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Council workers take advantage of the empty streets to spruce up the crossing featured on the cover of the Beatles 1969 album

The iconic Abbey Road zebra crossing made famous by the 1969 Beatles album of the same name has been repainted while the streets of London are empty because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A highways maintenance crew quietly repainted the normally busy zebra crossing on 24 March, the day after the prime minister ordered Britain to go on lockdown in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus.

A spokesperson for Westminster City Council said: This is a very busy zebra crossing and we repainted the line markings to ensure visibility and increased safety for drivers and pedestrians. Our contractors follow government advice on limiting the spread of covid-19, including social distancing and hand washing.

A site of national importance … the album cover for Abbey Road. Photograph: Pictorial Press/Alamy Stock Photo

The brightened markings can be seen in action on the Abbey Road webcam.

The government designated the crossing a site of national importance in 2010 and it can be altered only with the approval of local authorities. This London zebra crossing is no castle or cathedral but, thanks to the Beatles and a 10-minute photoshoot one August morning in 1969, it has just as strong a claim as any to be seen as part of our heritage, John Penrose, minister for tourism and heritage said at the time.

The remaining Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Abbey Road album with a deluxe reissue last September. In January, it was announced as the biggest selling vinyl record of the 2010s in the US. It came eighth in the UK, with British Beatles fans apparently preferring Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The cover for Abbey Road was shot at 11.35am on 8 August 1969, as John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr took a break from completing I Want You (Shes So Heavy) and The End, and Paul McCartney paused work on Oh! Darling. Standing on a step ladder in the middle of the road, photographer Iain Macmillan only had time to shoot six photographs on his Hasselblad camera given the oncoming traffic. McCartney selected the fourth image as the cover shot.

Repainting the famous crossing. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

On the albums release, fans became convinced that McCartneys barefoot appearance related to the conspiracy theory that he had died two years earlier and been replaced by a ringer. He had in fact kicked off his sandals because it was hot.

On Abbey Road we were wearing our ordinary clothes. I was walking barefoot because it was a hot day, McCartney told Life magazine later that year. Can you spread it around that I am just an ordinary person and want to live in peace?

He parodied the theory on the cover of his 1993 live album, Paul Is Live, posing with a dog on the crossing. Pop cultural figures from the Simpsons to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Doctor Who have also re-enacted the image.

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The long read: Even before it opened, the Dome had become a byword for failure. But two decades on, it could be time for a reassessment

The first inhabited place on Earth to ring in the year 2000 was probably the Pacific island nation of Kiribati. As dancers on the beaches welcomed the dawn of the millennium, on the other side of the planet, in Greenwich, final preparations were underway for the opening ceremony of the Millennium Dome. This was the night when the first 10,000 specially invited people would finally see what was inside the big white tent in south-east London that had been the subject of intense speculation and scrutiny for the previous four years. It had to be perfect.

By 7pm in Greenwich, it was apparent that there was a problem. In the weeks before the event, because of a logistical cock-up, hundreds of guests had not received their tickets through the post. Ticketless guests had been instructed to pick them up on New Years Eve at Stratford station, before hopping on the newly completed Jubilee line to the Dome for the festivities. But on the night, body scanners installed by police at Stratford werent working, and before long, several hundred people were stuck in the station. When the prime minister, Tony Blair, arrived two hours later while fireworks illuminated more than 1 million people gathered in Moscows Red Square angry invitees, including many of the UKs newspaper editors, were still no closer to boarding a train to Greenwich.

There was more trouble to come. At 10pm GMT, as Nelson Mandela marked the new year by lighting a single candle in his old prison cell on Robben Island, Jennie Page, the chief executive of the Dome company, had just received some further unwelcome news. Rushing to witness the Queen receiving the Millennium medal, a specially commissioned honour to mark the occasion, Page was stopped and, in her words, told about the bomb. The police had received a call to inform them that there was an explosive device in the Blackwall tunnel, which ran beneath the Dome. Blair and the Queen were also informed.

About 15 minutes later, Peter Higgins, designer of one of the Domes 14 zones, was giving a tour to Blair, his wife Cherie and their children. I just thought: this guys not listening, recalled Higgins. He was ashen-faced, and holding his family. During the tour, Blair, as well as the police and Page, had to decide whether or not to cancel the countrys millennium celebration, the culmination of many years work and 750m of investment. It was a decision one would have preferred not to have to take, Page said, gravely.

They carried on. The call turned out to be a hoax, there was no explosion, and the stranded guests at Stratford did eventually make it to the Dome for the countdown, despite having missed the festivities beforehand. After four years of politicians and press forecasting the projects failure, by the time midnight reached Greenwich, just as 39 tonnes of fireworks were forming a river of fire down a four-mile stretch of the Thames in central London, it seemed as if the people behind the Dome had pulled it off.

The next morning, the headlines told a different story. The Black Hole of Stratford East read one. The 758m disaster zone read another. Michael Heseltine, who sat on the Millennium Commission, which had brought the Dome to life, blames the standstill at Stratford. It was a PR disaster, he told me recently. A lot of the people who didnt get there on time were the very people who were going to report the event.

But for the thousands of people involved in putting on the Millennium Experience, from government ministers to service staff, the worst was yet to come. For the duration of the year that the Dome was open, it was perceived as a catastrophe. Richard Rogers, one of the architects behind the building, said in 2015 that it couldnt have had a worse reception if youd worked hard to deliberately upset everybody. Twenty years later, it is still a byword for New Labour hubris, squandered resources and hideously bungled planning.

