By Alan Baldwin
CULDROSE, England (Reuters) - The flame for the London Olympics burned brightly on British soil on Friday after David Beckham stepped off a special flight from the Games birthplace of Greece to light a cauldron with a golden torch.
The British Airways 'Firefly' Flight 2012 from Athens landed on time at the Culdrose naval air station with Britain's Princess Anne, Games chairman Seb Coe and the former England soccer captain among the delegation.
The flame will start a 70-day torch relay around Britain on Saturday, with triple Olympic gold medalist sailor Ben Ainslie carrying it on the first leg from Land's End on the south-west tip of England.
The Games start on July 27.
London mayor Boris Johnson, his mane of unruly blond hair trimmed for the occasion, declared the moment to be "a big accelerator of the heartbeat".
"We've got 70 days to go," he told reporters before heading back to London on the golden-liveried plane.
"For someone in my position this is the final furlong for us and that's when the horses start to change places and so this is going to make the difference now between a good Games and a great Games."
British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg welcomed the Olympic torch on behalf of the British government on a clear evening in marked contrast to the torrential rain left behind in Athens.
"It is a fantastic moment for us, particularly at a time when there is so much anxiety and concern about the economy and other things, to be uplifted by this whole experience and to be able to showcase ourselves to the world as an open-hearted, generous, dynamic, positive country," he told the BBC.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for the country as a whole."
The arrival of the flame, with Princess Anne carrying it in a special lantern down the steps from the plane, was covered live on Britain's main BBC station with the plane circling overhead before landing to fit in with the schedules.
"It's only when the torch comes into your possession that you realize," the Princess said as she handed the lantern to one of the special security team who will guard it.
Beckham soon lit the Olympic torch and ignited a cauldron with the flame, which was then due to be transferred to Lands End for Saturday's relay start.
Johnson said the manner of the flame's arrival bodes well.
"The plane landed bang on time, in fact it was early," he declared enthusiastically.
"We circled over Cornwall like a custard-colored comet and that is a metaphor in my view for everything that has happened so far in the London Olympics. It's been either on time or ahead of time and it's under budget."
On Thursday, the flame had been handed over at a damp ceremony in the Athens marble stadium that hosted the first modern Games in 1896.
The flame, lit from the sun's rays at the home of the ancient Games in Olympia a week ago, was presented under grey and rainy skies to former Olympian Princess Anne by the president of the Hellenic Olympic Committee Spyros Capralos.
Coe, who will head off to Munich on Saturday to watch his beloved Chelsea play Bayern Munich in the Champions League final, was confident the torch relay would light the fire for anyone still ambivalent about the Games.
"It does have a big impact," he said.
"I saw the test event the other day with a cardboard torch going from Leicester to Peterborough and they (the spectators) were three and four deep on the pavement, in the little villages.
"And every week I get letters from people who are talking about the things they are doing to mark the fact the torch is coming through. There's an emotional connect with this that I'm not sure all torch relays have got."
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, additional reporting by Tim Castle; editing by Mark Meadows)