There has been a lot of mean-spirited criticism of the 500,000 pay package awarded to Jennifer (“Call me Jennie”) Page, whose task is to steer the Millennium Dome project to triumphant fulfilment.
There are at least two reasons for believing her recompense is far from excessive. First, it demonstrates that a blameless career, first as a grub and then a chrysalis, in areas as tiresome as the Ministry for Public Buildings & Works, railway policy, Britoil, the London Docklands Corporation and English Heritage is no bar to a glorious butterfly existence at the age of 53. Her pay deal will encourage young people now engaged in media studies at our newer universities to try their hand at a civil service job rather than waste their time at Channel 5.
Secondly, there is the stupendous scale of her assignment. Her brief, handed down from no less a personage than the newly-anointed Celestial Emperor, is to create the biggest show on Earth – “bigger than Euro Disney, bigger than anything else, the most thrilling, most entertaining, most thought-provoking experience anywhere on the planet in the year 2000”. Yea, bigger even than the firmament itself, so big, so dazzling, so gob-smackingly brill that the vault of heaven with its clouds and skies will be as a mean and tawdry shed roof by comparison.
More daunting still is the means by which Miss Page’s work is to be judged. When in two-and-a-half years from now, she throws back the glistening curtain and invites the mighty to look on her work and despair, who will step forward but young Euan Blair, scion of the Emperor and by then in his 16th year. How poor Miss Page’s heart will palpitate and her palms moisten as she awaits the verdict. Will the virtual space walk, holograms and futuristic toy park survive the keen scrutiny of Blair the Younger?
Will the son et lumiÃÂ¨re featuring the “evolution of Man, the development of civilisation to the present day and the nation’s future” (all, one trusts, reaching their apogee in the person of Anthony Blair himself) get the thumbs up from Euan, or will the young master pronounce it naff and strangle the 750m project at birth? Who would want to step into Miss Page’s shoes (uniformly flat, we are told) and submit to the Euan Test? Not even Mark McCormack, who stands to make as much as 9m for twisting corporate arms in the cause, is required to seek such approval.
Fortunately for Miss Page it is not in young Euan’s remit to place the Millennium Dome and its contents in an historical context and assess their relevance to 2000 years of Christianity. That is as well since, as the millennium approaches, these islands are almost as godless as they were before the arrival of St Augustine. Under the Euan vision, as interpreted by his father, the celebrations are to be called the “Millennium Experience” rather than the “Millennium Exhibition”. This is a change both clever and subtle and wholly consistent with New Labour thinking. “Exhibition” implies, however faintly, a kind of paternalism, a suggestion that knowledgeable, superior people are showing things to others of lesser attainments. “Experience” puts the emphasis firmly on the sensations, feelings, and therefore importance, of the audience. It’s a trick that might profitably be learnt by the chairman of the Royal Opera House, Lord Chadlington (Peter Gummer of Shandwick Public Relations in pre-ermine days), who has been informed by the Emperor that Covent Garden must become “the people’s opera house”. The Aida Experience would be a useful step in the right direction.
The Greenwich project has been renamed The New Millennium Experience Company. (Confusingly, however, Miss Page, to whom the duty of creating the experience falls, is in charge of something called Millennium Central, just a few stops down the line from Gotterdammerung West.) There is a fear, however, that the experience may not be entirely pleasant. Lord Melchett, executive director of Greenpeace, warns that the dome, which is to be constructed in PVC, an “environmental poison”, may leak heavy metals such as cadmium and lead.
But that seems a small price to pay for the “chance for Britain to make a big statement about itself and the rest of the world”, to quote the infinitely wily Mr Mandelson. So what will we tell the world as it flocks beneath the poisonous dome? As yet the answers are but partially formed and locked between the ears of Miss Jennie Page. We do know, however, that the show will look at “life in the future including changes to food, lifestyle, housing and technology”, which sounds horribly like an opportunity for the dreary propagandists to stick their oars into the proceedings.
Smoking will, of course, be banned within a five-mile radius of the dome on the ground that it impinges on the sacrosanctity of human life. But visitors will be invited to admire the Drive Thru’ Lunchtime Abortion Clinic. Litigation Plaza might be worth seeing, with its cast of virtual reality pregnant Wrens, failed schoolchildren and victims of sexual discrimination. Macmillan Cancer Relief deserves a son et lumiÃÂ¨re show of its own to illustrate its exciting prediction that by the year 2018 half the population will develop the disease. And whatever you do, don’t miss The Great Hall of Obesity. Euan will love that.