"You could spend £750m on a pile of horseshit and it'd be impressive"
March 14, 2020 6:44 PM   Subscribe

Was the Millennium Dome really so bad? The inside story of a (not so) total disaster (Guardian, March 2020) -- Organisers over promised and vastly over estimated how many guests it would attract, and the press hated it, but surveys show those who did visit overwhelmingly loved the Millennium Dome. Despite this, the collective memory is one of failure, even as the Dome's replacement, the O2 Arena, has been a huge success.
The creators of the Dome set out to provide an experience that would unite the country. In a way, they succeeded. There is something unifying, and typically British, in our collective enthusiasm for enshrining the memory of the Dome as being a bit shit, be that memory accurate or not.
My own personal memories track with those described in the article. I remember visiting the body area as a kid (and basically nothing else) and loving it, but if you had asked me my general take on the project it would have been negative. In Brexit Britain however, there's room for nostalgia about when the height of our national hubris was just a big tent.
posted by usr2047 (22 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
I didn't know anyone who went to it.
It just seemed like London thing. Cheap retro-futurism, toxic wasteland, corporate propaganda - quintessential London.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 6:54 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]


This is is giving me PTSD back to the Perth Bell Tower and more recently Elizabeth Quay. Back home it seems like every time we give our conservatives power they decide to build a useless monument to "make their mark".
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 7:42 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]


Yeah, like thatwhichfalls, I don't know anyone from Scotland who went. Maybe they did but didn't admit to it. ‘a bit shit’ is an understatement. I saw the new year by a ditch in a fairly rough part of Glasgow replacing the blown-out wheel of a rental Citroën Saxo in the pitch dark. I may have had a better time of it.
posted by scruss at 7:56 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]


i was forced to go and see it when i was visiting london by a friend's mom who mistakenly believed i might want to do touristy things instead of gurning in an afterhours with her daughter. it was a big tent! a big stupid tent! oh how we laughed.

later we were going to go on that immense wheel thing but it was like £50 to be trapped for 45min in a slow moving box with 50 other people and i can do that on the G train for $2.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:50 PM on March 14 [4 favorites]


The London Eye is actually pretty good, just crazy overpriced. The tent was a bit naff and shit but with some good elements, just like Britain at large.

(I'm not from London, nor even a fan of London despite me somehow being thrust into the position of advocate in this thread!!)
posted by usr2047 at 9:08 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


My wife (girlfriend at the time) and I visited it and it was hilariously dreadful. There was one decent bit, done by Gerald Scarfe, that was wonderfully brutal, rude and funny.

The rest of it was awful though.

It's now an OK venue in a strange location.
posted by winjer at 12:31 AM on March 15 [2 favorites]


Despite this, the collective memory is one of failure, even as the Dome's replacement, the O2 Arena, has been a huge success.

This sentence makes no sense at all. The O2 Arena is not the millennium dome. Why should the O2 Arena being successful impact either the reality or our perceptions is how shit the millennium dome was? It's like arguing that people still seem to think that WWII was bad, even though the peace that replaced it has been a great success.
posted by Dysk at 12:34 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


I went a couple of times because I was worked for BT who were a sponsor. I remember the acrobatic show as being pretty good. Somewhere there was a game called "cats and dogs" where the audience had to hold up cards and there were a video camera that tracked them - and we could play something like Pong. And there were quotations and drawings and photos that that organisers had not been able to damage too much.

An awful lost of this seems to have rested being recorded on video - on the basis of my search of Youtube - but here is the original promotional video from 1999 The commentator mentions The Great Exhibition of 1951 and The Festival of Britain a century later - both of which were very successful and had a lasting cultural impact. The whole idea for the 1851 exhibition had been cribbed from the French, incidentally.

The organisers of both these exhibitions would have faced the same kind of challenges of trying to deal with interference from all sorts of VIPS - government, royals, industry titans, etc. Yet somehow they made something that was, on balance, judged a success.

An interesting outcome of the Millennium Dome story, I believe, is that it made most Brits assume that the 2012 Olympics would be equally shit - certainly in terms of the opening ceremony. Those low expectations were probably a massive plus for the organisers of those events. People were genuinely surprised when things turned out quite well!
posted by rongorongo at 1:30 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


There's a tendency of Guardian reading Liberals to wish for a return to the halcyon days of the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony like gammons pining for the 50s.

In much the same way as the gammon version of the 50s elides anyone who was not straight, white and male this version of history has a blindspot when it comes to anyone affected by austerity, PFI or the War on some terror.

The total cost of The Dome at the liquidation of the New Millennium Experience Company in 2002 was £789 million, of which £628 million was covered by National Lottery grants and £189 million through sales of tickets etc. A surplus of £25 million over costs meant that the full lottery grant was not required. However, the £603 million of lottery money was still £204 million in excess of the original estimate of £399 million required, due to the shortfall in visitor numbers

In other words, this is peak melt.

