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Sunday, 6 February, 2000, 13:24 GMT
The Dome - from conception to birth

Dome model The Dome was originally a Tory idea


Prime Minister Tony Blair has called it "a great British achievement" while Prince Charles reputedly thinks of it as a "monstrous blancmange".

No one in Britain, it seems, is without an opinion on the Millennium Dome - as a certain Frenchman is rapidly learning.

But although the appointment of Pierre-Yves Gerbeau from Disneyland Paris as the new chief executive has come early in the year, the flaghship attraction already has a long history.

First ideas


construction site When we were very young: 1998
The Dome is thought of as Labour's baby.

While Peter Mandelson as Minister without Portfolio oversaw much of its construction, the idea was actually conceived under Tory rule.

Former Conservative Deputy PM Michael Hestletine launched the project back in February 1996.

The Millennium Commission, the board which planned the UK's year 2000 celebrations, wanted an attraction which would "entertain, educate and inspire the nation" and the Dome idea got under way.

Construction

A former gasworks site on the northern tip of the Greenwich Peninsula in south east London was chosen to house the Dome.


Dome details
Feb '96: site purchased
June '97: Construction begins
June '98: "Topping out" ceremony
June '99: Zone designs revealed
Dec '99: Celebrations marred by queues
1 Jan 2000: More queues as first visitors enter
Feb 2000: Damning report on visitor numbers
5 Feb 2000 Jennie Page resigns
5 Feb 2000 Pierre-Yves Gerbeau appointed
TOTAL COST: 758m
On 23 June 1997, the first of 8,000 concrete piles were driven into the site, followed by the construction of a concrete beam marking out the Dome's 1km circumference.

The 12 trademark yellow masts were next, each 100m long and held in place by high strength cable.

By 22 June 1998 the Dome was looking recognisable - the Teflon-coated canopy was on and Prime Minister Tony Blair attended the "topping out" ceremony.

Now came the tricky part - filling it.

'Waste of money'

The New Millennium Experience Company, set up to build and run the Dome, and headed by the "formidable" Jennie Page, had commissioned designers to create 14 themed zones ranging from "work" and "play" to "the body".

Intense media speculation built up concerning what would fill the zones and whether they would be finished by the deadline.

But in June 1999, as the lid was lifted on the designs for the zones, an NOP poll for GMTV said more than three-quarters of the population believed the 758 million Dome to be a waste of money.

Millennium night

Prime Minister Tony Blair still gave his full backing to the project and the Dome was made the hub of the UK's Millennium celebrations.

On 31 December 1999 the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh and senior members of the government attended a grand opening ceremony.

Unfortunately, many of the 2,000 guests also due to attend on New Year's Eve were kept waiting in the cold at east London's Stratford station after their tickets failed to arrive by post.

Queues were long that night - a sight which was to become all too familiar the following month.

During January the Dome received high media coverage.



Some was positive but much focused on the apparent paradox that attendance figures seemed lower than expected but waiting times, in particular for the body zone, were high.

NMEC has denied that the figures were poor, saying that January was a bad month for any tourist attraction and that the Dome is still on track to be an overall success.

Following the resignation of Jennie Page after four troubled years in charge of the attraction, it falls to the man from Disneyland to put the sparkle into the Millennium Dome's fortunes

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See also:
05 Feb 00 |  UK
Profile: New blood at the Dome
06 Feb 00 |  UK
Dome 'not in trouble'
05 Feb 00 |  UK
Dome chief resigns
01 Feb 00 |  UK
Testing time at the Dome
08 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Dome still dogged by queues
01 Jan 00 |  UK
Dome opens for new millennium

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