The flick that has become a symbol for British athletics is back in this Olympic year.
In a rare interview, Vangelis explains what inspired his moving, memorable soundtrack
The author of one of the most instantly recognisable pieces of music in the world is sitting in a splendid room in Claridge's, a synthesiser and a piano close at hand.
Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou, better known as the Greek musician Vangelis, used to live in London and is back again this summer.
For this eminence grise of electronic music, it's a good time to be back.
In pre-Olympic Britain, a familiar piece of flick music from more than 30 years ago is once again stirring the popular imagination.
This, after all, is going to be Britain's Chariots of Fire summer.
The 1981 flick told the story of three extraordinary British runners at the 1924 Paris Olympics.
In the buildup to London 2012, it is to be re-released on the big screen nationwide, with the original cast in attendance at a premiere in Leicester Square on 10 July.
A version has also been adapted for the stage, co-produced by the film's director Hugh Hudson, and it will have its premiere on Thursday at the Gielgud Theatre in London.
The music, of course, is by Vangelis.
It was the storyline that inspired Vangelis to compose the soundtrack.
The characters," he says, "The story of these runners is full of magnificent and profound messages that we have always needed – messages that are even more necessary today."
He recalls the dilemmas of Eric Liddell, the Scottish athlete who would not run on a Sunday because it was contrary to his Christian beliefs; Lord Lindsay, who selflessly gave Liddell his slot in a weekday heat so that the Scot could compete in the Olympics; Harold Abrahams, the Jewish runner ostracised by the establishment.
All were men who would not compromise on their values, no matter the cost.
"If you look for truth you have to be courageous," says Vangelis.
"My main inspiration was the story itself.
The rest I did instinctively, without thinking about anything else, other than to express my feelings with the technological means available to me at the time."
That was a licence extended to him by Hudson, a long-time friend and collaborator.
It was a bold idea for the director to use contemporary music for a period film.
("I didn't want it to be a heritage film," Hudson told the Observer).
It turned out to be the perfect decision, Vangelis's lyrical accompaniment lending the tale a soaring, timeless quality.
Vangelis rarely gives interviews, but when he does speak a passionate musical idealism is apparent.
At the age of 69, the mane of hair is grey and his beard is white, but the enthusiasm for music's inspirational powers is palpable.
"It's one of the greatest forces in the universe," he says in a low, soft voice.
He describes emptying his mind of all thoughts when he composes.
Recording is generally in one take; no adjustments, no editing.
By his early 20s, the arrival of electronic instruments had become central to his musical approach, though he is not so keen on more recent technical revolutions.
"The source is electronic," he says of his music.
"But what you do with it is the same as with acoustic instruments.
Sound is sound and vibration is vibration, whether from an electronic source or an acoustic instrument.
The way we use these sources is the key in order to define the required musical result.
Without neglecting the acoustic conventional instruments, I spend a fair amount of time dealing with the electronic sources of sound.
But please do not think computers! Computers are extremely helpful and amazing for a multitude of scientific areas, but for me, when it comes to creation, they are insufficient and slow.
Therefore all of my efforts are to stay away from that beast."
Music dominated his life from an early age and his parents enrolled him in music classes when he was six.
In the 1960s he moved into pop music (and in the early 70s he even flirted with joining British prog rock stars Yes).
"I moved into the record industry.
I was under the impression that in order to be alive and to be able to create what I had in mind I had to become successful."
He learned quickly that commercial success can come at a high price.
"I realised that success and pure creativity are not very compatible," he says.
"The more successful you become, the more you become a product of something that generates money.
Instead of being able to move forward freely and do what you really wish, you find yourself stuck and obliged to repeat yourself and your previous success.
"Success is sweet and treacherous.
Of course it helps you sell things, but I've been trying all my life not to fall into the trap and to try to get out of it."
Vangelis has composed 15 flick soundtracks in total, including Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, 1492: Conquest of Paradise and Oliver Stone's Alexander.
Apart from flick and personal compositions, he created the music for Wayne Eagling's ballet Frankenstein and over the years has released no fewer than 40 albums – his 41st, a new edition of Chariots of Fire, comes out at the end of July.
"There are cases in which a flick can stand on its own without music," he says.
"But if music is used, it's better for it to touch the soul and create emotions that the rest of the flick cannot do.
Music should continue emotions where words finish.
Unfortunately most flicks are flooded with music, due to mediocre scripts and to producers' and directors' lack of talent."
London may soon be humming along to Chariots of Fire.
But for Vangelis the work goes on and new challenges are always around the corner.
In December 2011, he was asked to compose music for a 400-piece orchestra, the Moscow International Choir, the Qatar Symphony Orchestra and the soloist Angela Gheorghiu for the inauguration of the amphitheatre in Doha.
Hudson also filmed the event for posterity.
Vangelis – who has never been able to read music – recorded his composition which was then translated into a musical score and given to members of the orchestra.
Wasn't a project on such a scale daunting? "I take it naturally," he says.
"The only thing I'm afraid of is the technical part.
Something can always go wrong technically.
The rest is already there."
As a Greek, he has spent much of the last year watching economic events in his own country with a growing sense of dismay, but not necessarily surprise.
"I see the crisis like a theatrical play that concerns the world – not just Greece.
Greece is a very good place for experimentation.
I felt many years ago that this was going to come.
I'm not surprised at all.
There's been a lot of mishandling of the situation on the part of the Greek governments.
But, I am afraid that it is not easy for any country today to decide their own future.
The Greeks have never been in the position to exploit its endless supplies of natural resources, which every Greek citizen would benefit from.
Corruption is another way for just a few to benefit."
Is he happy with the results of the recent elections? " I am indifferent because it's only a step to buy time.
It's a game.
What you read is not what's happening.
The whole planet is in trouble for the same reason." What does he think it is – greed? "Generally speaking, yes, greed and capital.
In other words, banking."
Naturally, he sees music as the great healer.
What, ultimately, does he wish to achieve through his work?
"All I want to do is not impose things on people and try not to do any damage.
To bring hope," he says.
"I have received so many emotional letters over the years, from people and athletes who have been helped by my music."
When Vangelis is not working he listens to anything from classical music to jazz to world music.
"As long as it isn't manufactured," he says.
"Scientifically, believe it or not, music drives everything, because music equals universe and universe equals music."
He is also a painter, something he practised alongside his music from a very early age.
"Music is spiritual, painting is physical, so I need them both," he says.
In 2003, he staged an exhibition in Spain which then toured South America.
"In Mexico there was a book for people to write comments in," he says, his face lighting up with an enormous smile.
"And the loveliest thing in it was something written by a nine-year-old girl.
She said, 'I love your pictures Vangelis.
I just hope your music is as good as your paintings'."
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