In fact, it was a byword for all of these things before it even opened. The urge to think of the Dome as something pitiable was apparent long before anybody actually saw what was inside. In the final paragraph of Elizabeth Wilhides official book on the Millennium Dome, published in 1999, she writes that its legacy, the Domes true meaning, will only be known long after the moment has passed, when the children who are its visitors today grow up and look back. Now, doing just that, it is clear that the prevailing narrative that the Dome was a total failure is not or at least not quite the full story.

When we met recently, in a country pub near her home, Jennie Page spoke of her time on the Dome with the same dignified forbearance you sometimes see in military veterans. There are a lot of things I will not talk about, she told me. In 1995, she became head of the Millennium Commission, which had been established to distribute funds generated by the National Lottery. She now carried the daunting responsibility of deciding on a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition to mark the new millennium.

In February 1996, Greenwich was selected as the site for the Millennium Exhibition, not least because of the connection to Greenwich mean time, but it would be years before real progress was made in deciding what form the exhibition itself would take. At that point, the commissions most urgent task was coming up with the structure, or structures, to house the exhibition. Mike Davies, who went on to become the lead architect on the Dome in April 1996, knew that once the site was chosen, constructionwould need to start as soon as possible. Four years is not very long for big projects. John McElgunn, a partner at Daviess old firm Rogers Stirk Harbour, said: Its like asking somebody to hurry through their pregnancy in four months.

The building would also need to solve the problem of the sites exposure to the elements. In March, we were on the site, and it was minus four, Davies told me. Whatever else they did, the site was definitely going to need shelter. Standing there in the bitter wind on the peninsula, he had his eureka moment: Lets do a mega cover.

Davies, who always dresses head to toe in red, is still clearly infatuated with the design of the Dome. For more than two hours, he spoke animatedly about it, showing me early drawings like a proud parent with an ultrasound picture. He was particularly enthused about the way the Dome embodied the concept of time. Twelve months of the year, so 12 masts, 365 metres in diameter, and with 24 scallops, like 24 hours in a day, he explained. The concept fit the bill perfectly, and was phenomenally cheap at 42m. When plans for the building were released in June 1996, though, not everybody was impressed. Wonderbra ran an ad campaign with the slogan Not all domes lack public support.

The body zone inside the Millennium Dome in 2000. Photograph: Justin Kase RF/Alamy

Over Christmas 1996, Page and her team settled on a budgetfor the whole Millennium Experience: 750m, pieced together from corporate sponsorship, National Lottery money and ticket revenue from 12 million visitors. But there was a potential iceberg on the horizon. Although there had been a Labour minister on the Millennium Commission, this was a Conservative government project, and Labour looked likely to win the general election in May 1997. If the new prime minister wasnt on board, the whole project would be axed. But if the building was going to be finished in time for 1 January 2000, they had to keep going regardless. That was a terrible period, Page said briskly.

On 1 May, Labour won the election by a landslide, ending almost 20 years of Conservative rule. The mood of triumphant invulnerability in the Labour camp was one the Dome company could capitalise on. As media scrutiny of the project intensified, with the Sun running headlines like Dump that Dome, Pages team put their plan to the government a plan that emphasised New Labour-friendly aims. The Dome would, among other things, raise the self-esteem of the individual and enhance the worlds view of the nation.

Despite misgivings about the cost, the scale, and the London location for an event that was supposedly for the whole country, on 19 June 1997, Blair announced that Labour was on board. Here, perhaps, was a chance to make a physical monument to everything that New Labour Britain would be about: youthful exuberance, unashamed pleasure, looking with optimism to the future rather than clinging to tradition; a single amazing experience that could bring the country together. New Labour really did think it was going to be some sort of quasi-political, sociological experience that would underpin everything that they were about, the exhibition designer Peter Higgins told me incredulously.

Speaking to his party about possible celebrations for the millennium at the 1995 Labour conference, Blair had announced that there were now a thousand days to prepare for a thousand years. By mid-1997, time was already running out to get what was the largest construction project in Europe finished before the deadline to end all deadlines.

Now that the Dome had Labours stamp of approval, the organisers were faced with a pressing question: what was the Dome actually going to be? There were nine ideas for zones body, mind, spirit, work, rest, play, local, national, global but beyond that, not much. Only now, two years into the project, was serious thought devoted to the contents of this exhibition, already being billed by the government as the biggest, most thrilling, most entertaining, most thought-provoking experience anywhere on the planet.

Under the supervision of Peter Mandelson, the New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC), as the Dome company had been renamed, gave designers a brief that consisted mostly of open-ended questions. For the body zone, they included Are we what we eat? and What about designer people? Higgins, whose company, Land Design, ended up creating the Domes play zone, told me the brief was very thin, and we werent given a budget at all. For Blairs part, he was on the lookout for content that had what he called the Euan factor content cool enough that his 13-year-old son would want to see it.

In addition to the zones, a spectacular performance would take place in the Domes central space. An initial proposal from the theatre impresario Cameron Mackintosh, involving an enormous stage and a huge cast including children, was rejected by Page. It involved 42 horses, she told me, shaking her head. Instead, the rock show designer Mark Fisher took over. With singer-songwriter Peter Gabriel, he came up with a story inspired by Romeo and Juliet, which would be performed by more than 100 aerial gymnasts, who would be gathered from all over the country and trained for two years beforehand.

