Easy does it... as a 200-tonne angel is winched into the sky hy hy

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AWE and delight dispelled years of controversy as the 200-tonne Angel of the North was erected outside Gateshead yesterday.

Thousands turned out to see the Angel assembled using giant cranes on a hill overlooking the A1 on the edge of the Tyneside town. Standing five storeys high (65ft) and with a wing span rivalling a jumbo jet (175ft), it is Britain's largest sculpture.

For the sculptor Antony Gormley, Gateshead Borough Council, Northern Arts and cast of engineers and steel fabricators, yesterday was a day of celebration and relief. After enduring years of being told the project was either a traffic hazard or a waste of money - the final bill will be about pounds 800,000 - the Angel was assembled in a carnival atmosphere.

Today the arts establishment, led by Lord Gowrie, chairman of the Arts Council, will pay homage at the giant feet of the Angel. But yesterday was the people's day, droves of them, masses arriving by car or bike, others walking with dogs and pushchairs from nearby estates, boys in Newcastle United shirt and teenagers, all staking a claim to "oo'r Angel".

Mr Gormley would have been flattered by the number of women who enthused over the Angel's torso - modelled on his own slim frame. "He's got a lovely bum," was a common refrain. The only misgiving was the over the colour, remarkably like rust. Not so, say the engineers. The surface of the special weather resistant steel oxidises to "form a patina which mellows with age to a rich brown colour".

The site was once the pit head baths of the Team Colliery. Mining ceased in the late 1960s. Some 150 tonnes of concrete were poured in to form piles to root the sculpture which engineers Ove Arup and Partners have designed to withstand winds in excess of 100mph. Mr Gormley likes the poetic resonance in a sculpture with its feet in mined earth and taking wing into the future.

Though the Angel stands on a hill, it does not dominate the surrounding landscape. Even from the A1, where traffic slowed for a view, it seems to sit within the community. This is deliberate. The Angel is part of an ordinary, edge of northern town landscape, with scars of old industry and new units, fields and straggly trees, estate houses and blocks of flats.

By the time of the official opening in June, the public will be able to walk on turf to touch the Angel's feet.

Mr Gormley described the Angel as a radical re-invention of monumental sculpture. "There is nothing imperialist or triumphal about this. It concentrates feeling about the past in this place and also asks questions about the future," he told The Independent.

None of the pounds 800,000 cost will fall directly on Gateshead council taxpayers. The initial pounds 45,000 came from Northern Arts. Some pounds 584,000 came from the lottery, through the Arts Council.