MEX Press Comments

Strange that almost none of what follows relates to what I, as a local resident, have found when asking Dome visitors what they thought of the ‘Experience’. No-one has yet said to me that their Dome visit was anything less than ‘excellent’ and ‘well worth the entrance fee’.. even those who have had the added expense of B&B or hotel for the night as a consequence of living at the other end of the country.

The comments below are the result of what another ‘free lunch’ does to those who have spent the past two years knocking the very concept of the Dome for six…

What we really think of the Dome

by Evening Standard reporters

© Associated Newspapers Ltd., 7th January 2000 (taken from the This Is London Web site)

* Tony Blair, Prime Minister (quoted in the Daily Mail): “I defy anyone who sets foot in the Dome not to be awed by its sheer scale, variety or range of attractions. Like anything bold or innovative or simply new in Britain, the Dome has had to see off the cynics – those who would take the easy option, those who lack the confidence in the British people, those who despise anything modern, those who are made uneasy by success. Once people see it, they will flood to visit it and be part of a great British achievement.”

* Lord Falconer, Minister for the Dome (Sun): “It is important to remember that the Dome is spearheading the regeneration of not just one of the poorest parts of London, but the whole country. Another lasting legacy will be the memories of the millions who visit the Dome. Memories of having seen what will earn the billing The Greatest Show On Earth.”

* JG Ballard, novelist (New Statesman): “I was struck by how ugly it is. It resembles a sinister abattoir disguised as a circus tent. It should have been at least half-a-mile in diameter, the largest structure on the planet, a wonder of the modern world. Instead, it looks like the last tired effort of 20th century science fiction.”

* Jeremy Irons, actor who did the voice-over for the Dome’s TV commercials (Daily Express): “The Dome is a cobbled-together tent. It suffers from the problems of the Nineties. It’s all about style, but no substance. I would like it to represent something that reflected the last millennium, the brilliance and individuality of this nation.”

* Michael Gove, journalist (Times): “For anyone lucky enough to make it into the Body Zone the eye room is a particular attraction. It is designed, with a subtle use of moving human images, to make you cry. But you don’t have to make it to the eye room to be moved to tears by the Dome. The queues will do that for you.”

* Nigel Nicolson, journalist (Sunday Telegraph): “It seems to lack a message. It also lacks a theme beyond the vaguest expression of hope that our lives will be, or should be, happier than in the past. But it virtually ignores the past. The terrible thought occurred to me that, after all this effort, all this expense, all this thought, the Dome is great fun and a miracle of engineering, but it does not say anything so brilliant as the Festival of Britain 50 years ago.”

* Anthony O’Hear, Professor of Philosophy at Bradford University (Daily Mail): “The pity is that what has been organised is so naff. William Morris, 150 years ago, spoke of the Great Exhibition of 1850 as ‘wonderfully ugly’. In that sense, the Dome is well up to the standard of its illustrious predecessor. Go if you are invited, but don’t make a special effort.”

* Andrew Pierce, journalist (Times): “It was meant to be a monument to all things Tony Blair. For ministers it was the symbol of both New Labour and their popular invention, New Britain. The Dome was to be the living embodiment of Tony’s big tent politics – impressive, imperial and yet inclusive. But Tony’s Big Tent has already turned into a remarkable circus.”

* Lynda Lee-Potter, journalist (Daily Mail): “Thousands of irate visitors have spent endless hours in never-ending queues. The shamefaced organisers admit it has been chaos. At least they can be cheered by the fact that killjoys like me who said nobody would ever go to such a ghastly building have been proved totally wrong.”

* Charles Spencer, theatre critic (Daily Telegraph): “Right up to opening night, and indeed on opening night itself, it looked as though the Dome could prove a complete fiasco … But once you arrived, you realised that somehow a near-impossible victory had been achieved. I saw it through the eyes of my six-year-old son, who was completely gobsmacked. Nevertheless, big thrills are in short supply, and I would urgently recommend building a state-of-the-art funfair outside. After all, the fair in Battersea Park was one of the most enduring and best-loved legacies of the Festival of Britain.”

* James Dalrymple, journalist (Independent): “This big baby is a winner all right. It will bring wonderment, excitement and enchantment to the millions who will come from all over Britain and from every corner of the world. And, as the word spreads about how
good it is, nobody will want to be left out. It will be the place where folk memories of the deepest and best kind are embedded for an entire generation. Someday we will all want to tell our grandchildren we went to the Dome AD2000. Gather together those who mean the most to you. And roll up for the biggest and best show on earth.”

* John McEwen, journalist (Sunday Telegraph): “The Dome is a hell-hole. When its contents were first revealed, the Daily Telegraph’s art critic, Richard Dorment, exhorted his readers to join him in a ‘mighty oath’ never to darken its doors. How right he was. It turns out to be the biggest fake orgasm in the history of passionate pretence. It is a ballet of banalities short on plot and big on technology. Inside every zone, often all-too visibly sponsored, we are nagged and nannied by sound-bites and bullet-points and interactive games to worry about our communities, the environment, education, until it all blurs – Blairs – into one.”

* Ann Leslie, journalist (Daily Mail): “Did we – thank heavens, not out of our taxes – really spend £750million on this? OK, it’s very, very big and from the outside looks like an upturned porridge bowl with curious yellow custard sticks poking out. But what is it actually for? Is it just so that everyone can have fun with its video games in a once-derelict part of London, and drench their nostrils in the smell of fast-food outlets and from time to time say, ‘Goodness me, it really is big!’ Overblown, intellectually-feeble celebrations of banality, of soggy-minded New Agery, full of empty words like ‘new’, ‘community’, ‘inconclusiveness’, blah-blah-blah seem to be the underlying theme of the Dome. If it were dedicated to simple fun, like Disney World and Epcot (which I loved), it would do it much better and with greater flair. But it seems determined to conform to New Labour’s self-righteousness and nannying tendencies. You must visit the Dome because Tony says It Will Do You Good! Verdict: Not my idea of ‘one amazing day’.”

* Hugo Young, journalist (Guardian): “‘The fantastic thing is that millennium celebrations in this country go on for a year and not just today,’ (the Prime Minister) warbled on Saturday. At the centre of this permanence is the Dome, where he, and I and 10,000 others, spent the previous night. Having been there at the moment for which it was built, I still think it’s an emblem not of British brilliance… but of a desperate, empty, national grandiosity from which, because its origins were locked in political bipartisanship, there’s been no escape. Why did they do it? It carries awe. The size of the place is pretty breath-taking. Derelict land is occupied by a structure anyone might wonder at. Some of the zones are ingenious and new. The show, on the night, was tacky, but it was undeniably big.”

* Polly Toynbee, journalist (Guardian): “This is not an I-told-you-so column. Quite the contrary. I don’t. I was not among the multitude who wished the Dome ill, hoped it wouldn’t open on time, or complained of its monumental cost. Governments are for bread and circuses … but, alas, this is not a Great Exhibition. It is a deep disappointment. It doesn’t work on any level, from the most mundane purchase of a cup of coffee to any bit of really good fun. I hate to join the chortling ranks of Dome rubbishers in the Right-wing press or the Left-wing puritans who think money should never be spent on extravagant fun and display. Both lots gleefully proclaim that all this vacuity symbolises the emptiness of Blairism, which of course it doesn’t. Success or failure, it never needed to symbolise anything much, but, alas, I have to admit the Dome is a lemon by any
reckoning.”

* Simon Jenkins, journalist (Times): “I watched a small girl sitting in the Play Zone. She was at a computer keyboard where she was making music. As she sent each note into the piano it shot upwards across a large screen in fractured shards of coloured light. The faster she played, the more dazzling was the light. The music was made colour, sound was made sight in a frenzied kaleidoscope of the senses. Across the girl’s face spread a look of total wonderment. She rose from the piano and seemed to walk on air. For her the Dome had met its purpose. There are hundreds of such incidents taking place every minute. Some are sophisticated, some banal. Some work for all, some for some, some possibly not at all.”

* Brian Reade, journalist (Mirror): “For the past 30 months, I have viewed it as a monstrous carbuncle. Within 10 minutes of stepping inside this fantastic structure, I felt over-awed. And quite ashamed of myself… For the first time, instead of looking at a political statement through the eyes of a cynic, I looked at a wondrous playground through the eyes of a child. And I realised that the Dome will be a winner for one simple reason. Every kid on earth who visits it will have their imagination fired, their mind stretched, their senses dazzled, and will pronounce on it the highest accolade known to child: ‘That was boss.'”

* Charles Moore, editor (Daily Telegraph): “The fact is, there is nothing beautiful in the Dome (except perhaps the prayer tent). It is ugly, sometimes tacky, joyless, confusing, uninformative, unhistorical, oddly insular (though intergalactic), without Disney-like gusto on the one hand or museum-like grandeur on the other. I saw no interesting inventions, works of art, designs, manufactures, or jokes. There is no overarching theme. The Dome is not vile, and there are some things for children to enjoy. But when you compare the expense of £750 million and the aspiration to lead the entire world into the new millennium with the mediocrity on show, you could weep.”

* Anne Atkins, agony aunt (Daily Mail): “Believe me I did not set out to pan the Dome, I have better things to do with my time… but what saddened me was that it seemed to sum up much about new Britain. Flash, expensive and with some talent – but without focus, without content, without meaning, and, above all, without wit. Verdict: Fun in parts. But on a scale of one to 10, one child gave it minus two.”

* David Lister, art critic (Independent): “At the end of the day I was left thinking what I thought when I heard it was costing £750 million. Is it worth it? It’s a mildly interesting day out in a not very alluring, and often not very sophisticated, environment. Unlike with Disney or the Science Museum, I have no great desire to go again.”

* Bruce Anderson, journalist (Spectator): “We should surely be able to create a monument which would resound down the ages and still stand triumphant at the next millennium – if there is one. All we can come up with is the Dome. A resounding monument indeed – to triviality and meretriciousness. We are stuck with something which looks like a large expired beetle left to decompose. The Dome was a wasted opportunity, and that is true of much of the 20th century’s social policy.”

* Suzanne Moore, journalist (New Statesman): “The Dome is a perfect example of what happens when everyone tries too hard. The Dome has been loaded with so much significance that, instead of being an airy, light creation, it is terribly heavy. Yet what has captured the public imagination? The beautiful, entirely shallow and frivolous London Eye. Everyone loves this giant wheel because it doesn’t try to tell us who we are or anything about the way we live now.”

* Susannah Herbert, journalist (Daily Telegraph): “If you believe the blurb, the Dome was designed to answer three questions: Who are we? Where do we live? And what do we do? We left none the wiser. But we all wanted to go back.”

© Associated Newspapers Ltd., 7th January 2000


Last updated, March 10th, 2000

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