F1 star puts Olympic Flame in pole position

Day 52 of the London 2012 Torch Relay was given a speedy start on Monday when Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton carried the Olympic Flame through Luton.

Former world champion Hamilton arrived after finishing eighth in the British Grand Prix on Sunday and was delighted with the reaction of the crowd as he set off from Luton’s St George’s Square.

"I've had such a great reception, they made it even more enjoyable,” said the 27-year-old. "I am so incredibly honoured to have the opportunity to do this, not many people get to do this.”

After making its way around Luton, the Olympic Flame travelled through Dunstable and Milton Keynes, where it was carried by Olympic badminton silver medallist Gail Emms. "Wow! What an experience!! Loved every second,” she tweeted afterwards.

Youth Olympic rowing gold medallist Georgia Howard-Merrill also carried the Flame in Milton Keynes. She won gold in the women’s pairs at the first Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010.

Later in the morning, 16-year-old Jessica Stalley, from Bedford, carried the Flame into Bletchley Park – formerly the site of Britain's main decryption centre and now home to the National Codes Centre and the National Museum of Computing. Jessica was nominated as a Torchbearer for the way that she coped with having an operation to straighten her spine and her aspirations to compete in the Paralympics.

Britain’s own Paralympic history was also celebrated during the course of the day, when 17-year-old Gemma Collis, from Aylesbury, carried the Flame into Stoke Mandeville Stadium. Stoke Mandeville Hospital was the site where the International Wheelchair Games – the forerunner of the Paralympic Games – were first held in 1948. The Games were repeated at Stoke Mandeville four years later before the first Paralympics took place in Rome in 1960.

Gemma was nominated as a Torchbearer for her courage and determination in coping with a condition called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). She has volunteered at the World Wheelchair Basketball Championships and has recently been selected to play for the U25 Welsh Wheelchair Basketball Team.

Later in the day, 18-year-old Juliet Sparrow carried the Flame to Blenheim Palace, where Sir Winston Churchill was born. Juliet was nominated as a Torchbearer for her courage and determination in overcoming a broken back, which happened while she was trekking in Costa Rica to raise money for charity.

The final Torchbearer of the day was Malcolm Fretter, 67, from Wantage, who has been a paraplegic since 1971 but volunteers at local primary schools. He lit the cauldron at the Evening Celebration, which took place in South Park, Oxford. The evening also included a performance of Tree of Light, which is part of the London 2012 Festival, featuring 850 participants - including singers, dancers and power-generating cyclists - from school and community groups across Oxfordshire.

Find out more about the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay Presenting Partners.

Find out more about the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay