Every second counts as Britain sells off the millennium

Days are numbered in rush to exploit Greenwich Mean Time

In a move that will confirm the fears of those worried about the commercialisation of everything, the Old Royal Observatory in Greenwich announced yesterday that it is looking for someone to sponsor time.

In fact it is looking for lots of sponsors who will pay to attach their names to the 1,000 days that are left between today and New Year's Eve 1999.

The initiative is part of Meridian 2000, a marketing operation set up by the Old Royal Observatory, part of the National Maritime Museum, to exploit Greenwich's zero degree longitude position on the meridian.

Meridian 2000 hopes to attract companies with names and numbers that will be significant to them - the company is already hopeful about selling day 57 to Heinz to tie in with its 57 Varieties brand and Boeing has expressed an interest in buying day 737.

More obscurely, Xerox is interested in days that relate to the model numbers of its range of photocopiers.

Since no one has yet found a way to copyright time, Meridian 2000 is offering the Old Royal Observatory as a venue for corporate hospitality on the days bought, and is allowing the sponsoring companies to use the Greenwich Meridian logo.

The Greenwich logo allows brands to promote themselves as officially connected with the the millennium.

"We think people will like the fun concept of being able to buy a day," said Laura Weston, the National Maritime Museums' spokeswoman. "It's not all commercial, we are making day 1,000 an open day for the public and day 999, Sunday, is given free to the emergency services."

Members of the public will also be able to hire the observatory - from around pounds 3,500 for the day - if they want to mark significant dates such as wedding anniversaries.

"We're hoping to offer something practical to the companies who have a vague idea that they should be doing something related to the millennium," said Simon Gillespie whose corporate hospitality company is selling off the 1,000 days.

The National Maritime Museum hopes to raise pounds 8m from exploiting the millennium. It needs the money to top up pounds 12m it has received from the National Lottery Heritage Fund towards a pounds 20m redevelopment of museum buildings.

Already signed up as long- term partners for the millennium are Mumm Champagne, which has bought the position of "Official Champagne" of the millennium, and Accurist, which, as official timekeeper for Greenwich, is supplying a 1,000-day countdown clock.

Television personality Carol Vorderman and the Lord Mayor of London, Alderman Roger Cork, were at a private New Year's Eve-style party at the observatory last night for the official unveiling of the Green- wich Millennium Countdown Clock.

A deal has even been signed for a millennium wine from a Bordeaux vineyard that lies on the zero meridian. A commemorative coin has also been planned.

Greenwich has sold the television rights to a 24-hour telethon on New Year's Eve 1999 at the meridian to usher in the millennium.

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