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Witness 2000: review of the year Nick Higham
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Nick Higham on why the Millennium Dome really went wrong
The Millennium Dome
January
In this month:
Basque separatists ETA ended their ceasefire with a bomb that prompts a one-million strong demonstration.
Zelijko Raznatovic, the Serbian paramilitary leader better known as Arkan, was killed in Belgrade. Panama (peacefully) took control of the eponymous canal while Russia’s army (forcefully) took control of Grozny, the capital of breakaway republic Chechnya.
Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl was investigated over a party funding scandal. Another former politician, the UK’s Jonathan Aitken, left jail after serving time for perjury.
Suspected war criminal Konrad Kalejs left the UK for Australia while Dr Harold Shipman, the UK’s worst known serial killer, was jailed for life.
In business, AOL and TimeWarner announce a huge merger. And if that wasn’t big enough, TimeWarner’s music arm announces a proposed merger with the UK’s EMI.
Glaxo Wellcome and Smithkline Beecham announce they too are to merge - creating a company worth £114bn.
In the UK, shops were forced to convert to metric measure three decades after it was first introduced - though a pint of beer has remained just that.
Surgeons in France performed the world’s first double arm transplant while inspiration of another kind prompted a Christian group to launch an online confession service.
And the UK’s first baby of 2000 was believed born to Alison Webb, 28, at Birmingham women’s hospital, seconds after midnight.
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The Millennium Dome
It was meant to be a statement of the UK's place in the 21st century - BBC arts correspondent Nick Higham watched as the Dome went up - and came down to earth with a bump.

Or read the transcript

Outsiders often get the wrong idea about journalism.

They think reporters live an intensely exciting life, constantly rushing to crises and catastrophes, constantly surprised by the events we cover.

In reality, most stories are boringly predictable. It's very rare that you find yourself saying, "I don't believe it!" when a story breaks.

But it does happen - sometimes. And back in September I had not one but two "I don't believe it" moments within a week. And both were provoked by the Millennium Dome.

The first came on September the fifth. That was the day the Dome - which had already had, you'll remember, a lottery grant of 399 million pounds, plus four top-ups of 50 million, 60 million, 29 million and 43 million - got yet another dollop of dosh from the Millennium Commission, 47 million pounds, plus a new executive chairman, David James.

I'd gathered the night before that something was up - but the Dome's press officers and the Commission's were evasive.

And the idea that the Dome might be after yet another transfusion of lottery money seemed so outlandish I didn't even put the question.

So when the call came in the morning my reaction was one of sheer disbelief. I laughed.

And when I started calling colleagues to alert them to the story they simply laughed as well.

That was the day the Dome finally made the grade as a fully-fledged fiasco. After that, you felt, it couldn't get any worse.

Yet it did. Exactly a week later the Dome's sale to a Japanese-backed consortium fell through.

The unfortunate Lord Falconer -- the rotund Dome minister and friend of Tony Blair who'd been featured on the front pages of several newspapers the previous week under headlines urging him "Just Go" -- the unfortunate Falconer once again faced calls for his resignation.

And it emerged that English Partnerships, who were handling the sale, had been told to consider every option for the site - including knocking the whole thing down, a wretched end for a project that was supposed to show what a dynamic, confident and successful country modern Britain was.

Since then, of course, the government HAS found someone to buy the building, but its days as a visitor attraction are over, to the disappointment of its ebullient French boss, PY Gerbeau.

Since then, too, we've had a report from the National Audit Office, dissecting just what went wrong with a project that has proved the biggest financial disaster for the public sector since the notorious British Library.

The finances were doomed, it seems, from the moment in 1997 that the new government accepted a projection of 12 million visitors in the space of a single year.

In fact, the Dome hasn't been an unmitigated disaster.

Just a week before that first "I don't believe it" story I'd been at the Dome presenting a pioneering half-hour webcast for BBC Online.

We'd commissioned a special survey among online users -- which showed that 87 per cent of visitors had enjoyed their time at the Dome.

And though its actual visitor numbers, at around six million, fall far short of the original target, it's still the biggest paying visitor attraction in the country, comfortably outstripping Alton Towers.

Yet when historians of the future look back at Britain in 2000 the Dome will figure, and figure as a failure.

There was that disastrous opening night, when the good and the great had to queue for hours in the cold at Stratford underground station.

There were those ridiculous visitor forecasts, drawn up not on the basis of sound research but as the only way to make the books balance.

There were too few managers with the right experience and too many meddling politicians, too many changes of mind and too little clarity of vision -- which is why the Dome ended up as an uncomfortable cross between a theme park and a museum.

It was, in truth, far too ambitious.

The politicians and the Millennium Commission wanted an exhibition which would encapsulate the very best of modern Britain, a beacon to the rest of the world, the most exciting and enjoyable experience available at the Millennium anywhere.

We ended up with a striking upturned wok and the Body Zone, a modest success as an exhibition, a gargantuan financial and political failure - but a wonderful story for journalists.