THE towering Angel of the North was erected 20 years ago this week.

Over the last two decades, it has become one of the defining symbols of the North-East.

Hundreds of people turned out to see the 200 tonne sculpture take shape on the site of the former Team Colliery next to the A1 at Gateshead, back in 1998.

On the day of its unveiling, the Angel's designer, artist Antony Gormley said: "It's a wonderful feeling, a mixture of two emotions, joy and relief.

"It's extraordinary to see it complete after the years of planning." 

Signing autographs, he added: "To me the Angel is about being alive today, but I want everyone to have a personal relationship with it. I hope it will encourage people to think and ask themselves questions."

Many of those who witnessed the Angel, which was designed to turn a reddish-brown with age, being built said they were impressed by its scale, saying it would put Gateshead on the map.

We asked some of the first people to see the sculpture for their views, and here's what they had to say:

Chris Mather, 52, a sales rep from Morpeth, said: "It's a spectacle all-right and people were definitely slowing down to take it in. It's very distracting and this morning the traffic was chock a block both ways with drivers looking at it. I drive all over the country with my job and I have never seen anything like it."

Canadian tourists Talla and Dana, both 18, from Vancouver, and their friend Tanya, 19, from Ontario, passed the Angel as part of a sight-seeing tour.

Talla said: " I like it but it's the weirdest thing I have ever seen. I can't believe they would put it so near such a busy road. It's strange."

Dana said: "It's not exactly small is it? All the other drivers were looking at it."

John Robinson, a 33-year-old mechanic, from Birtley, said: "It's difficult not to look at it. I could hardly keep my eyes on the road. It's hypnotic and I think a little bit dangerous."

Supermarket manager Mike Killoran, 48, from Doncaster, said: "It's a bit silly to put it there isn't it. Surely the money would have been spent on something else."

Pensioner Eileen Gregory, travelling with her daughter to her home in Leeds, said: "That thing is an accident waiting to happen. It's ludicrous."