Do We Need; A Millennium Festival?

By Glancey, Jonathan | The Independent (London, England), June 17, 1996 | Go to article overview
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Do We Need; A Millennium Festival?


Glancey, Jonathan, The Independent (London, England)


Imagine you have been planning your 50th birthday party. You have chosen a curious, but potentially exciting venue and have asked a firm of party organisers to arrange details of the big event in complete secrecy. The one fly in the ointment is that the shindig is likely to cost pounds 10,000 and your bank manager can only promise to stump up pounds 5,000. Rather puts the kybosh on the whole shooting match, eh? But, as always, you have a brainwave. Why not write to your 500 guests asking them to stump up pounds 10 each for the party? Or, better still, as this would reduce a lot of paperwork and postage, get five of your oldest pals to pitch in at pounds l,000 a throw?

Why not? Because your friends would think you either tightfisted or unrealistic. The joy of being host to a swell party is all in the giving. Think big, act generously and go for broke. If you set out trying to run your party as if it was some business scam or some other commercial rap, your friends will think the less of you and there is always the danger you won't raise the pounds 5,000 anyway.

Yes, but this is all theoretical: no one you know could even begin to think of acting in such a disorganised and petty manner. No one you know, that is, except Michael Heseltine, de facto Minister for the Millennium, and a government that believes unless a giant party it has promised to hold in Greenwich in 2000 is a successful business venture, able to satisfy the book-keeping mentality of the customers of UK plc and to pay a dividend to the nation's grasping shareholders, then there will no party at all. So there.

The story of the much-hyped Millennium Festival is, it has to be said, truly pathetic. With three and half years to go to the opening, the Government is still acting like a spoilt brat. It is determined that only if private enterprise matches Lottery funding will the festival get the final go ahead. If not, Mr Heseltine and his classmates in the fifth year remove at Westminster will stop the party from happening and go off into a pouting sulk and, from the point of view of the history books, obscurity.

It does seem pitiful that as we approach what is meant to be a great, if artificial, stepping stone in the story of humankind, we are willing to let a dismal political dogma set the agenda for a celebration that will represent our beliefs to people living in 2000 years' time. If we really want a Millennium Festival, then let's have one. The money exists in the pregnant Lottery coffers. If we want a truly memorable festival, then we mustn't allow politicians in the pockets of private enterprise or other market-led downsizers to run the show for us. We will end up with something tawdry and embarrassing.

Even if Mr Heseltine can cajole socially ambitious businessmen to invest in the 300 acres of riverside Greenwich set aside for this uncertain show (a veiled offer of knighthoods and peerages is normally effective), would the result be much more than a giant advertising hoarding for Britain's biggest companies? Surely any private company investing in the show would want a high-profile return? They would be the tail that wagged the festival dog, and, as such, the Millennium Festival would be little different from a giant trade fair.

If this is what the Government and, say, 40 per cent of the electorate really wants, then there is no need to waste money on the more arcane aspects of the festival - art, culture, science, that sort of stuff. What we should be doing is transforming those 300 acres of reclaimed industrial land at Greenwich into a showcase for Britain's fervent commercial culture. Companies that have shaped the face of these islands in the run up to the Millennium should be asked to create a profitable working exhibit of their wares, for these are the things we say we value above all others in the late 1990s and will be remembered for by those looking back on our era in a thousand years' time: superstores, themeparks, leisure centres, drive-thru burger restaurants, DIY centres, satellite and cable TV franchises, executive cul-de-sac housing.

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