There were now 14 zones, each designed by a different company. In an attempt to try to give the visitor experience some kind of coherence, Stephen Bayley, a design consultant and critic who had worked with Terence Conran, was drafted in. Six months later, in December 1997, he parted ways with the Dome, after his proposals were deemed too highbrow. When we spoke last year, in his studios in Chelsea, Bayley lamented the sub-Disney plans for the zones. Higgins agreed that the project had needed a master puppeteer, but smiled wryly when Bayley came up in our conversation. He was so the wrong person. He sat in one of our meetings just reading Proust in French on a sofa.

The Millennium Dome during construction. Photograph: Avalon/Alamy

Eventually, Page and her team came up with something they called the Litmus Group to oversee the content of the Dome, composed of cultural luminaries such as Alan Yentob and Michael Grade. Their suggestions were of varied quality, according to the zone designers. God, the input was totally worthless, said Higgins.

Meanwhile, Peter Mandelson visited Disneyworld Florida in search of inspiration. According to Adam Nicolsons richly informative book on the Dome, Regeneration, Mandelson spent this trip breaking into a run to avoid being photographed in the same frame as Mickey Mouse. It was leapt on by the press, which ran headlines such as Mandelson in a Disney about his Dome. It was so predictable, Mandelson told me, the press thought they were entitled to know everything, and anything that was held back, theyd punish you for it.

By February 1998, the Domes contents were secure enough that prototypes of six of the zones body, mind, spirit, rest, work and living island were ready to be unveiled. The launch ceremony took place at the Royal Festival Hall on Londons South Bank, once the site of the Festival of Britain, the much-revered 1951 exhibition that served as inspiration to many of the Domes creators. This is a chance to demonstrate that Britain will be a breeding ground for the most successful businesses of the 21st century, Blair told the audience. Mandelson spoke, too, telling the room that if the Millennium Dome is a success, it will never be forgotten. If it is a failure, we will never be forgiven.

The launch did not go down well. Everybody found their own problem with it: it was too political, insufficiently historical, too populist, not populist enough. The moment you have a big project in this country, the forces of darkness gather, Heseltine grumbled to me. Davies remembers how strongly people felt: I would go home in a taxi, and this vituperation would pour out about what a scandalous waste of money the Dome was.

Since it was a government project, the government kept tight controls on what those involved could and could not say. Gez Sagar, an ex-Labour party press officer who was now doing press for the Dome, briefed everybody on what he called the line to take (LTT). It consisted of four central messages: Its the peoples show. Its the most exciting experience of the millennium. Its good for Britain. Its going well.

In June 1998, the final piece of the 10 hectares of fabric went up on the Domes roof, and the people involved in the project stood awe-struck beneath its complete canopy for the first time. The Dome is huge; weather systems would form inside it if it wasnt for its Teflon roof, and the air it contains weighs more than the structure itself. It just had this gorgeous sense of space when you walked into it, Chris Smith, then the culture secretary, told me. Charles Falconer, who later took over from Mandelson as Labours Dome minister, recalled this feeling with evident pleasure: I loved being inside it, I loved the whole physicality of the Dome. I absolutely loved it.

Beneath the roof, however, all was not well. Political advisers, who referred to themselves as content editors, clashed with the zone designers, as they attempted to ensure it was New Labour-appropriate. If this was to be a flagship for Blairs vision of Britain, it needed to send the right messages: the content had to be popular, pro-business, future-oriented and, above all, optimistic. Keeping the politicians hands off it was a big struggle, Page told me.

With more than 30,000 visitors expected every day in 2000, one thing the Dome would need was extensive catering. There were to be two enormous branches of McDonalds, as well as a YO! Sushi and a cafe called Simply Internet. Twenty years on, Bayley still rues the catering. He proposed a farmers market; he got fast food. You could have had sourdough bread and goats cheese, he told me. Instead the public had to eat filth from McDonalds.

Pleasing the sponsors, of which McDonalds was one, was of paramount importance. Without sponsorship money of 12m per zone, the project was financially unviable. But what the zone designers wanted, what the politicians wanted and what the sponsors wanted were often incompatible. Higgins play zone was initially paired with Sky. It was hopeless, he told me. They said to us, in a very aggressive way, the future of play is about digital television, because thats what they were launching at the time. Zaha Hadids mind zone was sponsored by the arms manufacturers Marconi and BAE systems.

One of the designer Tim Pynes four zones was work, previously titled Licensed to Skill, which was sponsored by the recruitment giant Manpower. He told me that his zone ended up reflecting the sponsors very particular idea of what an exhibit about the future of work should be: No job security, zero-hours contracts and moving from job to job as an agency worker. Pynes initial plans for the zone had involved visitors getting sacked at the beginning, but Labour party advisers instructed him to scrap the idea because it was thought a recession might be coming.

No zone saw more interference than the faith zone. The triangular, non-denominational design for the space, by Eva Jiin, was met with outcry from religious leaders all over the country, who were also worried that the commercialised environment of the Dome would make a mockery of religion itself. Is Rupert Murdochs name going to appear on the manger at Bethlehem? asked the Bishop of Woolwich. The government felt that the structure Jiin designed looked too much like a pyramid, which would evoke new-age spirituality rather than religion. Jiins solution was simple: I put a plastic blob hat on it, she told me. The hat did not pass muster, and the final design that the UKs religious leaders agreed to was all but disavowed by Jiin by the end.

