Picture the scene. The clock strikes midnight on December 31st, 1999. The eyes of the world turn to the spot where the new Millennium begins - the Meridian Line at Greenwich. This is Britains opportunity to greet the world with a celebration that is so bold, so beautiful, so inspiring that it embodies at once the spirit of confidence and adventure in Britain and the spirit of the future in the world. This is the reason for the Millennium experience. Not a product of imagination run wild, but a huge opportunity for Britain. It is good for Britain. So let us seize the moment and put on something of which we and the world will be proud.
Then we will say to ourselves with pride: this is our Dome, Britains Dome, And believe me, it will be the envy of the world.
It does not surprise me that the cynics have rubbished the idea. They are in good company. They are part of an inglorious strand of British history: like those who said St Pauls would be a calamity, that the 1851 exhibition would have no visitors and that the 1951 Festival of Britain would never be finished on time.
Its easy to say dont do something. To say it wont be done on time. That it costs too much. That no-one will visit it. It take little courage to say no to a new idea.
But just suppose we gave in to the cynics and snipers. Suppose for a second we allowed pessimism to drive out ambition. Suppose we tore down the masts, suppose we said no to the jobs and the tourists, suppose we sacked the builders, returned the land to its previous contaminated state, suppose we dismissed Britains finest designers, musicians, directors and singers, suppose we told Richard Rogers not to build his great building in this country but to move it elsewhere, then when the eyes of the world fell on Greenwich people would see a derelict site and a sign post in the ground reading: Britain - year 2000. Nothing done. Wouldnt those same cynics feel just a bit unsettled? Wouldnt they feel that Great Britain had missed an opportunity?
Today I say to the British people New Britain is a place for daring and boldness, for striving for excellence. Greenwich is the place the Millennium begins. If it was Paris Mean Time, dont you think the French would put on a show? If it was Berlin Mean Time dont you think the Germans would do likewise? When I was last in the United States people were already talking about how Britain would be the focus of the worlds attention in the year 2000. So lets get behind Greenwich and the Millennium experience. Nowhere is doing anything like it. It promises to be the most fantastic day out in the world.
In June when the government decided to go ahead with the Dome I set down five clear criteria.
First the content should inspire people. Today you will judge for yourself, what I believe are truly wonderful designs and ideas for the Domes contents.
Second, it should have national reach. The Millennium Challenge will offer a series of activities involving the whole nation in the run up to the Millennium. It will touch every part of the country.
Third the management of the project should be first rate. Indeed we have in place a superb team at the Millennium company - and have signed up the best creative talents in Britain to work on the contents.
Fourth, that it should not call on the public purse. This project is on budget. It is not costing any taxpayers money. It is costing just ??400m of lottery money and the rest of the costs are coming from sponsorship, ticket sales, merchandising, licensing rights. It will turn in a profit for Britain. There are estimates already of tourism to the value of ??500m to ??1bn in value. It is just 20% of the money being spent on the Millennium. The great majority of the lotterys Millennium Commission money - ??1.5bn in fact - is going on spectacular projects around the country like ??15m for the Lowry centre in Salford, ??46m for the The Millennium Stadium at Cardiff Arms Park, ??27m for the The National Discovery Park in Liverpool, ??23m for the National Space Centre in Leicester, ??41m for the Bristol 2000 project, ??37m for the Eden project in Cornwall, ??27m for the International Centre for Life in Newcastle, ??23m for the Hampden Park Stadium in Glasgow, ??33m for a new University for the Highlands and Islands and ??43m for a national cycle network of 2,785 miles of cycle routes throughout the United Kingdom. Just some of the superb projects - educational, environmental, entertaining - that get less attention than the Millennium dome but will be of huge benefit to the British people.
Fifth, there should be a lasting legacy. The Dome itself will last for decades to come after the year 2000. It will become an international landmark. There will be lasting benefit to Greenwich.
I am confident that all five of these conditions are not just being met but have made great progress.