Edit: Eeeek! Sorry rongorongo not intended as a response to your comment
posted by fullerine at 1:34 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


The Swan bell tower in Perth is no doubt a white elephant, but I spent the majority of a long and completely unscheduled holiday in Oz ringing there every lunchtime to entertain the tourists. It's a surprisingly good set of bells to ring, and I'm still friends with the people I met 15 years later. (To paraphrase a note from another bell tower, 'passing this point risks certain death'. Ringing bells in the English style requires skill learned over months and years of training and practice; if you want to learn we will welcome you, but you can't just roll up and have a go.)

When you consider how much must be spent maintaining the 3000 or so functional towers in the UK (which is a factor of 100 more than in the rest of the world combined) I think you got off cheap.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 2:22 AM on March 15


My partner went as a kid and still has the fridge magnet! I didn't get to go when it was the Millennium Dome (it opened just too late for a school trip we went on, although we did get to go to the Princess Diana Memorial Playground). Being 10 at the time it opened and not living close enough to London to have already been to the natural history or science museums a bunch, I remember being very interested in the museum-y stuff like walking through the human body or whatever, but by the time I was old enough to go to London on my own that stuff was already gone. I did go inside the now-O2 just once, to pee after taking the Emirates cable car with my sister.
posted by terretu at 5:05 AM on March 15


"For the duration of the year that the Dome was open..."

I was in my early 20s when the dome was being constructed and this for me, and for a lot of people, was our main complaint; that the dome, on which the Govt had decided to spend 3/4 of a billion pounds, was only going to be around for a year. An absolute cartoon waste of money.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 6:55 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


That brought back memories. Hundreds of the right kind of people stuck for hours in a station on New Year's Eve. How we laughed!
posted by StephenB at 7:34 AM on March 15


I took my kids (we lived in Hemel Hempstead at that point, so really, anything was an improvement). Retain only the dimmest memories of the experience… Body Zone was dark, red and baffling, the sparklies were pretty, and the much-vaunted show was... Well, had we not been to Disneyworld within the previous 18 months, had we not topped off our Disney stay with an evening at the Cirque de Soleil, we might have been quite impressed with the show.
posted by Pentickle at 8:57 AM on March 15


When you consider how much must be spent maintaining the 3000 or so functional towers in the UK (which is a factor of 100 more than in the rest of the world combined)

Am I missing something specific you're talking about here? Because there are definitely more than 30 functional bell towers attached to churches in Denmark alone...
posted by Dysk at 9:15 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


£628 million was covered by National Lottery grants

This is the nub of the thing, and I think it affects many National Lottery funded schemes - they have a bucket of money to spend and in a "jobs for the boys" type deal the money was given to the building company McAlpine. It was kind of irrelevant what they built, they just had to spend the money on something that looked vaguely worthy.
posted by Lanark at 12:42 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


I was there on the opening night, so I was one of the first people to be slightly disappointed by the whole thing. What I said at the time was that there were some bits that were interesting, and some that were dull, but there was almost nothing that was fun. The show went some of the way to addressing that, but not nearly enough.
posted by YoungStencil at 1:08 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


I went, and enjoyed it, though it did feel like someone had had the idea of having a big tent, then appointed a committee, divvied up the space inside, and then let everyone come up with a way of filling their corner, rather than having a grand overarching vision.
posted by penguin pie at 2:43 PM on March 15


so a £750m village summer fête
posted by poffin boffin at 4:02 PM on March 15 [4 favorites]


though it did feel like someone had had the idea of having a big tent

I'm pretty sure what happened is a governmental department took an edict about being a "big tent party" way too literally
posted by Jon Mitchell at 5:28 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


in a "jobs for the boys" type deal the money was given to the building company McAlpine

Lord McAlpine having been a very successful bagman for Thatcher, and then throwing all his support behind the defunct Referendum party. Lived abroad mostly, and had to resign from the Lords when his non-dom status became a problem. And people wonder where Brexit came from …
posted by scruss at 4:55 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


How much is that froggie in the window: When you consider how much must be spent maintaining the 3000 or so functional towers in the UK (which is a factor of 100 more than in the rest of the world combined)

Dysk: Am I missing something specific you're talking about here? Because there are definitely more than 30 functional bell towers attached to churches in Denmark alone...

Yep - it's a reference specifically to the kind of tower that hosts a ring of bells for change-ringing. (Although the numbers are slightly off, according to Wikipedia: 5750 in England, about 6000 in the British Isles combined, and 123 others worldwide.)
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 8:44 AM on March 17


« Older F*ck the virus.   |   Working from home, sort of, in the time of... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments