He's a master of artificial emotion, loves complicated plots and often leaves a hole in your pocket. So Tony Blair was perfectly at home at the Royal Opera House yesterday as he helped launch London's bid for the 2012 Olympics.
Amid the opulent surroundings of the Covent Garden venue, the Prime Minister joined a galaxy of sporting heroes to give his blessing to plans to host the first games in Britain since 1948.
But while the details of the London bid topped the bill, for some the real show was the first meeting of the Prime Minister and the Mayor of London since he was readmitted to the Labour Party.
Forget Cosi fan Tutte, this was Cosy Ken-Tony, a complex tale of how a deliberately mismatched couple, Don Toni and Kenarossa, end up getting married and living happily ever after.
Now it was time for the finale, the handshake scene, the key moment when the pair consummate their marriage of convenience.
Mr Blair entered the arena and a buzz went round the audience. Mr Livingstone got to his feet. After a brief exchange of smiles, the deed was done. Blink and you missed it.
After another famous first handshake, when he met Gerry Adams at Downing Street in 1997, Mr Blair confided: "I felt like putting a glove on". Yesterday, he chose to maintain some dignity instead by choosing not to sit in the empty seat next to Red Ken.
London faces fierce competition for the right to stage the Olympics from eight rival cities, including Paris, New York and Rio, but Mr Blair said the British people's "passion" for sport gave it the edge in the competition. Barbara Cassani, chairman of the bid team, said the "compact" package could definitely win the vote next year.
The plans involve transforming 1,500 acres of east London into the main Olympic site with a new 80,000-seater athletics stadium.
The rebuilt Wembley would be used for football, Wimbledon for tennis and the Millennium Dome would stage gymnastics and basketball. The regeneration could create around 40,000 jobs and 30,000 homes.
But above all, it may be damned good fun. Mr Blair sought to have the last laugh with a risqué reference to the fact that beach volleyball would be sited just outside his window in Horseguards Parade. "It's going to keep any Prime Minister well and truly involved" he joked. Fortunately, he didn't talk about the 100m breast-stroke.
So, it seems they've got the site, the vision and the will to win. It may yet have a happy ending, rather than a tragic one. However, the only problem left for this Opera-loving bid is that it may need more than three tenners to win over the votes of the International Olympic Committee.
- More about:
- Covent Garden
- Feet (anatomy)
- Gerry Adams
- Labour Party
- Royal Opera House