So, another 41 million quid is to be spent on ceremonials for next year's Olympics and Paralympics in London. That's showbusiness for you.
Most of it, no doubt, will go on glamming up the opening ceremony of the main Games on 27 July. Welcome to Friday night at the Stratford Palladium.
Hugh Robertson, the Sports Minister, insists that the extra cash – doubling the original budget – will be money well spent on promoting Britain. "There will be four billion people watching the ceremonies around the world and, given the unique opportunity, we wanted to help make sure that they will showcase the best of the UK," he says.
Fine, but does this really have to be an exercise in lavishness? Coming at a time when the nation is in such dire straits economically,another £41m seems an obscene amount to splurge out on an extravagant piece of window-dressing which Paula Radcliffe rightly dismisses as "frivolous".
After Beijing, where no expense was spared to present a way-over-the-top political showpiece designed to invite London to "follow that", our Games organisers promised faithfully they would not attempt to do so. We were assured London's ceremonies were to be different, and dignified. And at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer. I have no doubt they will be different, but I have my concerns about the dignity and now we know the cost has escalated.
Wouldn't it be better to preserve that £41m now that the NationalAudit Office says there is a real risk of an overspend of public money, or alternatively put it into a kitty to provide a decent legacy and help halt the ominous decline in grass-roots participation?
Will a super-duper, gob-smacking opening ceremony really boost the economy? Or just the profits of the fireworks manufacturers?
The more-cash-for-ceremonies revelation, which was apparently endorsed by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, came at the tail-end of the announcement that the security costs have also doubled, from the original estimate of £282m to £553m.
I don't quibble with that. It's hardly surprising, as it was substantially underestimated when London won the bid, and the very next day suicide bombers ravaged the city.
No sum is too great to make the Games safe for all in times when the threat of terrorism is ever-present in our daily lives and is heightened by an event of such magnitude.
It is less easy to justify splashing out more millions of pounds onwhat basically is a piece of elaborate curtain-raising followed at the end by an emotional bow from the cast of thousands.
So far we have no idea what the accomplished film producer Danny Boyle has in mind for London's opening ceremony. He has a great track record in the celluloid industry – much of it, as it happens, in the low-budget field. But with virtually ablank cheque, no doubt the eventual production number will be more Millionaire than Slumdog.
In striving to be different, London must not forsake all its traditional values. No one wants excessive displays of Pearly Kings and Queens doing the Lambeth Walk, or the Band of the Coldstream Guards rendering "Knees Up Mother Brown".
But I hope it won't be all rap, rock, and politically correct symbolism from the cast of EastEnders. Or another elongated exercise in the esoteric. But breath should not be held for, as I have said before, when you let the luvvies loose on sportthe result can be hideously self-indulgent. Witness the 2012 Olympic posters and the preposterous exploding bus in London's contribution to the Beijing closing ceremony.
Happily there is the prospect of Boris Johnson (if re-elected as London mayor) bringing a touch of levity to an occasion that otherwise threatens to take itself far too seriously. Mind you, he may have to double up with Dizzie Rascal.
I confess that I am no great fan of these ceremonies, having sat through 11, though there have been some that I have enjoyed. But with the exception of Tokyo's, which was memorably enchanting, all of them went on for far too long. The only Games marathon that London needs is the one which finishes at Buck House.
I was enraptured by the mariachi musicians of Mexico City's overture (though not by the battalion of militia disguised a boy scouts); I loved the passion of Barcelona's and the simplicity of Sydney's. I was moved by Mischa the Bear's tear-drop in Moscow and by Muhammad Ali's tear-jerker in Atlanta.
Los Angeles, as you would expect, was pure Hollywood, if tediously over-hyped, and Seouls' was, well, rather soulless. The whip-cracking by lederhosen-clad men in Munich was an embarrassing no-no, while the world giggled as Vancouver's phallus-like ice totem poles failed to stand on ceremony.
Beijing's, while breathtakingly brilliant, was tempered by knowing the Chinese government was cynically burning money as a blatant piece of political PR. Now London seems determined to do the same.
True, there's no business like showbusiness, and there is no show bigger than the Olympics. But we seem to be in danger of losing sight of the raison d'être of the Games, which is to showcase sport and not the entertainment industry. The latter has ample opportunities for self-aggrandisement elsewhere in the global theatre.
I have no doubt that Lord Coe's team will produce a wonderful Olympics, but if a 2012 showbiz extravaganza really is what is required to draw the oohs and aahs from the IOC bigwigs and visitors from overseas then there are plenty of sensational productions in London's West End which fit the bill.
The only smash hit the East End needs to stage is one in which sport itself is the star.
- More about:
- Commonwealth Games