Thousands of people gathered in the centre of Bradford on Avon on Tuesday evening to watch Ed McKeever switch on the Christmas lights and open of the footbridge named after him.

An estimated 2000 people turned up to the event, which saw Mayor, John Potter, introduce the Olympian as the Usain Bolt of the kayak. Ed urged the crowd to shout out the countdown with him before he pushed the button, illuminating the town.

The 29-year-old said: “It was great to be asked to do the switch on. It is always nice to come back and see I still have the support of the town.”

After half an hour of posing for photos and signing autographs, the Olympian moved over to the McKeever footbridge. The Mayor told the crowd that bridges are supposed to be named after the building they are next to but Wiltshire Council allowed the town to name it after Ed McKeever.

“It will be a nice memento and great to see on future maps,” he said.
The gold medal winner said: “It is very bizarre having the bridge named after me because I spent most of my youth paddling under it.”

Ed was pleased to see that the river levels had gone down in time for tonight, but had memories of struggling to get to the rowing club, which was often under water.

Anna Vaught, 42, a teacher, of Winsley Road, attends the event every year and was there with two of her sons. “Events like this put Bradford on Avon on the map. This is a festive celebration after the worry of the floods,” she said.

Mary Giles, 72, retired, of Abbey Mill, watched the countdown from her window with her husband Barry, 73.

It was the first time they had seen the switch on since moving to the town last year. “I have come down to listen to the choir because it creates such a lovely atmosphere. I would also like to see Ed McKeever,” said Mary, who later managed to give the Olympian a kiss on the cheek.

George Jones, 10, from Bradford on Avon Youth Football Club, was helping his father raise money for the club’s trip to Holland, in one of the Christmas market sheds. “We have done really well tonight and I got to see Ed McKeever, which was great because he is a good person to look up to,” he said.

Bradford and Avon Police were pleased to report there were no incidents. PCSO Andrew MacLachlan said: “It was a wonderful family night out and I am delighted that people have enjoyed themselves.”