Leeds lights the way as firework displays bring year in with a bang

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The Independent Online

London may have been promising the most spectacular firework display in the country since the Millennium but it fell to Leeds last night to stage the first of an evening in which the night sky was ablaze with colour and sound to mark the arrival of 2008.

The West Yorkshire city moved its traditional midnight extravaganza to 5.30pm in order to attract more children and families after a carnival-style parade though the shopping district, an open air performance of Cinderella and the Magic Lamp and an aerial laser light display.

Numbers taking part in the al fresco festivities were boosted by the mild weather which lured more than a million people on to the streets of Britain, no doubt cognisant of a Home Office warning counselling partygoers against "reckless alcohol consumption". But it was London which was flexing its pyrotechnic credentials and restating its claim as an international city ahead of the 2012 Olympics with a £1.3m display that has been 51 weeks in the planning.

Some 350,000 people lined the banks of the Thames to witness at first hand what was promised to be a breathtaking spectacle broadcast live on the BBC to coincide with the stroke of midnight.

The man behind the event is French fireworks wizard Christophe Berthonneau the so-called emperor of pyrotechnics - whose team lit up the opening and closing ceremonies at the Athens Olympics as well as the Millennium celebrations at the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

It is reported that he turned down offers of work elsewhere in the world to concentrate on London.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone said the £130,000-a-minute display, would help cement the capital as the number one place to be and outshine the annual display in Sydney, Australia.

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