It will be the envy of the world, says Blair, as lid of Dome is finally lifted

But now we have the big top, won't it need a ringmaster?
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The Independent Online
CONDUCTOR, ringmaster or creative director. Does the Dome need one? Yes, it needs a ringmaster, said Dome architect Richard Rogers on BBC's Panorama, though he now claims that soundbite was "manipulated." No, the Millennium Experience is not a circus, counters Michael Grade, chairman of the Dome's Creative Review Group. Perhaps, he suggested, Lord Rogers really meant a conductor.

Creative director? Well, the last one, Stephen Bayley, quit in disgust. So, is anyone taking an artistic and aesthetic overview of the pounds 758m project? Or is a creative supremo surplus to requirements in a multi-million-pound entertainment and educational extravaganza? "There is almost a city inside the Dome" argues Michael Grade. "And if this exhibition is about anything, it is about diversity. It's too early to make a decision on the conductor of this symphony and end the style diversity that is needed to get into the Dome."

Nevertheless, certain names are worth watching. Michael Heseltine - always a favourite with Lord Rogers' team - was on parade yesterday to explain that the Dome has always been a source of national pride, never a party political issue and that it always had his support. The BBC's Alan Yentob has been spoken of as masterminding the contents. So have Lord Puttnam, Michael Grade himself and PR man Matthew Freud.

Lord Rogers can be forgiven, indeed supported, for wanting a creative director. As the architect responsible for all interior fittings of everything from lighting to lavatories, stairs and ramps to entrances and exits, he needs to work alongside one. First he was given Imagination Gallery. When their contract was not renewed, Stephen Bayley was appointed as the creative director but resigned just six months into the job, claiming that Peter Mandelson was both overbearing and too impressionable. The showbiz impresario Cameron Macintosh was given the task of staging the centrepiece show, which he estimated would cost pounds 230m. So he was withdrawn, retained as creative adviser and appointed in his place rock 'n' roll stage set designer the architect Mark Fisher, the man who designed The Rolling Stones's "Steel Wheels" and "Bridges to Babylon" and "Pop Mart" for U2. He has brought his own lighting director, Patrick Woodruffe, for a sound-and-light show, with a score by Peter Gabriel.

The show will go on - and on, eight times a day. Showbiz or design-led, the vacancy for a person with an over-view still remains. And a creative force seems essential for what is intrinsically a show, albeit with spiritual and educational input.

Every Thursday at the New Millennium Experience offices in Victoria, Michael Heseltine meets Peter Mandelson to review projects and control sponsors who flex their muscles. British Telecom announced they are spreading their promised pounds 12m sponsorship to give everyone over the age of nine in Britain a free e-mail address service and moving into a mini-dome next door.

Yesterday, as Tony Blair stepped into the ringmaster's boots to crack the whip for new sponsorship deals - and to reveal the Dome's contents - Lord Rogers was beside him to endorse the New Millennium Experience.

This is likely to be a 90 per cent success story, Lord Rogers told BT, BAA, Tesco, Manpower, and BSkyB, which have contributed to the pounds 58.8m raised for the New Millennium Experience, which is estimated to cost pounds 153m. "The bandwagon is beginning to roll," Mr Blair added. And it seems likely that on December 31 1999 Peter Mandelson will still be driver, conductor, ringmaster or whatever title he wishes to give himself.

Leading article, page 18

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