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Monday, 27 December, 1999, 09:48 GMT
Dome dame gets things done

Jennie Page:  'keep pushing' Jennie Page: 'Keep pushing'

If it's customary to let people choose their own epitaphs, then it's a reasonable bet that the Millennium Dome's chief fix-it Jennie Page would opt for: "I got things done."

Widely seen as a supercharged civil servant rather than inspired visionary, the energetic Ms Page, 55, has pushed, tugged and cajoled what's billed as the world's greatest millennium event from unwanted pregnancy to bouncing babyhood.

A product of Barr's Hill Grammar School, Coventry, and the University of London, Jennie Page joined the Ministry for Public Buildings and Works in 1968 and swiftly rose through the civil service ranks before disappearing into the City for much of the 1980s.

In 1989 she rejoined the public sector as chief executive of English Heritage, a post she held for six years. In 1994 she also became a director of Railtrack - and kept a determined low profile in the aftermath of the Paddington rail crash.

Visitors in the Dome's mind zone
But there was no hope of hiding from the cameras in 1995 when she took the role of chief executive of the Millennium Commission. She was given the task of making the 758m Greenwich project happen on time, on budget and on message.

When, in 1997, the wavering project was endorsed by Tony Blair's new government, the CEO was told it had to meet five targets laid down by the Prime Minister. The Millennial Exhibition had to be exciting, it had to relate to the whole country, it had to leave a permanent legacy, and it also had to pass the "Euan test" - making it a "can't miss" for Mr Blair's teenage son.

Above all, the Dome shouldn't be seen to be a drain on the public purse - a tall order with telephone number budgets involved.

There was also the issue of Ms Page's salary.

Cheap at the price

The news that her three-year deal included a 150,000 annual salary, 67,500 pension contribution and 45,500 target bonus drew anguished squawks from the project's critics. Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes declared it an "obscene fat cat pay package".

But the "fat cat" wasn't taking the charge lying down. She was, she pointed out, in charge of one of the world's largest building projects, and as such she was worth every penny.

"You are talking about something bigger than Euro-Disney or Alton Towers. It will be the biggest event in the world in 2000. The salary is considerably less than the market rate for such events," said a spokesman.

You need to keep pushing that stone uphill
Jennie Page
Money wasn't the only problem. In 1997 a telephone poll on BBC Radio 2's Jimmy Young programme showed public opinion running against the Dome by an overwhelming 20 to 1.

Whitehall officials dealing with the now re-named New Millennium Experience Company also voiced reservations.

One source was reported as saying the former civil servant "was grandiloquent about lasers and the sublime curve of the Dome but doesn't seem to have a clue what to put in it".

Management style

Two years later the Dome was up, the exhibits ready, and many of the doubting voices silenced. Visitors privileged to preview the millennial extravaganza confessed sheepishly they had gone hoping to hate it and instead came away with a grudging admiration.

Jennie Page is clear about her management style: "What you need to do is decide when a team needs an extra push, then you need to give that extra push and keep pushing that stone uphill," she said.

Whether that stone has been pushed far enough remains to be seen. The civil servant who promised Tony Blair she would deliver the Dome won't know whether she's really succeeded until the public deliver their verdict next century
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See also:
22 Dec 99 |  UK
Dome alone: Is it fun for adults?
19 Dec 99 |  AudioVideo
Dome gets thumbs up

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