The opening of a £106m arts complex in Cardiff that has taken nearly 20 years to become a reality was hailed yesterday as proof of a "self-confident Wales".
The Wales Millennium Centre, a gleaming structure of steel plates and layered slate on Cardiff Bay that will house seven arts companies and a 1,900-seat theatre, was declared open with fireworks and a concert after years of debate and controversy over its design, purpose and cost.
The honour of opening the doors fell toa special competition winner, Janet Thickpenny,and political leaders immediately declared the new centre an unqualified success.
Rhodri Morgan, the First Minister of Wales, who was previously sceptical about the centre, said: "It has taken 18 years to get this arts complex from conception to actual birth, but it is well worth the wait. This is definitely Welsh and world class and it puts down a marker for a very self-confident Wales taking its stage on the world map."
The opening marked the start of a three-day celebration including performances by Dame Shirley Bassey, the opera singer Bryn Terfel, the Kirov Ballet and the Cape Town Opera. Thousands of visitors are expected to attend. Last night's concert was held to honour five Welsh icons including Dame Shirley, the actress Sian Phillips and Sir Richard Burton, whose daughter Kate was due to collect an award on his behalf.
The weekend will culminate in a royal gala attended by the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales.
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