HOMETOWN heroes joined sports stars past and present as the Olympic Torch continued its route through the North East watched by huge crowds.
Despite heavy rain at some points, large numbers of people turned out as the torch relay passed through Northumberland, North Tyneside, Newcastle and Gateshead, finishing with a spectacular zipwire from the Tyne Bridge by TV adventurer Bear Grylls.
Crowds estimated at around 25,000 on both sides of the Tyne erupted in cheers as the ex-SAS action man completed the 400m slide from the top of the bridge’s 195ft arch with fireworks.
He said afterwards: “I was kind of worried about the torch going out but it stayed alight. It was amazing. I was a bit nervous about rope and fire but it was fine and we are in one piece.”
He added: “I think you’re not human if you’re not nervous when you’re standing 200ft up and it’s blowing you around a little bit. It’s a long drop.
“They said the torch had been tested in a wind tunnel but you don’t really know. A wind tunnel’s one thing but the Tyne Bridge when it’s a bit blowy is a different thing. It’s still alight, we’re alive and I’m super proud to have carried the torch.
A note of farce had earlier entered proceedings when the torch had to be directed away from its intended route around the pitch at St James’ Park at the last minute because of concerns that advertising hoardings were still on display at the football stadium.
World Cup winner Jack Charlton was among those carrying the torch, openly crying as he carried the torch along Newcastle’s Percy Street, while young gymnast Louis Smith and table tennis player Darius Knight also carried the torch.