Thousands line the streets in tribute to a local hero

UP TO 15,000 of Colin McRae's fans lined the streets of his hometown yesterday to pay tribute to a "Superman" of the racing world.

The population of Lanark almost doubled as rally enthusiasts arrived from all over the world for an emotional memorial service. Flooding into the High Street several hours before the "celebration of life" began, they mingled with Scots wanting the opportunity to pay their respects to their local hero. Many wore the light blue of Subaru.

Stars from the motoring world including Damon Hill, the former F1 star, McRae's co-driver Nicky Grist and Sir Jackie Stewart's sons Paul and Mark also gathered at St Nicholas Church.

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But yesterday's occasion was as much for the fans and the residents of Lanark - normal population 9,000.

It was the first chance for the public to gather and mourn the sporting legend who died a fortnight ago when his helicopter crashed near the town.

McRae's funeral on Wednesday was a private affair for family and friends. The 39-year-old and his son were cremated in a single coffin.

Among those who lined Lanark's streets was rally fan Andrew Medlicott, 44, who had travelled from Solihull, West Midlands, for the memorial.

He said: "He was a gentleman of the sport and a calm person. It's a surreal experience being here because I just can't imagine that this has happened.

"He brought more than just driving to the sport - it was his style and panache. There was only one Colin McRae."

His friend Vess Ishikawa added: "He was a very friendly, very smiley person and he will be sadly missed. There will never be another rally driver like Colin McRae."

Katie Hesketch, 17, spoke tearfully about how she met the rally driver on several occasions.

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She had travelled up from Manchester with her parents. She said: "I've watched Colin McRae since I was three years old. With Colin there were never four wheels on the floor but he was always in control.

"He was just the best rally driver and I think the sport should die with him because things will never be the same."

Katie's father Rob Hesketch, 48, added: "He was a champion and was a huge character."

MOURNERS were shown highlights of McRae's career on two giant video screens outside the church in Lanark's High Street.

Some people leaned out of their windows to catch a glimpse of the screened images.

The sight of the former world rally champion playing the role of doting father moved many to tears. Intimate home video footage showed the McRae family on a skiing holiday.

The crowd was also told that McRae's first date with future wife Alison was at Knockhill Racing Circuit in Fife. Some smiled as it was pointed out that "she knew what she was getting herself into".

And it was revealed that even at the age of five, Johnny appeared to want to follow in his father's footsteps with his love for speed and "anything with four wheels".

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David Richards, who first signed McRae at the start of his rallying career, described him as a "Superman-like driver".

Mr Richards said: "Everyone today will remember Colin in their own very unique way.

"He was the youngest winner in almost every championship in which he competed."

Mr Richards told how the driver "mellowed" after his children, Hollie and Johnny, were born, but he never lost that daredevil style. He added: "When Colin was on stage there was an anticipation of something extraordinary about to happen."

More than half a million messages have been left on McRae's website since the accident that also claimed the lives of Graeme Duncan, 37, and Johnny's friend Ben Porcelli, six.

A LITTLE before 4pm the crowd fell silent as a lone piper gave a haunting rendition of Flower Of Scotland.

McRae's widow - wearing a black skirt-suit and a pink shirt - with Hollie, nine, and other family members, then arrived and was piped inside the church.

The Rev Alison Meikle opened the service and began by paying tribute to the families of all those who died in the crash.

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She said: "Two weeks ago Lanark was struck by silence. A terrible silence bought at an enormous price.

"However, in our tears love is stronger than death."

McRae's motto, she said, was: "You're here for a good time, not a long time."

Later, the memorial service heard a rendition of the Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton song Islands In The Stream - a song that Johnny insisted his mother play for him on the drive to school every morning.

His headteacher, Janette Neilson, shared funny moments from Johnny's time at Underbank Primary School.

She said: "He gave it 110 per cent. He certainly was following in his dad's footsteps. He was a real action man, and would have been in his time."

His class teacher, Suzie Hall, described him as a "remarkable little boy who was a ray of sunshine", and said: "It will be a quiet place without Johnny."

Ari Vatanen, a friend, team-mate and former rally champion, read a poem entitled Risk and said: "The whole of Scotland is proud of their own boy, Colin."

More than 700 friends, colleagues and family members attended the service, which lasted 90 minutes.

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Afterwards McRae's widow bowed and applauded the thousands of people who lined the streets as she left the church, as did the rally driver's father, Jimmy, and brother, Alister.