Performers taking part in the largest cultural festival Britain has ever staged, which launches on Thursday to mark the Olympic Games, will receive special assistance to avoid delays at immigration.
More than 25,000 artists from all 204 Olympic nations will take part in the London 2012 Festival over the next 12 weeks.
The 130 events include Africa Express – a train full of African and Western musicians performing as they traverse the UK - and the Iraqi Theatre Company’s production of "Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad".
Festival organisers are working with the Home Office to ensure that the performers’ visa applications are dealt with promptly during a period in which the Border Force immigration system is expected to come under huge pressure with the arrival of 50,000 athletes.
Ruth Mackenzie, London 2012 Festival director, said: “We’ve got special status and the immigration authorities have been exceptional so far. We have a massive amount of artists coming and there’s always a danger that some artists don’t leave enough time for the (visa) process. It’s gone up to the wire for some artists coming for the World Shakespeare Festival”.
Performers, along with Olympics officials and athletes who have not registered their biometric data in advance will be required to have their fingerprints and photographs taken by border staff when they enter the country to be checked against immigration and security watch-lists.
Olympic VIPs will sweep through dedicated passport lanes at Heathrow Airport in order to fast-track UK visit visas for athletes, coaches and officials.Thousands of UK immigration staff will be transferred from their normal duties to deal with the arrivals.
Ms Mackenzie said the festival, which launches tomorrow night with an open-air concert in Stirling by Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, was “pretty good value for money”.
She said: “It’s an investment of £55 million which some of you might think is a lot, but I assure you for a 12-week festival over the entire United Kingdom compared to the budget for just three weeks in Edinburgh or the two weeks in Manchester, frankly it’s a pretty small investment.”
Although two million people have already bought tickets for London 2012 Festival events, Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, said that the message this was a UK-wide event, had yet to fully get across.
He said: “I don’t think the penny has dropped with the public that biggest cultural festival in our history is beginning. People are just beginning to appreciate the scale of excitement. It’s a really huge moment.”
Other highlights in the first week include comedian and musician Tim Minchin performing at The Eden Project near St Austell in Cornwall, Jay-Z and Rihanna headlining the Radio 1 Hackney Weekend. Events will take place across 900 venues over the next three months.
Artist Martin Creed is marking the opening day of the Games on July 27 by encouraging people to ring a bell for three minutes from 8am. Ms Mackenzie said people would be able download a bell app if they did not have access to a doorbell or bicycle ringer.