The Millennium Dome Bombing Saga


MD News
 Sunday 26/12/1999
A History of the World's Biggest Dome
The Millennium Dome
The Millennium Dome
Photo: Oliver Strange Agency
The third millennium actually starts in Greenwich, England, on January 1st, 2001. The World's biggest dome was built on the Prime Meridian Line in Greenwich to celebrate a politicians' version of the event, however. It was touted by the Prime Minister as a 'bridge' between the second and third millennia. But due do the effects of 'dumbing down' on Britain's politicians and civil servants, the Millennium Dome was supposed to open its doors for business on December 31st, 1999, and it is scheduled to close its doors on December 31st, 2000 - before the new millennium begins!

The Dome is run by A New Millennium Dawn, plc, a quango created to deliver the Dome and celebrate the arrival of the third millennium according to the policies of the Government of the time and its New Millennium Commission.
   ANMD is funded, in part, by the New Millennium Commission, the semi-independent body set up by the Government to pass National Lottery funds to worthy projects celebrating the dawn of a new millennium. The New Millennium Commission is chaired by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the Rt. Hon David Jones MP.

Back in June of 1994, when the Conservatives were in office, the Chairman of the New Millennium Commission [the Secretary of State for National Heritage] came up with the idea of holding a national exhibition – something along the lines of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the Festival of London of 1951 – to act as a focus for the nation's millennium celebrations.
   The Government's Civil Service advisors in the early 1990s believed that the public would be unable to understand the concept that the first millennium of the Christian era ran from 1 AD to 1,000 AD, the second would run from 1,001 AD to 2,000 AD and the third millennium would begin on January 1st, 2001. The dim public, they felt, could deal only with round numbers.
   As a result, the New Millennium Commission decided in mid-1995 that it would be making life easier for the ignorant public if the second millennium were to end officially on December 31st, 1999 and the Commission were to stage a national New Millennium Exhibition in Greenwich throughout the year 2000.
   Consequently, the 20th Century became unique in that, in the eyes of a New Labour Government, it will contain only 99 years as the Victorians had marked the century's beginning on January 1st, 1901.
   The initial responses (in 1996) from potential sponsors of a grand exhibition were encouraging. A number of major companies were interested in sharing the costs of exhibits with the New Millennium Commission but no private investors were prepared to contribute to the cost of the structure which would house the exhibition.

Cross-party Agreement
At the beginning of 1997, the Conservative Government reached agreement with the Labour Opposition to the effect that:
1. The exhibition site would be run by a Government-owned quango.
2. The new Government taking office after that year's general election would extend the National Lottery funding for the New Millennium Commission for an extra year – until December 31st, 2001 – to make sure that the exhibition received sufficient lottery money to be successful without endangering other millennium projects.
   On March 1st, 1997, A New Millennium Dawn, plc, was created. The Chancellor of the Exchequer took control of all of the shares issued to bring ANMD under the umbrella of the control and accountability protocols applied to all Quasi Autonomous Non-Governmental Organizations (quangos), even though.the company would not be receiving taxpayers' money raised by Act of Parliament. Its entire income comprises of Lottery money issued by the New Millennium Commission.

Regime Change
   After the general election in May of 1997, the incoming New Labour Government launched a full review of the Dome project as one of its first acts. Prime Minister Angus McBlair visited the proposed site of the exhibition at Greenwich in the middle of June, 1977.
   Under McBlair, the Labour Party had taken over many traditionally Conservative politices in order to become electable. The Dome concept seemed eminently annexable – rebadged with a New Labour label – at the time of the review. Despite reservations expressed by members of the outgoing Conservative administration and some of the millennium project's advisors – mainly over the cost of the venture – the new Government took the concept over with enthusiasm.
   The Prime Minister was particularly keen to see the Dome built, declaring that, "Our exhibition which will make a statement for the whole nation at the dawn of the millennium. It will open a window on the future for individuals, for society, for the environment and for the whole world."
   The Dome, McBlair felt, could be made to play a significant part in his campaign to rebrand Britain according to his personal vision [whatever that turned out to be]. It was new, it was unique and if it proved to be the success which he believed it would be, then it could be linked to him as an individual rather than to his party and the people running the Dome.

A Transfer of Ownership
At the end of June, 1997, the shares in ANMD were transferred to the Heritage Minister, Pierson McAndelsen, despite strong opposition from the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, George McDour. McAndelsen, a close ally of the new Prime Minister and one of the architects of the election victory, was an enthusiastic supporter of the Millennium Dome project.
   Eight months later, the Prime Minister unveiled his Government's ideas for the Dome's content in the form of a lavish computer graphics presentation. Turning a blind eye to the likely financial problems, McBlair promised the nation that his Dome would offer "The best day out on Earth". The structure would contain 12 themed zones, most of which were just sketches at the preview stage, and they would bring around 15 million visitors to the site over the course of the Millennium Year [2000, not 2001]. The forecast was based on the assumptions that;

  • Visitors will be allocated to one of three daily visiting shifts when they buy their tickets.
  • Up to 35,000 people can be allowed inside the Dome for each visiting shift, which lasts 5 hours.
  • 105,000 visitors per day is possible during peak periods.

