Octopus TV Failure Awards – Millennium Dome with 2020 Vision by Andrew Eborn

In this weekly series, Andrew Eborn, President of Octopus TV and Knot The Truth and Founder of the Octopus TV Failure Awards, shines a light on the products and services, brand extensions and campaigns that failed to take off and have as a result earned entry into The Octopus TV Failure Awards.

As Andrew points out “We always celebrate success whilst hiding the failures that led to that success. The Octopus TV Failure Awards finally give failure the attention it deserves. If necessity is the mother of invention then failure is the father of success. From failed products and services to campaigns and ads we would rather forget, we want to encourage organisations and brands to be better at learning from failures not just ignoring them and pretending they never happened.”

We live in a Connected Age where data is the new currency.

The more we know about people the easier it is to understand them and not only to predict but to influence behaviour.

It is often said that history repeats itself. That it certainly true not least because we fail to learn the lessons of the past.

Human behaviour is predictable.

Every year we follow the same pattern with new hopes and dreams but without changing the way we do things.

Many claim of us to be open minded and yet merely hunt for evidence to support our prejudices whether through the newspapers we read, the programmes we watch or the people we choose to listen to.

Change will only come if we take steps to make that change.

Albert Einstein is often credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

One of the missions of my Octopus TV Failure Awards is to shine a light on our failures so we can avoid the same mistakes.

Fail to plan and you plan to fail.

Where building projects – especially those connected to major events – go wrong it is so often because the amount of work involved is under-estimated, the anticipated demand over-estimated and planning what is to happen after the major event is not fully thought through.

This week’s nominee for The Octopus TV Failure Awards is a text book example…  

Nostalgia Ain’t What It Used To Be

The Millennium Dome was the centrepiece for the UK’s celebration of the welcoming of the year 2000.

Having partied like it was 1999 – not least because it was- it was hoped we would all flock to The Millennium Dome to continue our celebrations throughout 2000.

The Dome was to represent a new, brighter Britain.

Toxic Waste

The Dome was originally conceived under John Major’s Government and included the reclamation ofthe entire Greenwich Peninsula including 300 acres of a formerly contaminated derelict gas works.

Following Labour’s historic victory in 1997, Tony Blair’s Government increased the size, scope and budget of the project significantly.

Tony Blair reputedly overruled widespread scepticism from the new Labour Cabinet to stop the project being scrapped and declared The Dome to be “a triumph of confidence over cynicism, boldness over blandness, excellence over mediocrity”.

At its opening Tony Blair declared ‘In the Dome we have a creation that, I believe, will truly be a beacon to the world’

Designed by Richard Rodgers, at the time of construction, it was the biggest dome in the world. A massive 365 m in diameter (one metre for each day of the year) with twelve 100 m-high support towers – one for each month of the year or each hour of the clock. The references to time being a reminder of Greenwich Mean Time. … and a mean time is certainly what The Dome initially received.

Costs escalated

According to The National Audit Office the total cost escalated to an eye watering £789 million.

£628 million was covered by National Lottery grants –  £204 million more than the original estimate of £399 million.

Millennium Experience

The Dome housed a year-long Millennium Experience designed to draw tourists into London. It was intended to be a celebration of mankind’s achievements.

The Experience had 14 zones:

      What we do:

  • Work, sponsored by Manpower Inc. (WORK)
  • Learning, sponsored by Tesco (WORK)
  • Rest (Richard Rogers Partnership)
  • Play (Land Design Studio)
  • Talk, sponsored by BT Group (Imagination Group)
  • Money, sponsored by the City of London (Caribiner with Bob Baxter at Amalgam)
  • Journey, sponsored by Ford Motor Company (Imagination Group)

  • Where we live:
  • Shared Ground, made from recycled card[sponsored by Camelot Group plc (WORK)
  • Living Island (WORK)
  • Home Planet, sponsored by British Airways and BAA plc (Park Avenue Productions)


    Who we are:
  • Body, sponsored by Boots, supported by L’Oréal and Roche (Branson Cortes Architecture)
  • Mind, sponsored by BAE Systems and Marconi (Office of Zaha Hadid)
  • Faith in the following sections: Making of Key Life Experiences, History of Christianity, How Shall I live?, Night Rain (a contemplation area designed by James Turrell) and Faith Festivals Calendar (Eva Jiricna Architects with Jasper Jacobs Associates)
  • Self Portrait, sponsored by Marks & Spencer (Caribiner with Lorenzo Apicella at Pentagram), with sculpture design by Gerald Scarfe

There was also a performance area where the Millennium Dome Show was performed 999 times with 160 acrobats flipping to music from Peter Gabriel 

There was a specially commissioned Blackadder: Back & Forth episode and each Local Education Authority in the UK was invited to perform as part of The Our Town Story project sponsored by McDonald’s.

I went a few times. I particularly enjoyed The Money Zone where there was a glass tunnel that contained £1million in £50 notes.

One of the many joys of being a Member of The Inner Magic Circle is the ability to use magic in everyday situations.     

I would wait for a crowd and then gently pluck a few nifty fifty notes from the wall. I took great delight in watching the rest of the crowd banging furiously on the walls trying do the same – without success …

In spite of my personal delight The Dome was widely reported by the media to be a failure.

Managing The Management

There were numerous changes of management of The Dome both during construction and after the opening.

As Jennifer Page, The Chief Exec at The Dome’s opening, pointed out:

“We risked our immediate employment futures, since cancellation was a real prospect. According to one Bechtel consultant, if we survived that, then none the less I, as chief executive of a time-limited political project, was likely to end up walking out, sacked, dead or mad.”  

Indeed, Jennifer Page was sacked shortly after the Dome opened.

