Princess Anne, the daughter of Queen Elizabeth II, carried the flame down the steps of a British Airways jet after it touched down from Greece at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose in Cornwall, southwest England.
“It comes home to you just how important people regard the torch as the lead-up to the Games,” said the princess, who herself competed in the 1976 Olympics in an equestrian event.
She was accompanied by football star David Beckham, who had the honour of lighting the torch that will be used for the 8,000-mile (12,875-kilometre) relay, from a cauldron at the airbase.
Sailor Ben Ainslie, who has won gold in three Olympics, will be the first of some 8,000 torchbearers when the relay starts in Land’s End, the southwesterly tip of England, on Saturday.
The flame was handed over to the London delegation in Athens on Thursday and was transported from the Greek capital in a British Airways jet painted gold and renamed The Firefly for the occasion.
Organisers gained special permission from aviation authorities for the flame to be carried in the plane in a special lantern.
The weather in Athens had been decidedly British, with heavy rain, but it was dry and breezy in Cornwall when the plane touched down.