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In October 1998, on the building site inside the Dome itself, the BBC held a televised debate about whether the Dome was going to be good or bad. All the participants wore hi-vis jackets and hard hats. While the children in the audience looked on nonplussed, the art critic Brian Sewell jabbed his finger at the Domes director of operations, Ken Robinson, and demanded repeatedly: Tell us what is in it. Robinson declined, and the rumour mill continued to turn. I remember that in the years before the opening, when I was about seven years old, my school playground in London was abuzz with talk of what might be inside. More than one person I know remembers hearing that there was going to be an anti-gravity chamber.

Six months before the grand opening, details of all 14 zones were finally made public. The money zone featured a tunnel made of 50 banknotes behind glass amounting to 1m, and an invitation to guests to go on a million-pound spending spree with virtual cash. At the our town story zone, schools from around the country were invited to put on performances about their local area. These were strictly limited to 20 minutes each. (Nicolson quotes Robert Warner, the head of the Domes live events, as saying at the time that they didnt want a three-hour opera about Grimsby.) The body zone would allow visitors to walk through the inside of a human body, complete with moving organs and animatronic pubic lice.

During the final months of preparations, the Dome attracted yet more sceptical comment. JG Ballard wrote in the New Statesman that the building resembled a sinister abattoir disguised as a circus tent. According to Page, those months were a frightful rush, and it was made much worse by the government changing the policy about ticketing, 10 months before we opened. She whispered 10 months again and shook her hands at the ceiling in disbelief. Falconer had decided to give away 1 million free tickets to schoolchildren, an idea that was not in the business model. But the Dome was the property of the nation, Falconer told me. We wanted as many school children as possible to come.

As the Dome finally began to take shape, the conceptual weakness of the experience was becoming increasingly clear. It was, after all, pretty difficult to deliver an experience for the nation a grand day out that could, in some way or other, delight every single person in Britain, while staying within budget, keeping the sponsors happy, pleasing the press and embodying the governments preferred vision for the future of the country. The Dome needed to be educational, but fun. Accessible yet challenging. Entertaining for children, stimulating for adults. It had to be the greatest show on earth, but also serve as an advertisement for sponsors like Boots the chemist.

As with any big project, the final weeks were chaotic. With just a few weeks to go until opening night, Tim Pyne was working on the worlds largest billboard about as tall as a four storey house and as wide as a Boeing 747 which would form the outside of the learn zone. It was a photograph of Richmond Park, which was being printed in a special facility in Iceland because of its enormous size. The printers called Pyne to ask whether the naked man in the woods, visible in the photograph at its full size, was a deliberate inclusion. Pyne had to make clear that the flasher was an unintentional feature, and that the whole billboard would need to be reprinted. Elsewhere, glass pillars for the faith zone languished in Paris, incomplete, and the dark brown paint on the pubic hairs for the body zone had been chipped off in transit.

I asked Ray Winkler, who worked on the Domes central show, what the mood was like in those last few weeks. Oh you know, he replied. Mild panic? Sheer panic?

I think I probably had a breakdown, said Pyne.

On 1 January 2000, when the Dome finally threw open its doors to the public, what did the people involved think of what they saw? Some remember enjoying the exhibition, but Michael Heseltine paused before choosing his words: I think that we could have done a better job. Chris Smith told me that the content was worthy. Simon Jenkins, who was on the Millennium Commission, said it was dull. Bayley noted that the Dome was, in a sense, quite impressive. He added: You could spend 750m on a pile of horseshit and it would be impressive, but would it be worth the money?

Soon reports were emerging that turnout was low. In certain parts of the Dome, though, the problem was too many visitors at once. Queues for the body zone spiralled up to two hours long. In one sense, wed overhyped it, Page admitted of that exhibit. In early February, it was announced that in the previous month, the Dome had welcomed less than half the number of visitors required to break even. Page was asked to resign, something that few people I spoke to think was fair. Ive never seen anybody so dedicated in my life, Mike Davies told me, and Im prepared to say in public that I think she was the scapegoat.

By aiming for 12 million visitors, the company behind the Dome created the impossible criteria by which its success would be judged. The combined number of tickets sold for Alton Towers, Madame Tussauds and the London Eye in 2000 was 8m. As the actual number of visitors began to look more like half their projection, the Dome team were forced back to the Millennium Commission to ask for emergency funding three separate times over the course of the year.

After Pages resignation, the man hired to rescue the Dome was PY Gerbeau, an infectiously optimistic ex-Eurodisney executive who wore suits slightly too big for him and rode around the Dome on a micro-scooter. Newspapers nicknamed him the Gerbil. I do not think, Falconer began to laugh, and this is our fault, not his, that he quite had an understanding of the scale of the problem. Gerbeau seemed to have grasped it by the time he left in 2001, at least, when he told the New Yorker magazine that the 12 million visitors estimation was one of the two or three stupidest things I have ever heard.

Gerbeaus main job was damage limitation. He reduced ticket prices, and brought in a funfair around the edge of the Dome in the summer, and a skating rink in the winter. In the face of adversity, the marketing team for the Dome gamely attempted to turn the ever-worsening reputation to its advantage. Adverts ran of disappointed children asking their parents why they never went to the Dome, with a voiceover saying The Millennium Experience at the Dome is closing for ever. Maybe youll love it maybe you wont. Why not come and decide for yourself, while you still can?

One set of visitors the Dome company could have done without was a gang of would-be thieves who drove a JCB digger into the side of the Dome one day in November, in a failed attempt to steal the Millennium Star, a large gemstone that the diamond company De Beers had contributed to the money zone. Adam Liversage, a press officer at the Dome, was asked about it by a journalist a few weeks later. In any other press office, something like that would be the story of a lifetime, he replied. But here it was just a question of, OK, Ill go and take a look. Shortly afterwards, JCB ran an advert featuring a picture of one of their diggers with the tag line the only thing that worked to plan.