Jennifer Page’s replacement was Pierre-Yves Gerbeau

Technical Glitches

On the opening night VIP guests were kept waiting outside in the cold for hours because of a ticketing problem.

Far too often, technical glitches are not ironed out before opening to the public. In the same way, I should have taken my own advice instead of trying to fly on the first day of the opening of Terminal 5. Heathrow’s £4.3 billion showcase terminal suffered a disastrous opening day with flights cancelled, luggage delayed and long queues. Rather than spending the night in a castle in Scotland we ended up in a horrendous Heathrow hotel which made Fawlty Towers look like an aspirational documentary..

Teflon Tent – Oh what a circus!

Prince Charles – one of the Royals still devoted to his duties – reputedly described The Dome as a “monstrous blancmange”.  Jonathan Meades, the writer and film maker, scathingly referred to the Millennium Dome as a “Museum of Toxic Waste”

An Attraction that Failed to Attract

In the end, the attraction proved not so attractive.

It was anticipated that there would be 12 million visitors throughout the year 2000. This proved to be a massive over-estimation. The Dome had only 6.5 million visitors.

£189 million was raised through ticket and other sales against total costs of £789 million.

Doom and the Dome

The political posturing was predictable.

The Tory Opposition Party, led by William Hague, took delight in mocking Blair for the failures.

The 2001 Conservative Party manifesto referred to The Dome as “banal, anonymous and rootless”, and lacking “a sense of Britain’s history or culture”

The poison political ping pong – with more pong than ping – proceeded.

Tony Blair reminded William Hague that Hague sat on the cabinet committee in 1996 which decided many of the issues relating to the ill-fated project.

The blame game shifted, however, with both sides recognising that hindsight always provides 2020 vision.

Michael Heseltine pointed out “I have seen the inside story, and of course, with hindsight, all of us would do it differently”

Tony Blair admitted “there are things we have done that have made people angry and we should be open enough to admit it. ….Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and if I had my time again I would have listened to those who said governments shouldn’t try to run tourist attractions”

The Dome was highlighted asan enduring symbol of Labour waste and incompetence.

That’s your lot

Following The Dome’s closure, the zones were dismantled by the sponsors and most of the contents sold in auction. There was a 4 day auction with 17,000 lots which went for a fraction of their original cost.

Er, now what?

The problems did not stop once The Dome closed its doors.

Originally, it was hoped that The Dome would be converted into a football stadium. Carlton Athletic considered it but chose to develop their own stadium.

No alternatives were in place. The Dome lay empty and continued to haemorrhage money,

According to Lord Falconer, the minister responsible for the Dome, the Government paid out well in excess of £1m a month to maintain the building after it stopped accepting visitors on January 1 2001.

Positive Developments

In December 2001, it was announced that Meridian Delta, Ltd. had been chosen by the Government to develop the Dome structure as a sports and entertainment centre and to develop the surrounding 150 acres of land for housing, shops and offices.

The Dome site was then sub-leased to Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG)

The Dome was renamed The O2 on 31st May 2005.

There was a private re-launch featuring Tom Jones – it’s not unusual – Kaiser Chiefs, Peter Kay and Basement Jaxx.

The Dome opened for its first public show on 24th June 2007 as The O2 with Bon Jovi.

Livin’ on a Prayer indeed!

Success bred success.

With a name change, The Dome went from National Embarrassment to National Treasure.

From frightening failure to screaming success.

The venue has now hosted hundreds of major artists.

In 2007 the Spice Girls reunion date at O2 sold out in just 38 seconds!


Muse packed in 21,000 people.

Prince had an impressive run of 21 nights in August 2007 – I was there. Purple prose flowed for the Purple Prince. Practically Perfect!

Michael Jackson was due to have a run of 50 shows but died before they began.

AEG’s Home Run

In its re-incarnation as the O2, the venue is now frequently hailed as the most popular music, sport, comedy and entertainment in the world.

AEG hit a home run. Over the past decade more than 60 million people have passed through The O2’s doors with close to 20 million tickets sold.

In the last financial year, 2.5 million people attended more than 200 concerts, generating a profit of £41 million.

2020 Vision – The Eye

Like The Dome, the other millennium project, The London Eye, had teething problems. Paying passengers were not able to take a flight until March 2000.

Since then The London Eye has been a constant a money spinner.

I was involved in negotiating some of the original sponsorship deals.

At its launch in 2000 The Eye was the world’s tallest Ferris wheel – 135 metres tall with a diameter of 120 metres. The Eye has 32 10-tonne capsules – each representing one of the London Boroughs.

The Eye cost less than a tenth of the price of The Dome and was financed with £70m of private – not public money.

The Eye was built as a temporary, five-year structure. Twenty years on The Eye isnow one of the UK’s most popular paid tourist attractions with over 3.75 million visitors annually.

A revolution!

Failure – The Father Of Success

As I often point out, if necessity is the mother of invention then failure is the father of success.

Both The Dome and The London Eye – whilst suffering initial problems – are now phenomenal successes and as much part of the London skyline as St Paul’s and Big Ben.

See you next time for more fantastically fabulous failures ….

© Andrew Eborn 2020 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The words “Octopus” and “Failure” and the “O” mark are Registered Trade Marks of Octopus TV Ltd and may not be used without permission. All Rights Reserved.

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Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewEborn and @OctopusTV

From failed products and services to campaigns and ads we would rather
forget, we want to encourage organisations and brands to be better at
learning from failures not just ignoring them and pretending they
never happened.

Send your nominations with full description and images to [email protected]

In addition to international recognition and glittering prizes the
winners will receive the much valued TOFA

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” – Henry Ford

“Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” – C.S. Lewis

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

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