One of those great “end of the millennium” boondoggles, the Millennium Dome – now renamed the O2 Dome, because heaven forbid that something not have a company’s name on it – sits in London, touching the Prime Meridian as it makes its way through Greenwich. It was the site of a private party (of the kind referred to as ‘star-studded’ in the more gushing newsrags) on New Year’s Eve, 1999, and opened as an exhibition centre that the public were allowed into the next day.
The Millennium Dome was controversial both during and after its construction – it was seen as a waste of public monies (being largely built with government money), and something of a white elephant. There were originally plans for it to host one of Premier League football teams, but nothing ever came of it. In 2002, the company that ran the Dome declared bankruptcy. Today, it still stands in London, where it is best known in recent years from serving as the site of the gymnastics events of the 2012 Olympics.
Technically, the Twentieth Century did not end for another year, at the end of the year 2000. But in the popular imagination, the last day of 1999 was the last day of the millennium. A day when many a religious – and one big secular – apocalypse was counted down to, to hit at the stroke of midnight. But neither the Second Coming nor the Y2K bug proved to be that big a threat.
The Twentieth Century was over with, and now, the 21st Century – the future – could begin. Only it turned out that if apocalypse wasn’t just around the corner, neither was utopia. And only 21 months into the new century, we’d all be dragged into a brand new endless Cold War when we’d just finally shaken off the last one.
It seemed an innocuous end to an innocuous year – or as innocuous as a year can be during the Trump Presidency – but as always, the tides of history were in motion beneath the surface. While most of the world partied to celebrate the end of a year and hope for a better new one, the Chinese government quietly informed the World Health Organization of an outbreak of a novel coronavirus in Wuhan…
…this would prove to be significant in the year to come.