And the whole government is behind the Dome in what is a remarkable team effort. Peter Mandelson has given the project a real sense of purpose and direction. John Prescott has given unwavering support for the dome and led the push to get transport for the Dome - river and underground - delivered on time. He has also led the way in building a Millennium village, a remarkable development beside the Dome - high tech, environmentally friendly regeneration that will bring jobs and prosperity to the area. David Blunkett is ensuring that education is at the heart of the Domes contents. We will ensure that school parties get cheaper tickets to the Dome. Chris Smith has given shape to the wider Millennium celebrations. Margaret Beckett supported by Sir Robert May, the Chief Scientific Officer, is working with the Millennium Company on the domes science content.
I am confident about Britains preparations for the Millennium.
And the reason for that is that we are tapping in to the creative talents of the British people. We are by nature adventurous, innovative, pioneering, creative. And as we approach the Millennium we can boast that we have a richness of talent in this country that is unparalleled: the finest artists, authors, architects, musicians, designers, animators, software makers, scientists. We are leading the world in creativity. So why not put it on display? Why not shout about it? The Dome will be a celebration of the Best of Britain.
But the Millennium will be more than simply the Dome. There is a national programme for volunteering, for community co-operation, for celebrating the values that the Millennium represents, values that represent the best of humanity in the 2000 years since the birth of Christ. It will bring the nation together in common purpose - to make a difference. It will unite the nation. It will be a meeting point of people from all backgrounds. It will be an event to lift our horizons. It will be a catalyst to imagine our futures.
In this Experience I want people to pause and reflect on this moment, about the possibilities ahead of us, about the values that guide our society.
The Domes content will contain a rich texture of feelings: spiritual, emotional, fun. It will combine the best of other attractions in a unique experience. Exhilarating like Disney World - yet different. Educational and interactive like the Science Museum - yet different. Emotional and uplifting like a West End musical - yet different. It will be shaped by the people. Visitors from all round the world will have the time of their lives.
The Cabinet thought long and hard and talked long and hard about whether to go ahead with the Dome. One of the clinching arguments for me came when both John Prescott and Jack Straw talked about their memories, deep and personal, of the Festival of Britain. It clearly made a huge impact on them. I want every child in Britain to be part of the Millennium Experience. This will be a celebration for the whole country. I want todays children to take from it an experience so powerful and memories so strong that it gives them that abiding sense of purpose and unity that stays with them through the rest of their lives. Their experience is part of the Millennium Experience.
Last Thursday I saw for myself the developing ideas for the content. And they are truly spectacular. They draw on the talents of Britains finest creative brains. They will use the smartest new technology and brainpower. They will draw too on the strengths and innovation of business.
For this is a celebration that is good for British business. The Millennium Experience is a chance to demonstrate that Britain will be a breeding ground for the most successful businesses of the 21st century.
The 21st century company will be different. Many of Britains best known companies are already redefining traditional perceptions of the role of the corporation. They are recognising that every customer is part of a community, and that social responsibility is not an optional extra.
These companies are establishing themselves as leaders in new markets of innovation in education, in environmental responsibility and in concern for the social well being of customers. The companies that have confirmed their investment in the Millennium today reflect those values.
Today we can announce just the beginning of a raft of new sponsors for the dome with some of the finest companies getting behind the project: the first four founding partners British Telecom, Manpower, Tesco and Sky have led the way, all making contributions of at least ??12m in value to the project. But we have also had substantial commitment from BAA and British Airways and the backing of the National Lottery outlets to make Millennium Dome tickets accessible in all parts of the country. The Corporation of the City of London too are committed to substantial backing when matched by money from city businesses and institutions and I welcome the Lord Mayors presence today as evidence of their support. These businesses are showing the world that Britain is the natural home of the 21st century company.
Other companies that believe they too are 21st century companies rising to the challenge of the new Millennium will want to join this project.
Youll make up your own minds, but I believe that anyone interested in Britains future will share my view that this is going to be a huge asset for the country as a symbol of British confidence, as a monument to our creativity, and as a fantastic day out.
The bandwagon is beginning to role. The benefits to Britain are huge. And come December 31, 1999, at a historic moment in time, Greenwich will be the most exciting place in the world to be.