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Ready, steady, go: let the Games begin with a royal blessing

The eyes of the world are falling on Glasgow today as the city gears up for the opening ceremony of the 20th Commonwealth Games.

Picture: Glasgow City Marketing Bureau

The spectacle, described by organisers as the most prestigious live event ever seen in Scotland, is being held tonight at Celtic Park.

A global television audience of more than one billion people is expected to tune in to watch the events unfold.

Today, Commonwealth Games athletes took time out from their training to meet the Duke and Duchess of Rothesay on the eve of the competition.

Charles and Camilla spoke to boxing hopefuls, badminton players and cyclists during a visit to the Emirates Arena and Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome.

The £113 million venue sits opposite Celtic Park where the Duke and Duchess will accompany the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh for tonight's opening ceremony.

Glasgow 2014 chairman Lord Smith of Kelvin greeted the royal party at the boxing hall where Team India's female boxers were practising their punches alongside male competitors from the Isle of Man and Jamaica.

Charles met Krystian Borucki, who is the only boxer competing from the Isle of Man and therefore trains with boxers from other nations.

The 35-year-old Poland-born heavyweight from Douglas said: "He just asked me what my chances are, and I told him everybody has a chance. It's boxing - one punch, you never know."

Cheavon Clarke, 23, lives in Kent but is competing for his birth country, Jamaica. He said he told the Prince he got involved in boxing through the Fight For Change foundation which uses the sport to engage young people.

In the badminton hall Charles and Camilla watched the fierce returns of players from Malaysia, New Zealand, Australia and England as they pin their hopes on a medal.

Kieran Merrilees, from Glasgow, was doing some floor stretches when they stopped to speak to him and his team-mates.

The 24-year-old, who is hoping to secure a medal at the home Games after returning empty-handed from Delhi in 2010, said: "I am seeded number eight so I am hoping to do better this time round."

Last stop was the velodrome where Charles and Camilla watched members of Team Canada speed round the track before meeting soldiers with the Royal Gurkha Rifles who will play a security role at the Games, which run to August 3.

The opening ceremony will be the first big test of Glasgow's ambition to host the greatest Commonwealth Games of all time.

While organisers have kept much of the detail of the launch close to their chest, they have promised it will have a distinctly Glaswegian accent.

Singers Rod Stewart, Susan Boyle and Amy Macdonald are among those performing in front of a live audience of 40,000 spectators, but those masterminding the ceremony have promised ordinary Glaswegians will also be heavily involved.

Organisers say the ceremony will show people around the world "what we're made of" in Scotland, whilst celebrating values of unity and diversity.

In an unprecedented move, the opening ceremony will also feature a Commonwealth-wide fundraiser for children, thanks to a partnership with children's organisation Unicef.

Nicole Scherzinger, Sir Chris Hoy and Sir Alex Ferguson are among those promised to appear "as never seen before", in footage exploring different regions of the Commonwealth to witness Unicef's work.

More traditional elements seen over the decades at Commonwealth Games opening ceremonies will also be present in tonight's launch.

The ceremonial flag will be hoisted at the opening of the Games, where it will fly continuously throughout the event until it is lowered at the closing ceremony.

There will also be a parade of the athletes from the 71 participating nations and territories of the Commonwealth.

Judo's Euan Burton will lead Team Scotland into the opening ceremony of their home Games.

Sheffield's Nick Matthew, a multiple squash world champion, will lead Team England into the Games after being named as the squad's flag bearer, while rhythmic gymnast Francesca Jones has been handed the honour for the Welsh team.

During the ceremony, the Queen will read out the message that was hidden inside the Commonwealth Games baton while it journeyed around the world.

She sent the symbol of the Games on its trip across the 71 nations and territories at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace in October and it returned to Glasgow on Sunday.

It was Manchester 2002 when the people who ran Scotland's biggest city and Commonwealth Games council started believing they could put on their own show.

But the work really began towards the end of 2007 when the west of Scotland city was confirmed as the host for the 2014 Games, beating Abuja, the Nigerian capital.

Since then the London Olympics has given Glasgow further inspiration, but a lot to live up to.

Michael Cavanagh, the Commonwealth Games Scotland chairman, said: "What we are about to deliver in Glasgow, I think, will be the best ever Commonwealth Games, for sure.

"We have learned from Manchester and particularly London 2012, but we are ready to deliver something spectacular."

The road to Glasgow 2014 has had some hitches along the way.

A plan to demolish five unoccupied tower blocks - the city's iconic Red Road flats - during the opening ceremony was scrapped after a furore over the message it was sending out and the impact on the sixth tower's residents.

But Glaswegians and Scots in general look set to embrace the prospect of the first Commonwealth Games in their country for 28 years, with more than 1.1 million tickets sold.

First Minister Alex Salmond believes the impact of the Glasgow 2014 Games will be felt in Scotland for generations to come.

He said they will "showcase the great strengths of modern Scotland" as he pointed to their ability to serve as a catalyst for greater international trade, investment and tourism.

With a nod to Glasgow's renowned warm spirit, he said: "The Commonwealth Games traditionally are known as the friendly Games.

"The whole of Glasgow, the whole of Scotland, is determined to ensure that these Games live up to that billing and that they become recognised as the friendliest Games and the finest Games ever.''

When the sporting action gets under way tomorrow, more than 4,500 sports men and women will compete in events across 17 sports until August 3.

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