Boris Johnson stole the show from David Cameron with a barnstorming speech at Mondays’ parade celebrating the sporting achievements of Britain’s Olympians and Paralympians.
In a rare joint address by the two senior Conservatives and longstanding rivals, the London mayor had the jubilant crowd of athletes and volunteers outside Buckingham Palace laughing and chanting “Boris! Boris!” after he praised their role in making a success of the games.
“You have routed the doubters and scattered the gloomsters,” Mr Johnson said. “You brought home a truth about us and about this country – when we put our minds to it there is no limit to what we can achieve.”
The mayor prompted laughter when he told athletes standing behind him: “You produced such a paroxysm of tears and joy on the sofas of Britain you probably not only inspired a generation, you probably helped to create one as well. I can get away with that.”
Booing was briefly heard along the Mall when the prime minister earlier took to the podium, but his words of thanks for the athletes, police, armed services and volunteers drew cheers from the crowd.
Mr Cameron said the sporting spectacular had changed attitudes in the country. “People are thinking about sports and disability in ways they never did before,” he said.
The mayor’s popularity soared during August, with crowds in Hyde Park cheering his speech there on the eve of the games and his reputation burnished by their success. Meanwhile Mr Cameron has endured a testing period as the economy struggled with recession and his government reshuffle gained mixed reviews – not least from Mr Johnson, who attacked his demotion of transport secretary Justine Greening.
The parade began at Mansion House in the City of London, moving past St Paul’s cathedral and Trafalgar Square and travelling up the Mall. Led by two giant animated lion heads, the convoy of 21 floats carried hundreds of athletes.
Spectators eager for a view of their sporting heroes craned from office windows outside Cannon Street in the Square Mile and roared their support for Mo Farah, the double-gold medal winning runner travelling in the first float, as he gave his signature “Mobot” gesture.
Other medal winners included Jonnie Peacock, the Paralympic sprint champion; Sir Chris Hoy, the six-gold medal winning cyclist; Victoria Pendleton, another member of the cycling team that dominated their sport during the games; Alistair Brownlee, the 24-year-old triathlon champion; and swimming medallist Rebecca Adlington.
The parade marked an end to what Mr Johnson, called “the greatest Olympic and Paralympic games that have ever been held”. Initial fears over wet weather, transport chaos and security risks gave way to a festive atmosphere of international sporting competition.
The exuberance was shared by Alasdair Goulden, adjutant of the Royal Armouries in the White Tower, the central keep at the Tower of London, who was waiting near St Paul’s to see the parade.
“It’s given everyone a massive boost and it’s proved to the world that whatever a potential president of the US thinks, we can organise one of these things,” he said in a reference to doubts expressed over London’s readiness before the games by Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
Mr Goulden added that the Paralympics, which ended on Sunday, had been “stunning”.
“For us to be able to showcase the achievements of disabled people has been fabulous,” he said.
Several spectators praised the army of London 2012 ambassadors and games makers who won over visitors with enthusiasm and good humour.
“The helpers did a wonderful job,” said Ian Benson, an insurance broker. “It could only have done Britain’s image the power of good and has to have been a key aspect of what the government and others were looking for from the Olympics. You didn’t need to be anyone special to be special and help people.”
Chris Wooster, a London 2012 ambassador who helped those travelling through Waterloo station during the games, rued the occasion’s passing. “It’s been one of the best experiences of my life,” she said. “I’m sad it’s ending.”