London Celebrates 'Biggest Party Ever'

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

London ( - London celebrated its "biggest party ever" to welcome the New Year Saturday, with more than 2.5 million people cramming the streets and banks of the River Thames to enjoy the site of 29 tons of fireworks lighting up the city's night sky.

Millions more celebrated in the streets of cities, towns and villages across the British Isles, while many more enjoyed the night at home.

Two thousand flaming beacons burned in the four capitals - London, Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff - as well as along the Greenwich meridian line.

The centerpiece of the country's celebrations was the giant Millennium Dome in London, where the Queen, Prime Minister Tony Blair and Anglican Archbishop George Carey joined invited guests from communities around the country for a spectacular show.

Built at an enormous cost and the target of considerable criticism in the months leading up to its grand opening last night, the Dome appeared to come into its own during an extravaganza of music and dancing, punctuated with a prayer.

Just before midnight, those in the Dome, joined by many television viewers at home, recited the "Millennium Moment" - a short verse intended to add a spiritual dimension to the worldly festivities.

The London Eye Ferris wheel - the world's largest - was lit up by lasers and fireworks, although last-minute safety fears prompted organizers to cancel the inaugural public ride. But for 250 disappointed competition winners due to ride the wheel, the compensation offered by sponsor British Airways was generous - a pair of return tickets to any destination of their choice.

As the chimes of Big Ben sounded midnight GMT, a "river of fire" display followed by a 20-minute firework show was launched from 17 barges moored along a five-mile stretch of the Thames.

British police reported no serious mishaps.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow