Auld acquaintance will be forgot as 'jazzed-up' national anthem rounds off Millennium party

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The Independent Online
THERE ARE some things about New Year's Eve that never seem to change: the raucous singing of "Auld Lang Syne", the giant firework displays and the gallons of champagne.

But this year, once the guests in the Millennium Dome in Greenwich, south- east London, have explored the zones and hobnobbed with the celebrities, tradition will be swept aside as they are invited to join in with a "really cookin'" version of the national anthem.

The solemnity of the old hymn has been thrown out and in its place the 10,000 guests, including Her Majesty, will be treated to a new arrangement, featuring calpyso-style samba drummers, led by the television star Jools Holland on the piano and backed by an 80-piece orchestra. It will form a rousing finale to the party which will include concerts of both classical and pop music and a specially choreographed carnival featuring 500 performers.

Details of the evening were announced yesterday by Jennie Page, the chief executive of the New Millennium Experience.

The jazzed-up rendition of the national anthem, which has been sung in its present form for the last 250 years, will anger some traditionalists. But Mark Fisher, the creative director for the opening celebrations of the Dome, insisted that the Queen would be smiling when she heard the music.

He said: "We want to inject a bit of life into the anthem and make it more upbeat - it should be a cookin' piece of music. It will be calypso- style and vibrant. It just seemed it would be a bit leaden for them to suddenly go into a hymn at the end of all that."

The evening will begin at 7pm when the guests will start arriving at the Dome in buses. They will include the usual dignitaries, Tony Blair, with Cherie and the children, and the Archbishop of Canterbury. There will also be celebrities, but the emphasis is on "ordinary" people - thousands of unsung heroes from communities all around the country.

Ms Page said: "We want the audience to be representative of the British people and more than half of them are from ordinary backgrounds. We have found people who have made a difference and who are regarded by family, friends and workmates as being the unsung heroes of Britain."

To that end, the guests will be made up of locals from Greenwich and people who have worked on millennium projects around the country. The Dome's sponsors have also been invited and have asked along their customers and staff.

"There is a great desire throughout the millennium family for this to be an inclusive audience. Our contractors will also be there - the people who have worked on the Dome, rather than their directors," Ms Page said. "It will be a phenomenally diverse audience from Caithness to Cornwall via Northern Ireland.

"And there will be people who are experiencing significant moments in their own lives. A couple of teenagers who will be 18 on 31 December, and two sets of twins who will also be celebrating their birthdays, as well as two elderly people of 103 and 101.

"We are using the fulcrum of the Meridian Line to give this audience a once-in-a-lifetime night that will be followed by 366 amazing days [next year is a leap year]."

She said that guests had been advised to dress appropriately for the party which is, after all, taking place in a tent. "People will need to dress reasonably warmly but we also want them to dress appropriately for the party atmosphere."

Not to mention for those moments when the "eyes of the world" will be on the assembled crowd. The party will be televised and shown in millions of homes round the globe, including India and China. More than 80 international broadcasters will be there - in what is expected to be the biggest televisual event in the history of the world. Michael Lockett, the director of the company Big Time, which is responsible for celebrations and for the "river of fire" that will light up the Thames, said the mood would be celebratory rather than ceremonial.

"The objective from the outset has been to create an event that is groundbreaking and in no way replicates the standard ceremonial format," he said.

"It will never, ever be repeated and is a genuine once-in-a-lifetime experience."

The evening will be divided into five parts starting with the staggered arrival of the guests and ending with the "fulcrum of midnight". On arrival, guests will be given a welcoming glass of champagne and a few canapes before exploring the Millennium Dome's much- heralded zones.

The Queen will arrive by boat to the sounds of a 21-gun salute as she crosses the Meridian Line and from 10pm the guests will take their seats in the central arena where the Archbishop of Canterbury will lead the Lord's Prayer. There will be concerts of both classical and pop music, which will end with a "classic" rock song - but so far no one is saying which.

As the new millennium dawns around Europe, at 11pm GMT, the celebrations will be shown on giant screens and the Queen will lead the opening of the Dome in an "awe-inspiring sequence of special effects which will create a breathtaking moment".

Then a solo chorister will sing "A New Beginning" by John Tavener, which will blend into the chimes of Big Ben, and there will be the customary rendition of "Auld Lang Syne" before the stage "explodes into new life" as 500 performers put on a show.

The evening will end with the new arrangement, by the classical composer Jonathan Dove, of the national anthem. The Queen will then leave and the guests will be left to party the rest of the night away - well, until 1.30am when the celebrations are over and the staff will be left to clear up the mess and prepare for opening at midday on 1 January.

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