Sunday, July 22, 2012

From Millennium Dome to the Olympics

I went to see the Millennium Dome, and all I got was this paperweight.

I noticed a photograph in the paper today of a woman bicycling in London--it was part of a story about how London is promoting bicycling as a way of attempting to stave off terrible Central London traffic jams during the London Olympics.  

At the edge of the frame I caught sight of something familiar. The old Millennium Dome from London's Y2K celebration.

I knew some of the people involved in promoting the "Millennium Experience" and they had a seriously thankless job. Tony Blair's government had given them the go ahead to get the gigantic thing built and they were tasked with filling it full of exhibits and "experiences."

While they dealt with the red tape of government committees and officials who lived their lives by press releases they had to deal with the British press, which we now, officially, know is peopled by evil private eyes, thieves, and nefarious criminals who will stop at nothing to get a headline. So they were hounded at every step in all directions.

It seriously damaged the career of Tony Blair's media guru, a fellow called Peter Mandelson--no loss there: he seemed to be as much of a charlatan as were all his associates in the media.

Bottom line is that, though the worker bees did the best they could to turn the "Millennium Dome" and the "Millennium Experience" into a success, nobody ended up very happy with the deal. It is almost impossible to run anything creative by committee.

So I have to say I am pleased to see that the amazing structure has been rebranded the O2 Arena (I think I read about that some time during the last decade) and that, better still, it is being used as the main venue for the Olympics.

It is ideal for that, as it is out on the fringes of London, away from the worst of the traffic (if that is possible) as well as away from the monuments and also includes, or did, a huge area around it that I gather is going to be put to other uses during the big events.

The marketers behind the Millennium Dome hoped to create something as memorable for the Y2K as Prince Albert did with the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851. Great goal: except the Crystal Palace had the advantage of being built right in Hyde Park, which was smack in Central London. It also had the sovereign's consort as its idea man.

On the Thames in Y2K with colleague George Kalogridis.

In any case, the same team that was working on the Dome, also came up with the giant Ferris Wheel known as the London Eye. And that has been a big hit and remains, like the Eiffel Tower, a permanent tourist attraction from the Y2K.

Now the Dome, too, will get its due. I can imagine the great aerial shots the world will see as the Olympic sportscasting team pitches "in and out of breaks" as we say in broadcasting. It will be memorable--and the team that developed it in the face of so many handicaps in 1998 and 1999 should enjoy seeing it shine. At last.

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