because there were people selling flags who came down as far as us and lots of people bought them, but all we ended up seeing were coaches and empty buses.”
Marathon man Jack Denness couldn’t face watching the torch pass through his home town of Rochester after being rejected for a place in the relay.
The then-77-year-old school caretaker was inexplicably rejected by Games bosses despite raising more than £100,000 for charity and winning our Pride in Medway awards in 2011.
The Medway Messenger ran a long campaign to get Jack a place but organisers failed to relent.
Jack said he’d heard from people there that some were chanting his name and someone was holding a placard which said: “Where’s the Pride in Medway man?”
“I didn’t go down, I couldn’t face it," he said.
"It hurt a bit in the morning when people were coming back and saying about the chanting and placards.”
Someone who did get to play a part in the relay was courageous Alec Martin who braved the pain to make sure he completed his stint.
The then-14-year-old, who had battled cancer three times, put off surgery on his leg so he could carry the flame, and walked with the aid of a crutch in Sturry.
As the teenager walked along he felt pain shooting up his left leg and was forced to stop.
Alec tried to readjust himself, and one of the police officers accompanying him asked him if he wanted to stop.
But after battling through so much, there was no question of him stopping.
His proud mum Karen said: "Pain wasn’t going to stop him. It was a great day, it was great to see them out there enjoying it.”
Fellow torchbearer Deb Puxty, of Canterbury Street, Gillingham, struggled to put the experience into words.
“People keep going ‘how was it?’ and I stumble over my words. I just can’t tell you, it was amazing.”
Meanwhile, Ashford borough councillor Peter Davison expressed disappointment that more local runners weren’t chosen to take part in the relay.
Out of the 18 torchbearers who ran the Hamstreet, Ashford and Challock legs, only six were from the borough.
It was the same story elsewhere across the county, with dozens of people participating in towns miles away from their home.
Cllr Davison said: “As I understood it, I did think it would be local people choosing local people to be torchbearers in their area.
"I was personally happy that people who have done good in the community should be the people running. It’s a pity that all, if not the majority, were not local people.”
“The other thing was the majority of people watching didn’t know who the people running were going to be or why they had been chosen.”
Former whistling postman Dale Howting made his career's most special delivery when he carried the torch in Birchington.
The 78-year-old Sittingbourne resident was another of the many torchbearers who couldn't carry the flame in his home town. But the experience, for which he was beaming with pride throughout, was one the father-of-two will never forget.
“Even though it was for the Olympics, what I will cherish most is that I was doing it for my town, because the relay didn’t come here,” he said.
“It was for Sittingbourne, Sheppey and Faversham really but I want my torch to stay in Sittingbourne for good."
An occasion that brings people together in such great numbers and gives them something to cheer about can only be a good thing.
It is unlikely Kent – and the rest of the UK – will see the Olympic torch again in most of our lifetimes but we can certainly be content in the knowledge that the county made the most of it.
Speaking at the time, Sandra Matthews-Marsh, chief executive at Visit Kent, said: "We are delighted that so many of the county's iconic attractions will be showcased in the long route being taken by the torch through Kent.
"2012 is a marvellous opportunity for Kent and the torch procession will be a truly memorable occasion not only for local residents but for all the visitors who are planning to join us for our celebrations."
Assistant Chief Constable Andy Adams said security across the four days was meticulously planned.
"This policing operation has taken months of careful planning," he said.
“Our main priority was to keep people safe so they could enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime event.
“I am pleased that people have been able to enjoy the Olympic torch relay and the event has highlighted the pride that residents take in their neighbourhood.”
Olive Reynolds, from New Barn, was with her husband Derek watching the memorable parade.
She said: “We wanted to be here for the start in Gravesend and we’re going to be there for the finish today at Guildford. We’re going to a big party in the park afterwards.
“I think it’s exciting. It’s a chance to show you’re patriotic and proud of your country.”
Following the flame's visit to the Towns, leader of Medway Council Rodney Chambers said: “I’m very proud of the people of Medway who have come out and shown such great support for the Olympics.
“It’s a momentous day and something that will be in our memories for a very long time.”
The Olympic torch visited one of Gravesend’s most famous landmark’s – the gurdwara – in what was believed to be the first visit of its kind to a Sikh house of worship.
Hundreds gathered outside, with priests lining the Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara’s entrance.
Meanwhile, also in Gravesend, then-grandmother-of-11 Audrey Walker got out in the carnival atmosphere in Rochester Road.
Mrs Walker, who brought her knitting along while she waited, said: "There’s a real community spirit all along the road today.
“The last time it was here in 1948 was nothing like this. From what I remember it went to Meopham and then straight up the A2 to London.
"There was no television – the only way we knew about it was by looking at pictures in the paper or on the sport reels at the cinema.”
Given there was a 64-year wait last time around, let's hope Kent can welcome back the flame in not-too-distant decades.
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