The Dome closed, with relatively little fanfare, at 6pm on 31 December 2000. Blair had appeared on BBC Ones Breakfast with Frost a few months earlier, and admitted: If I had known then what I know now about governments trying to run a visitor attraction it was too ambitious. At the end of Nicolsons book, he describes the organisers, under constant attack and fighting an uphill battle to deliver the project, as throwing a dance on Omaha beach. Its an expression Ive never forgotten, Page said.

Peter Mandelson, John Prescott and Tony Blair attending the topping out ceremony at the Millennium Dome in 1998. Photograph: Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy

In February 2001, a public auction for the Domes contents was held at the site. One of the most eye-catching lots, a six-foot plastic hamster, went for 3,700 to a man named Brent Pollard, to furnish a visitor attraction he ran in Kent. These days, Millie short for millennium, as the local Kent schoolchildren named her resides in a warehouse near the town of Sandwich, along with a large collection of military vehicles owned by Rex Cadman, a friend of Pollards who accompanied him to the auction.

Shes just lovely, Cadman said proudly, as we stood in front of the slightly chipped fibre-glass figure a few weeks ago. The warehouse also contains a number of other Dome items that Cadman picked up at the auction, including a large oil painting of Blackadder, who featured in a specially commissioned film shown at the Dome. Having spent several months researching how these objects came into existence, I felt strangely humbled by seeing them preserved there, as if I was in the presence of artefacts from some once mighty civilisation. An alien, presented with only these objects as evidence, would have to assume that the civilisation that produced them was naively optimistic, concerned primarily with jolly novelties and with no coherent sense of style whatsoever.

Perhaps the most recognisable element of the Millennium Experience, the outer shell of the body zone, was too big to be sold in its entirety, although tiles from its surface were used as the bidding paddles at the auction. In the end, the body was eventually dumped in a hole near the Dome as landfill. Higgins told me that the feeling was just get it done, and then line up the skips.

The Dome lay empty, a ruin before its time, for 18 months while the government struggled to find it a future. Proposals for the buildings afterlife included a super casino, a business park and a stadium for Charlton Athletic. In May 2001, on the morning of Labours manifesto launch, the leader of the Conservative party, William Hague, stood outside the Dome to deliver a short speech. This Teflon tent, he said, is the ultimate monument to Labour, and today they both stand empty.

It wasnt until a year later, in May 2002, that the US entertainment company AEG stepped in to purchase the building. The deal was that AEG would invest hundreds of millions of pounds into redeveloping the site as a music venue, later to be named the O2 Arena, and give the government 15% of its profits. The site itself was sold for 1.

I guess they didnt really have any other alternative, Alex Hill, the present head of AEG Europe told me as he showed me around the O2 late last year, but I think the vast majority of people did not believe that something would be created of this level of success. The O2 Arena opened its doors in 2007, and has been the most popular music venue in the world every year since.

Mike Daviess versatile building adapted well to its new purposes. Apart from the 20,000-seat live music and sports venue, the Dome now houses an outlet shopping centre, an indoor trampoline park and a bowling alley. There is also a pop-up football experience where you can play against a virtual goalie, just as you could in Higgins play zone 20 years earlier.

The success of the O2 is the most obvious vestige of the Millennium Experience, and the one that people involved in the Dome are most keen to emphasise. Its a brilliant success, Mandelson told me a number of times during our conversation. Im not going to look you in the eye and say that this is what we always intended, said Heseltine, but weve taken a lot of stick and, well, Im going to take a bit of credit.

It was undoubtedly an expensive way of doing it, but the Dome did give some badly needed new life to the Greenwich peninsula. By 1998, Greenwich had one of the highest levels of unemployment in the country. Regeneration was one of the Millennium Commissions key considerations when choosing the site. When I mentioned this to Heseltine, he suddenly lit up. I was absolutely clear that we needed to use this as a regenerative process, he said. I have no apologies for that.

Mabel performing at the Brits in February 2020. The annual award show has been held at the O2 Arena since 2011. Photograph: JM Enternational/Rex/Shutterstock

On the December afternoon when I visited, as part of an Up at the O2 tour, I climbed on to the roof of Dome, just as the sun was setting. From the apex of the Domes curve, the entire peninsula is visible, a landscape that has transformed during the past two decades. When the construction workers building the Dome looked out from this point in the late 90s, they would have had an uninterrupted view of the Thames looping around them. Today, that great sweeping view is partially obscured by an Intercontinental hotel, several new blocks of flats and Ravensbourne University, which relocated to Greenwich peninsula in 2010.

Before the Dome was built, the peninsula was empty of buildings and covered with toxic soil from the gasworks that had closed back in 1976. Today, the land has been detoxified and the Dome continues to create jobs for local people. But the regeneration is still far from perfect. Unemployment rates remain relatively high, and although more affordable housing was built in Greenwich between 2012 and 2016 than in any other London borough, the figure was still only 40%, even as new developers throw up luxury apartment blocks. A Chinese company called Knight Dragon has secured planning permission for 15,000 more homes on the peninsula, and a design district of artists studios and shops.

There have been other, less visible legacies. Matt Costain, who played the lead role of Sky Boy in the Domes central show, told me that the performers training programme created an entire industry of circus and acrobatics in the UK. I meet domies all the time, he told me. Some of those people are now Cirque du Soleils top troubleshooting clowns. Many of the performers who trained at the Dome went on to perform in that much more successful act of nation branding, the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.

