Sex poses problem for Dome's giant statue

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The Independent Online
A GIANT silver figure, larger than the Statue of Liberty, will take centre stage in the Millennium Dome, officials confirmed yesterday.

But executives from the New Millennium Experience Company, who are overseeing the project, are still arguing about its sex, a spokesman said. Sitting or reclining on the floor of the Dome with its limbs spreading out for hundreds of feet, the figure will still reach the roof 170ft above, he said.

And at 320ft long it will be nearly 20ft longer than the Statue of Liberty is tall. "There will be a body in the dome and it will be on that kind of scale," the spokesman said.

"No decision has yet been taken on whether it will be androgynous, male, or female."

He dismissed as "speculation" reports that the figure was originally male, but executives had decided to build a huge mother figure - dubbed Britannia - which would be accompanied by the smaller figure of a child.

But he confirmed that the steel and glass fibre body will house exhibits. "The idea is you would be able to physically go inside and there will be designs and interactive exhibits looking at functions of the body, medicine and health in the future."

A large-scale model of the figure could be ready for 24 February, when Peter Mandelson, the minister in charge of millennium celebrations, will unveil some of the Dome's top attractions. The ceremony will provide Mr Mandelson with a key platform to impress potential corporate sponsors of the pounds 758m project.

The New Millennium Experience has denied putting the Dome up for sale. The company insists that it has not signed any contracts with the investment bank Goldman Sachs to handle the sale of the structure in Greenwich, south-east London, valued at about pounds 40m.

A decision on the future use of the site would, however, be taken in 2000, the group said.

The announcement came after reports that Goldman Sachs had been called in to find a buyer to redevelop the building at the end of 12 months of celebrations.

A number of parties including a consortium led by banking giant HSBC and P&O, which owns Earl's Court and Olympia exhibition venues in west London, were believed to be interested.

A spokesman for the New Millennium Experience Company said: "The position is that we have not entered into any contract with Goldman Sachs or anybody else."

Reports said the new owner would be required to retain the Dome's superstructure but would be able to redevelop the interior for leisure, hotel, theme park or exhibition use.