Chief executive Sir Geoffrey Mulcahy says Ellen's sponsorship will carry on for at least another year

Kingfisher chief executive Sir Geoffrey Mulcahy today announced that the company will continue to sponsor Ellen for at least the next 12 months. The news came at a press conference following Ellen MacArthur’s sail under Tower Bridge this morning.

The continued sponsorship is excellent news for Ellen. Sir Geoffrey is clearly delighted with her achievement and said: “The sponsorship has achieved far more than I had ever imagined. It was a win-win situation.” He said that Kingfisher had hoped to raise its profile in France and that Ellen’s publicity during the the Route de Rhum two years ago and the Vendée Globe had easily achieved that objective and more.

Ellen added: “It was initially a test for both of us (herself and the Kingfisher group) and we have learnt a lot together.”

However, she did not make it clear exactly what her plans are for the next year. That will be revealed at an announcement on 8 March. All she would say is: “Although it will be hard on Kingfisher, I am looking forward to sailing with a crew.”

A fairly small crowd of 300-400 people lined St Katherine Dock, Tower Bridge and in front of the Tower of London to see the bridge open for Ellen and Kingfisher. The crowd cheered and clapped as she waved and lit a flare.

Over the next few weeks Ellen’s plans are to get home to Derbyshire and to go back out to Les Sables d’Olonne to greet fellow Vendée competitors as they arrive, including Britons Josh Hall and Mike Golding. She said she felt great sympathy with Golding after his dimasting. “Mike has found the energy and enthusiasm to to sail around the world after starting a week later than everyone else.” She pointed out that Josh Hall had battled hard to get sponsorship just to make it to the start line. “The difficulty of such a task can be very easily understated,” she said.

Praise was also forthcoming for Mark Turner, her close friend and manager since 1997. “Mark has masterminded the whole thing,” confirmed Sir Geoffrey. He also touched on reasons behind Ellen’s massive public appeal, saying: “At a time when so many ego-driven celebrities are everywhere, Ellen’s ability to relate to people on all levels and come across as someone who has worked genuinely hard to achieve her goals are qualities that have resonated strongly with the public.”

This was definitely echoed by the crowd that had come to see her. Shandy Chauhan from London said: “By doing what she’s done, she’s made people think they can achieve their own dreams, which can often seem impossible.”

There was a general feeling among people who had come to see Ellen that there had not been enough coverage of her movements in the British press. But overall, children (who are on half term this week) couldn’t wait to meet her and get an autograph.

Joshua Morris, 6, of Farnham in Surrey, wanted to ask Ellen how fast the boat goes and Jordan, 9, his older brother, thought she was very brave to go all the way round the world. Ellen signed as many autographs as she could, but the continuous round of interviews and press conferences may be a strain. Although she claimed she has no problem adapting to being on land and sleeping eight hours a night she admitted that she has not yet managed to do so.

Replying to a question about what she missed most while she was at sea, Ellen simply said: “Having a normal day.” Despite getting back on land, life for Ellen has been anything but normal and looks as if it won’t be for some time yet.