Like the Olympics, the Dome has left a firm imprint in the national imagination. It is remembered as a white elephant, a cautionary tale. But the truth is that this doesnt match up with the visitor response at the time. Independent visitor approval polls carried out by Mori showed as many as 90% of the 6 million people who visited the Dome enjoyed themselves. The thing wasnt built for architects, it was built for the public, said Mandelson. It was for families.

Children in particular loved the Dome, as the people who were in charge are quick to affirm. Lord Falconer told me he went a staggering 57 times with his family, a fact I confirmed with his daughter Rose, who was nine-turning-10 in 2000. Its funny, she told me, because we did go about 50 times, and we loved it, but when I think about the Dome even I think of it as a complete disaster.

For this piece, I spoke to people from all over the country who remember going as children. Some didnt enjoy themselves, of course. Many remember being frightened of the body zones beating heart. But most remembered visiting the Dome as a vivid, strange and invigorating occasion. They told me about the thrill of going to London, of seeing a digital camera for the first time, of feeling part of something bigger than themselves, of excitement about the future they were stepping into, and of dreaming about the Dome even now. One person who visited from south Wales aged 12 told me that she remembers not understanding at the time why the papers were calling it a failure. I was blissfully unaware of the politics behind it, she said. I had a great time.

The Domes less than glorious reputation is a source of regret for some. One of the things that makes me crossest, when I admit to being cross, Page confessed, is that so many people who worked on the Dome, who were so good, have not been allowed to feel good about themselves. Falconer feels the same. It was the failure of the politician, he said, pointing to himself, not the failure of the people working in the Dome. It is, however, difficult to know how it could have gone differently. Page told me that, in her view, much of the negative press was to do with the influence of politics on the Dome. But on the other hand, she said, Without the politics, it would never have happened.

The creators of the Dome set out to provide an experience that would unite the country. In a way, they succeeded. There is something unifying, and typically British, in our collective enthusiasm for enshrining the memory of the Dome as being a bit shit, be that memory accurate or not. It may well be that this same sort of national unity in disdain will repeat itself in the near future. In 2018, Theresa May announced plans for a 120m Festival of Brexit Britain, now renamed Festival 2022, showcasing the best of the UKs talent in business, technology, arts and sport. Planning is going ahead, and the festivals head, Martin Green, expects to announce a programme by the end of 2021. Oh for Gods sake, said Heseltine, rolling his eyes when I mentioned the festival. Put it in Dover and everyone can go before they leave.

Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, and sign up to the long read weekly email here.

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Former One Direction member reportedly handed over cash during incident in Hampstead, North London

Singer Harry Styles was reportedly mugged at knifepoint in London on Valentines Day.

The 26-year old former One Direction member was threatened with a knife on Friday near midnight, according to police, but was unharmed after handing over an unspecified amount of cash.

The pop star was in Hampstead in North London when he was robbed, according to the Mirror Online.

He actually played it pretty cool, quickly giving the assailant cash, keeping himself and the guy calm and getting the situation over with, the source said. Understandably though it left him very shaken up afterwards.

In a statement, London police confirmed that it was investigating the incident.

Officers were contacted on Saturday, 15 February regarding the incident which happened at 23.50 hours on Friday, 14 February, they said.

It was reported that a man in his 20s was approached by another man and threatened him with a knife. The victim was not injured however, cash was taken from him.

No arrest has been made.

Styles performed on Tuesday night at the Brit Awards, where he was nominated for best male solo artist and best album, but lost both to rapper Stormzy, and rap album Psychodrama by Dave, respectively. He has not confirmed his involvement in the incident.

The singer has previously suffered harassment, with 26-year old Pablo Tarazaga-Orero convicted last October of stalking the star.

Styles told the court that he first met Tarazago-Orero, who was sleeping rough, when he offered him food and money for a hotel.

The homeless man then began posting notes and coins through the singers letterbox and following him to his local pub up to four times a week.

In October, district judge Nigel Dean banned Tarazago-Orero from going within 250 metres (820ft) of Styles or his home.

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Excitement for The Europas Awards for European Tech Startups is heating up. Here is the first wave of speakers and judges — with more coming!

The Awards — which have been running for over 10 years — will be held on 25 June 2020 in London, U.K. on the front lawn of the Geffrye Museum in Hoxton, London — creating a fantastic and fun garden-party atmosphere in the heart of London’s tech startup scene.

TechCrunch is once more the exclusive media sponsor of the awards and conference, alongside The Pathfounder.

The application form to enter is here.

We’re scouting for the top late-stage seed and Series A startups in 22 categories.

You can nominate a startup, accelerator or venture investor that you think deserves to be recognized for their achievements in the last 12 months.


For the 2020 awards, we’ve overhauled the categories to a set that we believe better reflects the range of innovation, diversity and ambition we see in the European startups being built and launched today. This year we are particularly looking at startups that are able to address the SDGs/Globals Boals.

The Europas Awards
The Europas Awards results are based on voting by experts, experienced founders, hand-picked investors and the industry itself.

But the key to it is that there are no “off-limits areas” at The Europas, so attendees can mingle easily with VIPs.

