Barry Manilow! I loved him when I was growing up! Oh Ok then… I was persuaded to go along by a friend… I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy it but hey he was one of the greats so why not? And when he came on he looked good – still slim, a full head of hair and well dressed. And the voice was… still amazing. It always takes me aback a bit when I hear a top notch voice – many people can sing but not many have that special warmth and quality in their voices that the most successful singers of any genre or era have…

While we were waiting for him to come on I had started to think about the O2. It started life as the Millennium Dome of course. I remember all the constant debate and wrangling over how to mark the beginning of the third millennium of the modern world.  At the time I felt puzzled as to how we ended up with a great big dome….! It’s like they were almost relieved to have decided…. Last chance saloon… The debate seemed to go on forever, it seemed to me they were missing the point, it was probably really a time to look back at what the modern world had achieved and how we could improve our way of life….. less war, less poverty, that sort of thing, but we ended up with a great big dome! Perhaps a case of too many cooks…

Anyway, on 31st December 1999, the New Year’s Eve party at the dome was attended by 10,500 people as well as the PM and the Queen. I remember how everyone I knew spent half the year discussing how to celebrate that night – it was bound to be a let-down whatever we did! Personally I was glad when it was over…! The next day the Millennium Dome exhibition opened, but was shut down by the 31st December 2000 as it had huge financial problems and failed to cover expenses with visitors’ expenditure.…. Such is the apathy of the human race these days… or perhaps the lack of imagination of those charged with having ideas…

The Dome is the 8th largest usable building in the world and ended up being sold as a commercial venue – now of course being part of the O2. The exhibition was completely demolished, but the Dome survives. It has a tower for each month of the year or hour of the clock, and represents Greenwich meantime. The exterior is similar to the Dome of Discovery from the Festival of Britain in 1951. All quite nice, but it just didn’t capture the public’s imagination. Not surprising as it was originally started by John Major’s government and then taken over by Tony Blair who expanded the size, scope and funding hugely (Labour hasn’t changed). It was touted as a glittering ‘New Labour’ achievement but of course labelled by the Tories as ‘banal’. It was ever thus… The dome almost representing perfectly the constant tug of war in this country between Conservatives and Labour and resulting in a dreadful fiasco…. For which we pay the price, both financially and with the headache of dealing with the resulting debacle….

To me, the Millennium Dome also represents the hollowness of our society now – religion, especially Christianity, which the dome was meant to celebrate, being replaced by the cult of celebrity worship – and becoming an entertainment venue instead – almost biblical in its imagery.

So, here we were, waiting for Barry Manilow, a master of entertainment, with thousands waiting to worship him with their green glow sticks and raised arms, in what was once meant to be a monument to our entering the third millennium of Christianity…

But he was more than excellent. He sang beautifully – lots of his own stuff – Mandy, Could it be Magic, Bermuda Triangle, all the ones we remembered and other songs of the time too. He reminisced about his childhood in deep poverty in New York, but with a close and loving family, especially his Russian Jewish grandfather who encouraged him into music. He played the piano beautifully too, defying his 75 years of age, like so many now. Yes, he looks as if he has had the obligatory Botox, maybe surgery, bleached teeth and also yes, he has a huge fan following who worship him like a demigod, but he does at least have real talent, and that is the way of the world now. We worship at the altar of celebrity and good looks, not at the church or the temple. His is a true rags to riches story, fuelled by hard work and talent. I must admit his story touched my heart. And many of his fans form groups who meet up regularly – quite sweet really. Maybe not such a bad image for the new millennium after all…

He finished with one of his most famous songs, written at the peak of his career… ‘I write the songs that make the whole world sing, I write the songs – I write the songs…’. And as I sang and danced along with thousands of other people, I had to agree ‘Yes, Barry, you certainly do…’

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