15/02/2018 10:49 GMT | Updated 15/02/2018 10:55 GMT

Angel Of The North: Antony Gormley’s Steel Giant Turns 20

'People are always asking, why an angel?'

The Angel of the North, a 200-tonne steel figure created by Sir Antony Gormley, celebrates its 20th anniversary today.

Taking two days to erect, the monolithic statue beside the A1 in Gateshead has become one of Britain’s most recognised pieces of public art.

But while the structure towering above the former colliery pithead baths faced strong opposition before spreading its wings in 1998, two decades on it is being celebrated.

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Blue skies over the Angel of the North 

Lucy Gray tweeted: “My grandparents lived in the street right next to the Angel, almost literally in its shadow – even they grew to cherish it! You know you’re home when you see the Tyne Bridge on the train and the Angel in the car.”

“How time flies, 20 years our Angel of the North has watched over us... beautiful in any weather,” added Andrea.  

Colin Briggs remarked: “One of the best things about the Angel of the North is its base. While the rest of it appears rough and rusty, the feet are polished smooth by visitors patting it, sitting on it and sliding off. Tells you more than any PR puffery.”

According to Gateshead Council, the Angel is seen by one person per second – that’s 90,000 every day or 33 million every year.

The site on which it is built is synonymous with Gateshead mining history, and was reclaimed as a green landscape during the early 1990s.

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Sculptor Sir Antony Gormley OBE in front of his creation in a picture dated February 15, 1998
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Workmen putting the finishing touches to the steel giant 

Gormley said: “People are always asking, why an angel? The only response I can give is that no-one has ever seen one and we need to keep imagining them. The angel has three functions – firstly a historic one to remind us that below this site coal miners worked in the dark for two hundred years, secondly to grasp hold of the future, expressing our transition from the industrial to the information age, and lastly to be a focus for our hopes and fears – a sculpture is an evolving thing.”

Exhibitions, workshops and half-term activities are all being laid on to celebrate.