Timeline of The Europas Awards deadlines:

Submissions now open!
25 March 2020 – Submissions close
14 April – Public voting begins
25 April – Public voting ends
8 June – Shortlist Announced
25 June – Awards evening, winners announced

Amazing networking

We’re also shaking up the awards dinner itself. There are more opportunities to network. Our awards ceremony this year will be in the setting of a garden/lawn party, where you’ll be able to meet and mingle more easily, with free-flowing drinks and a wide selection of street food (including vegetarian/vegan). The ceremony itself will last less than 45 minutes, with the rest of the time dedicated to networking. If you’d like to talk about sponsoring or exhibiting, please contact Claire Dobson on

Instead of thousands and thousands of people, think of a great summer event with the most interesting and useful people in the industry, including key investors and leading entrepreneurs.

The Europas Awards have been going for the last 10 years, and we’re the only independent and editorially driven event to recognise the European tech startup scene. The winners have been featured in Reuters, Bloomberg, VentureBeat, Forbes,, The Memo, Smart Company, CNET, many others — and of course, TechCrunch.

• No secret VIP rooms, which means you get to interact with the speakers

• Key founders and investors attending

• Journalists from major tech titles, newspapers and business broadcasters

The Pathfounder Afternoon Workshops
In the afternoon prior to the awards we will be holding a special, premium content event, The Pathfounder, designed be a “fast download” into the London tech scene for European founders looking to raise money or re-locate to London. Sessions include “How to Craft Your Story”; “Term Sheets”; “Building a Shareholding Structure”; Investor Panel; Meet the Press; and a session from former Europas winners. Followed by the awards and after-party!

The Europas “Diversity Pass”
We’d like to encourage more diversity in tech! That’s why we’ve set aside a block of free tickets to ensure that pre-seed female and BAME founders are represented at The Europas. This limited tranche of free tickets ensures that we include more women and people of colour who are specifically “pre-seed” or “seed-stage” tech startup founders. If you are a women/BAME founder, apply here for a chance to be considered for one of the limited free diversity passes to the event.

Meet some of our first speakers and judges:

Anne Boden
Starling Bank
Anne Boden is founder and CEO of Starling Bank, a fast-growing U.K. digital bank targeting millions of users who live their lives on their phones. After a distinguished career in senior leadership at some of the world’s best-known financial heavyweights, she set out to build her own mobile bank from scratch in 2014. Today, Starling has opened more than one million current accounts for individuals and small businesses and raised hundreds of millions of pounds in backing. Anne was awarded an MBE for services to financial technology in 2018.

Nate Lanxon (Speaker)
Editor and Tech Correspondent
Nate is an editor and tech correspondent for Bloomberg, based in London. For over a decade, he has particularly focused on the consumer technology sector, and the trends shaping the global industry. Previous to this, he was senior editor at Bloomberg Media and was head of digital editorial for in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Nate has held numerous roles across the most respected titles in tech, including stints as editor of, editor-in-chief of Ars Technica UK and senior editor at CBS-owned CNET. Nate launched his professional career as a journalist by founding a small tech and gaming website called Tech’s Message, which is now the name of his weekly technology podcast hosted at

Tania Boler
CEO and founder
/> Tania is an internationally recognized women’s health expert and has held leadership positions for various global NGOs and the United Nations. Passionate about challenging taboo women’s issues, Tania founded Elvie in 2013, partnering with Alexander Asseily to create a global hub of connected health and lifestyle products for women.

Kieran O’Neill
CEO and co-founder
Thread makes it easy for guys to dress well. They combine expert stylists with powerful AI to recommend the perfect clothes for each person. Thread is used by more than 1 million men in the U.K., and has raised $35 million from top investors, including Balderton Capital, the founders of DeepMind and the billionaire former owner of Warner Music. Prior to Thread, Kieran founded one of the first video sharing websites at age 15 and sold it for $1.25 million at age 19. He was then CEO and co-founder of Playfire, the largest social network for gamers, which he grew to 1.5 million customers before being acquired in 2012. He’s a member of the Forbes, Drapers and Financial Times 30 Under 30 lists.

Clare Jones
Chief Commercial Officer
Clare is the chief commercial officer of what3words; prior to this, her background was in the development and growth of social enterprises and in impact investment. Clare was featured in the 2019 Forbes 30 under 30 list for technology and is involved with London companies tackling social/environmental challenges. Clare also volunteers with the Streetlink project, doing health outreach work with vulnerable women in South London.

Luca Bocchio
Luca Bocchio joined Accel in 2018 and focuses on consumer internet, fintech and software businesses. Luca led Accel’s investment in Luko, Bryter and Brumbrum. Luca also helped lead Accel’s investment and ongoing work in Sennder. Prior to Accel, Luca was with H14, where he invested in global early and growth-stage opportunities, such as Deliveroo, GetYourGuide, Flixbus, SumUp and SecretEscapes. Luca previously advised technology, industrial and consumer companies on strategy with Bain & Co. in Europe and Asia. Luca is from Italy and graduated from LIUC University.

Bernhard Niesner
CEO and c-founder
/> Bernhard co-founded busuu in 2008 following an MBA project and has since led the company to become the world’s largest community for language learning, with more than 90 million users across the globe. Before starting busuu, Bernhard worked as a consultant at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants. He graduated summa cum laude in International Business from the Vienna University of Economics and Business and holds an MBA with honours from IE Business School. Bernhard is an active mentor and business angel in the startup community and an advisor to the Austrian Government on education affairs. Bernhard recently received the EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2018 UK Awards in the Disruptor category.