" . . .the world will flock to Greenwich . . ."
Dome location"Britain's Dome will be the envy of the world," the Prime Minister said with quiet pride after the presentation. "And the world will flock to Greenwich to experience this unique achievement."
   He added, "The Dome is about 'humankind' rather than Britain." After a routine swipe at the pessimists who wanted the project to fail, he assured his audience of carefully selected businessmen that Greenwich would be the most exciting place on Earth to be when midnight chimed on December 31st, 1999.
   The presentation about the Dome's contents had shown his audience giant statues, 'pink-knuckle' rides, virtual reality environments and games, and some high-tech gadgets. The Prime Minister promised that the Dome would be as exciting as Disney World or a West End show, and as educational and interactive as the Science Museum. And yet it would be different from all three in its own ways.
   No other nation, the Prime Minister added, was planning such a stunning celebration of the dawn of a new millennium and the Dome would have the same lasting impact on the people of Britain as the Festival of Britain in 1951.
   He also gave credit to his Heritage Minister, Pierson McAndelsen, who had been tireless in his efforts to give the project a sense of purpose and direction.
   McAndelsen later held a press conference to savage his critics, who had been persistently pointing out that he was a long way short of reaching his targets for commercial sponsorship of the Dome.
   [On an historical note, the critics were proved right – Ed.]
   Anyone who dared to point out that the Dome would fail in its mission to 'become a bridge across the millennia' because the Government planned to open and close it a year too early was dismissed as 'pedantic' and 'unhelpful' – the Government's code for an enemy of progress and their Party.

The Roof Goes On
In March, 1998, the constructors began to deploy the Teflon-coated roof fabric, which took three months. The Prime Minister presided over a 'topping-out' ceremony at the end of June and described the Dome as, "Too good ever to pull down, ... we should have a use for this - one which lasts and lasts." He added, "The Dome could still be around at the end of the next century, given proper maintenance."
   Plans for the layout of the interior of the dome were finalized in April, 1998 and the ticket price for the five-hour visit was set at £20 per head in July.
   Construction work on the structure of the Dome was completed officially in September, 1998. The Downing Street press office was quick to crush stories that there were engineering difficulties in the area where the Dome overlies the Blackwall Tunnel. Installation of the first exhibits began in the following month at the west side; the side of the Dome opposite the region where there were no structural problems.
   Staff recruitment began in January, 1999, and business tickets went on sale at this time. By mid-May, 1999, the central zones were installed and construction work on the service buildings had been completed. Work on the Millennium Pier was finished in June. Tickets went on sale to the public one month later.
   By mid-November, 1999, the Dome's contents had been installed and tested, ready for four days of free preview sessions for local residents of Greenwich. The grand opening day was set for Friday, December 31st, 1999 even though the much delayed extension of the Jubilee Line of the London Underground system was not expected to be finished by then.

The two-fold mission of A New Millennium Dawn is:

  • To create, build and operate a national New Millennium Exhibition designed to attract, inspire, entertain, educate and involve visitors and participants.
  • To seek, through the Exhibition, to exert a positive influence on each individual's view of him- or herself and the world's view of the British nation.

The objectives of ANMD are:

  • To deliver a once-in-a-lifetime, high quality Exhibition at Greenwich on time and to budget.
  • To deliver at least 15 million visitors to the Exhibition site at Greenwich.
  • To deliver value-for-money to the New Millennium Commission, its commercial sponsors and the paying visitors.
  • To develop and implement the Exhibition in a way which:
    1. Optimises access by people of all ages, backgrounds and interests to provide a nationally and socially inclusive event.
    2. Involves, engages, entertains, educates and inspires visitors and participants.
    3. Makes best use of British and international creative talent and state-of-the-art technology.
  • To create a world profile for the UK's millennium celebrations.
  • To assist, and where possible contribute to, the Government's policy that there will be a lasting legacy for the nation from the Greenwich Exhibition.

ANMD also aims to meet the commitments made by Prime Minister Angus McBlair when he confirmed that his Government would offer full support to the project, namely that the Exhibition would result in no extra burden on the public purse, that it would provide a lasting legacy, that it would be a truly national event, and that it would entertain and inspire.
   The company's Board originally comprised nine non-executive directors and two executive directors, who were appointed by the Shareholder [originally, the Chancellor, currently Heritage Minister Pierson McAndelsen]. The non-executive directors receive no remuneration [although they are entitled to receive generous expenses].
   The executive directors are: Dame Shirley Worthy (the chief executive), who is a former girlfriend of Chancellor of the Exchequer George McDour, and Sir Brian Targe (the director of finance), the uncle of Stephen Targe, who was a flatmate of the Prime Minister's when he was at university.
   The nine non-executive directors offer experience from the airline industry, broadcasting and the Arts, corporate relations, the engineering industry, the financial institutions, Greenwich council and tourism at a national level.
   Seven further operational directors were appointed offering extensive experience of project management, marketing & communications, event management, visitor attraction development, and television and education.

Dome Facts
The Dome covers 20 acres and it is large enough to house ten full-size copies of St. Paul's Cathedral or one Eiffel Tower (lying on its side). The ceiling is strong enough to support the weight of a Jumbo jet and it reaches a height of 150 feet. The Dome has a capacity of 35,000 visitors, who will be admitted in three "shifts", each lasting 5 hours. The standard admission price is £20. An audience of up to 10,000 may watch each of the six daily performances of the Millennium Show, which offers a combination of live performers and "stunning" visual effects. The exact ratio between sponsorship targets for the Dome and sponsorship receipts is a closely guarded secret (I find whenever I ask).

filed by Dana Howmaj []


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