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PostPosted: Fri Oct 28, 2005 11:03 am

28 October 2005



The Millennium Dome.

By Kevin O'Sullivan

WHOPPING white elephant, national laughing stock and a giant thorn in New Labour's side... For five years, the government has winced at the very mention of the Millennium Dome.

Since its main attraction - a deeply unpopular cross between a fun fair and an educational exhibition - was cancelled due to lack of interest, it has assumed an aura of tragedy.

Lying neglected to the east of London, the £730million structure soon fell into disrepair.

But it's now poised for a remarkable transformation that could see it become the country's prime music venue, hosting gigs by the likes of U2, Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones.

US firm Anschutz Entertainment Group is pumping £500million into the vast project, while mobile phone company O2 is sponsoring its rebirth to the tune of £6million.

These are the first pictures of what the rejuvenated Dome - to be renamed The O2 - will look like when it reopens in 2007.


It will include a 23,000 capacity arena, a more intimate "music club" with 2,200 seats, a theatre, the British Music Hall of Fame and The O2 Exhibition Bubble.

Not forgetting at least seven bars and 10 restaurants all housed under that curved roof.

"The O2 is a stunning building which, sadly, became a sort of national joke," says David Campbell, London-based chief executive of AEG Europe.

"But now it's going to be a real jewel in the nation's crown - something we can all be proud of."

And live music will be the key to its success. AEG already controls the Colosseum, at Las Vegas's famous Caesars Palace - where Elton John and Celine Dion have signed multi-million dollar residency contracts.

It also owns the Staples Center in Los Angeles - which is breathing new life into a previously rundown area to the south of Hollywood.

Music business veteran Irving Azoff is looking forward to The O2's unveiling. "I can't think of a more sure-fire bet than this project," he says.

Azoff is already making plans for his top stars, including Christina Aguilera, Seal and the Eagles, to headline.

"I mean no disrespect but when the Eagles played at London's Earls Court, the guys in the band asked me if we were in Russia. It's like something out of the dark ages and the sound quality is appalling.

"It's extraordinary that a city like London, with such a formidable reputation for great music, doesn't really have a decent place to stage major bands.

"This venue will make life so much more pleasant for the people who want to see live music."

Although the development won't be up and running until 2007, the biggest names in pop are already competing to stage The O2's history-making inaugural performance.

And bosses are prepared to pay millions in a bid to pull off a major launch-night sensation - even reuniting rock icons Pink Floyd for the occasion.

Legendary acts U2, Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones could also set the ball rolling.

AEG's Brandon Phillips - who managed Rod Stewart for 16 years - is in charge of luring big-name acts to the stadium. "There are about 15 major artists already lobbying to open The O2," he reveals. "And I have a wish list of a few more I'd be very interested in."

Subscribers to O2 will also reap the benefits. They can look forward to dialling up and listening to their favourite act live from the venue.

And special recordings of some of the expected 150 events a year will be made available for downloading. The O2 has already sealed prestigious deals to host Olympic events and the World Gymnastics Championship, while AEG also hopes to establish Britain's only "super-casino" at the venue, though that depends on the UK's proposed new gambling laws.

Brandon Phillips has no doubts that the massive project will prove a big hit.

"London is the best live entertainment market in the world and we aim to give the city the arena it deserves."

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