Ken Livingstone, mayor of London

Back in 2002, London had hit rock bottom as a tourist destination and a brand. Like many international cities dependent upon a steady flow of traffic at its airports, overseas visitors had sunk to a relative trickle after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

And that was not the worst of it.

The city also was plagued by a series of economic setbacks when several giant developments either failed outright or were massively delayed. Chief among the embarrassments: the Millennium Dome, a World’s Fair-type exhibition hall built along the Thames that was marred by long lines, broken ticketing equipment and delays in constructing rail service.

Ridiculed by everyone from cultural critics to Prince Charles for its odd, wok-like shape, the Dome has been described as “the biggest fridge magnet in the world” and a “memorial to the total incompetence of Cool Britannia.” Once the 2000 celebrations were over, no one could quite figure out what to do with the structure, and it became a monument to the hubris of the British government, which ordered it built.

Across town, Wembley Stadium, the ancient home of England’s national soccer team, was closed in 2000 and demolished in 2003. The stadium, with its castle-like gates, had famously hosted mega concerts and been the site of England’s 1966 World Cup victory over West Germany—an event that is at least as important as the end of World War II in the English psyche. Its replacement got stalled during renovations, forcing London to relinquish its role as host of the 2005 World Athletics championships. It was, as mayor Ken Livingstone told Brandweek in September, “a series of disasters.”

Today, all that has changed. London’s disparate forces came together, and the city in July 2005 won its bid to host the 2012 Olympics, beating out Paris and New York for the honor. A day later, a terrorist attack on the city’s Underground subway system claimed 52 lives and sent more than 700 to hospitals. But Britain again showed its stiff upper lip—from Queen Elizabeth II on down—and turned the senseless destruction into a potent rallying cry. This past summer, British authorities foiled a terrorist attack targeted at Heathrow Airport, preventing trans-Atlantic chaos.

Much of the responsibility for London’s renaissance lies with its top cheerleader, Livingstone, 61, who was elected in 2000 and has since harnessed the city’s wealth, power, culture and vision as its de facto CEO. Bloggers note that Livingstone’s pr machine paints him as Thomas Jefferson meets Father Christmas wrapped with Nelson Mandela. Certainly, he is full of bluster and contrasts. Some consider him anti-American, even anti-Semitic. Known for his socialist politics, “Red Ken” as he is nicknamed, hurls insults at George Bush one week, then makes a deal for cheap Venezuelan oil the next. He has appeared as an occasional panelist on the U.K. TV quiz show Have I Got News for You, and breeds a collection of amphibians in a tank at his home. He is, perhaps, London’s best practitioner of at once the kind of unabashed candor and foot-in-mouth proclivities that Jon Stewart loves.

Of course, it’s not as if Livingstone turned the city’s image around single-handedly. But for all of his flaws, the man, who has taken cues from New York’s hardy soldier Rudy Giuliani, contributed three key ingredients that earned him Brandweek’s Marketer of the Year award:

First, realizing the city needed to be actively marketed as a world-class destination, Livingstone re-established London’s then-anemic tourism authority, Visit London, by hiring 75 people and giving it a proper £10 million (or $19 million ) budget.