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The biggest cheer of the day came when Barack Obama was introduced as "a son of the African soil". The US President – who had flown in with his wife Michelle, George W Bush and Laura Bush, and Hillary Clinton – electrified the congregation with his stirring speech.
"The world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us," the American leader told his hosts. "His struggle was your struggle, his triumph was your triumph. Your freedom and democracy is his cherished legacy."
He went on to remember a man "full of humour and mischief". Referring to how the icon won over his prison wardens, he said:"It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoners but the gaoler as well."
At the service in the 95,000-strong stadium, where there was a party-like atmosphere punctuated by the sound of vuvezulas, Britain was represented by David Cameron, John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
Former PM Gordon later reminisced with the BBC about his friend, explaining with a smile that when the anti-apartheid icon met the Queen, he said: "Hello Elizabeth, how's the Duke?"
His predecessor Tony described with a smile how the African politician dandled his son Leo on his knee on a visit to Britain in 2000 and said he was "great fun".
From France came François Hollande, the current leader, and his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy.
Cuba sent President Raul Castro, who even shook hands with the US president in one of the most remarkable moments of the ceremony. The Cuban premier was invited because his country was a staunch critic of apartheid under his brother Fidel.
Listening to the eulogies was Nelson Mandela's widow Graça Machel, leading the huge Mandela family, which includes his three daughters, Makaziwe, Zenani and Zindzi, 18 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
Also in the audience was his ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who spent years campaigning for his release.
The stadium has great resonance for the story of the anti-apartheid leader. It was here he spoke for the first time on being released from prison after 27 years in February 1990 and here that the warrior for justice made his last public appearance at the 2010 World Cup.