French chief visit draws the crowds
PUBLISHED: 12:31 03 April 2008 | UPDATED: 14:34 25 August 2010
LARGE numbers of well wishers gathered to see the French President and his wife take in London s maritime heritage.
LARGE numbers of well wishers gathered to see the French President and his wife take in London's maritime heritage.
Nicolas Sarkozy and his model-turned-singer wife, Carla Bruni, landed at Greenwich Pier last Thursday during Britain's first French state visit in 12 years.
The couple took a Thames Clipper to the site from Lancaster House in south-west London after visiting Arsenal's Emirates Stadium with Gordon Brown.
The French premier used the occasion to award English yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur the Legion d'Honneur in recognition of her devotion to maritime sports.
In 2005, Dame Ellen landed in Greenwich after completing a record breaking solo voyage around the world in 71 days.
Duncan Wilson, chief executive of the Greenwich Foundation, which oversees the Old Royal Naval College, met Mr Sarkozy on his arrival and led him into the college.
He said: "He was very interested in the history of the place and the fact that Christopher Wren, the college's architect, had taken his inspiration from the De San Invalides.
"He came especially for our area's maritime history. That was quite flattering really. He seemed to take it with some gravity.
"French people take maritime history very seriously. I think Ellen MacArthur is as famous in France as she is in Britain.
"He was speaking in French and so were we, so the conversation was a bit cumbersome."
The Mayor of Greenwich, Sajid Jawaid, and council leader Chris Roberts greeted the presidential couple in the Old Royal Naval College grounds.
Mr Roberts said: "The fact that President Sarkozy personally asked to visit Greenwich as part of his tour shows just how important the borough is on the international stage.
"Every year we welcome millions of visitors from across the world who come to appreciate the World Heritage Site and soak up Greenwich's rich maritime history."
Mr Sarkozy made a speech inside the college's Painted Hall, calling for closer relations between Britain and France.
Admiral Lord Nelson was laid in state in the Painted Hall in 1806 after the Anglo-French Battle of Trafalgar.
The Sarkozys later enjoyed a banquet at the Guildhall in the City of London, completing their three day state visit.