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That millennium - the big stories you wouldn't have thought of in a thousand years

I WAS up in London the other day helping to plan the March Against The Countryside (yes, the little-known March AGAINST The Countryside, planned as a counterblast to the Countryside March - but more about this tomorrow ). Anyway, so there I was in London when I bumped into my old friend Adrian Wardour-Street, the doyen of the PR business, the man who makes Max Clifford look like Max Clifford. I steered him into the nearest catering establishment and asked him what he was working on now.

"It's the big one," said Adrian. "The Millennium."

"Oh, no - don't tell me you've got mixed up with the Peter Mandelson crowd!"

"The Dome gnome? No, no - nothing like that. I'm heading up the new Millennium Press Authority."

"The WHAT?"

Adrian looked around to make sure nobody was listening, and leant towards me confidentially.

"Has it ever occurred to you how many stories are going to be generated by the Millennium? Big, big, stories? And I don't mean little Dome stories - I mean world stories!"

"What sort of stories?"

"Well, stories about the first baby in the world to be born in the 21st century. About the last person to die in the 20th century. About the twins who were born ten minutes apart - but in different centuries!"

"What twins?"

"Well, we don't know who they are yet, but there are bound to be some. There always are. A pair of twins born just either side of midnight on 31 December 1999! `We're the same age - but centuries apart!' Sensational! That's the sort of story we're after. So we'll be keeping track of all sets of twins likely to be born that day, and splashing the names of the lucky ones the next morning!"


"Well, unlucky for them, but lucky for us. We're also keeping track of all old people born in the last year or two of the Victorian era."


"WHY? Because anyone born in 1899 who survives to AD 2000 will have lived in three different centuries, that's why! What a story! And we'll be covering every development in the South Seas..."

"Why the South Seas?"

"Oh, for heaven's sake, because that's where the International Date Line is and that's where the new century will start first! Think of all the stories about the people who travelled there specially - and the ones who missed it! `I overslept and missed the Millennium,' says Yorkshire man. `We went back in time' say Australian couple who sailed their boat over the Date Line from the new century into the old! And we know all about the people who want to be the first in the new century, but what about those who want to stay as long as possible in 1999 and are the last to leave the old century, just across the Date Line on the wrong side? What about them, eh? Oh, there'll be masses of stories. As long as the Millennium Press Authority can keep tabs on them."

"This is all a bit remote, though," I said. "What about millennium stories closer to home?"

"Masses of them," he said. "1 January 2000. The First 21st Century New Year Honours List. Arise, Sir Peter Mandelson."

"You're kidding!"

"Am I? Wait and find out. Then there will be features on Princess Diana - `Our First Century without Diana!' or `The New Century - What Would Diana Have Thought?', and stories about the Millennium Dome Bug..."

"The Millennium Dome Bug?"

"Yes. We're going to spread a rumour that the Millennium Bug is not confined to computers, but that the Dome is affected as well, being unable to cope with the change of the century, and is due to collapse some time in the early hours of 1 January, with tremendous loss of life."

"Is there any truth in the story?"

"I sincerely hope not," said Adrian. "My knighthood will go for a burton if it does."

"Your knighthood ?"

"You can only live in hope," said Adrian, winking. "Mention it in your column if you can. Never too early to sow the seed."

"Consider it done," I said. "Sir Adrian."

I won't swear to it, but I think he blushed.