Chris Morton
CEO and founder
Chris is the founder and CEO of Lyst, the world’s biggest fashion search platform used by 104 million shoppers each year. Including over 6 million products from brands including Burberry, Fendi, Gucci, Prada and Saint Laurent, Lyst offers shoppers convenience and unparalleled choice in one place. Launched in London in 2010, Lyst’s investors include LVMH, 14W, Balderton and Accel Partners. Prior to founding Lyst, Chris was an investor at Benchmark Capital and Balderton Capital in London, focusing on the early-stage consumer internet space. He holds an MA in physics and philosophy from Cambridge University.

Husayn Kassai
CEO and co-founder
/> Husayn Kassai is the Onfido CEO and co-founder. Onfido helps businesses digitally onboard users by verifying any government ID and comparing it with the person’s facial biometrics. Founded in 2012, Onfido has grown to a team of 300 across SF, NYC and London; received over $100 million in funding from Salesforce, Microsoft and others; and works with over 1,500 fintech, banking and marketplace clients globally. Husayn is a WEF Tech Pioneer; a Forbes Contributor; and Forbes’ “30 Under 30”. He has a BA in economics and management from Keble College, Oxford.

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Whitechapel Gallery, LondonThe death of painting is always much exaggerated as this engaging show of figurative work by 10 contemporary painters richly demonstrates

Representational painting has been deeply unfashionable and largely superseded by photography and video among young, ambitious artists since the critical backlash against neo-expressionism in the 1980s, reads a wall text at the start of Radical Figures: Painting in the New Millennium at the Whitechapel Gallery in east London. This is untrue, as well as a huge oversimplification. In 1994, I stopped a press release going out for a painting show I curated for Londons Hayward, which said that painting was past its sell-by date. Here we go again.

The end of painting is always kinda sexy. With its profusion of bodies of one sort or another, the artists in this exhibition arent so much the walking dead, going blithely on with a dead medium, so much as taking on board the idea that painting can do things other media cant. Dead or alive, painting goes on. Its end is always being rehearsed and rehashed, perhaps from painting to painting. And much of what we see here resplendent bodies, irradiated bodies, bodies imagined from the inside, spectral bodies, remembered bodies, cartoonish bodies, impossible bodies has all come into being through the particularities of a medium. The presence, too or rather absence of the painters Marlene Dumas, Maria Lassnig, Chris Ofili and Peter Doig, who all came to prominence in the 80s and 90s, is felt in much of the work of the 10 artists here.

Europe bound a detail from Daniel Richters Tarifa, 2001. Photograph: Courtesy of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London, Paris, Salzburg/ Daniel Richter / DACS, London 2019

Daniel Richter, at 57 the oldest painter in the show, can be funny. Frequently compared (and even confused) with Doig their ways of rendering trees, figures and mountains have sometimes been similar Richter has a more scattergun approach to images: a turbaned Taliban and the Marlboro man having a smoke on a mountain, a naked woman in high heels getting up to hanky-panky in the woods till she turns her head and we see the face of a grinning, bearded mujahid. Im not sure gender-fluidity is really Richters thing. His best work here is a 2001 image of a group of north African refugees approaching Tarifa on a life raft at night, their clothes and faces fluorescing and fracturing in the light of heat-sensitive cameras as they float above the black swell of the Gibraltar strait.

With her blizzards of nearly cohering fragments that assemble and disassemble and almost coalesce just as they are flying apart, Cecily Browns paintings barely seem new. The wearying, histrionic flux of her art, rather like the forced humour of Richters paintings, and the repetitive satire of Tala Madanis little pictures of pudgy, balding and bearded Iranian men going about their salacious interludes, their prayers and their business, ends up enervating rather than exciting.

Unexplained back-stories Feeder, 2016, by Sanya Kantarovsky. Photograph: Courtesy of the artist, Modern Art, London, and Luhring Augustine, New York

In Russian-born, US-based Sanya Kantarovskys work, an ill-tempered baby clings to its mothers bent back like a horrible goading parasite, its hands clasping her red nipple as she struggles through the gloom, with bloodied knees and elbows. The mother here is a sort of stoic victim. In Deprivation, a man leans over a woman, her face hidden, on a bed. She is naked, he still has his shirt on, and it looks as if he is prising his hand out of hers. I do not like this guy, nor the spiderish way he looms over her, nor how his sandy hair falls over his scalp. Nor, indeed, the sickliness of the scene. There are some unexplained, nasty backstories informing the images, and how they are painted.

Multiply-minded Duchess of Oils, 2014, by Ryan Mosley. Photograph: Courtesy of the artist, Galerie EIGEN+ART, Berlin / Leipzig and Tim Van Laere Gallery, Antwerp

A jumble of faces as though multiple personalities or theatrical roles flit through the mind of a single person in Ryan Mosleys Duchess of Oils. In another painting, a bearded man smoking a pipe does something with snakes, and with a number of legs that have inexplicably sprouted heads. Im reminded here of Enrico Davids sculptural tableaux, but I havent a clue where Mosley is going with all this.

Another pair of snakes slithers through one of Michael Armitages paintings, all of which use a cloth made from bark, or lubugo, as a support: the cloth is more usually used for funeral shrouds in Armitages native Kenya. Mostly, the viewer doesnt notice it, but I guess there are practical as well as symbolic reasons to use it. Its unevenness adds a certain resistance to his painting process, forcing him into moves he might otherwise not make. Two young men kiss, with a sort of inner glow, in a darkened room. A frieze, up by the ceiling in the gloom, has motifs of shooting and death, alluding to Kenyas draconian laws against homosexuality. In another painting, a group of men look down at a woman lying in a fusty bower. She is in the pose of Velzquezs so-called Rokeby Venus, a painting that was slashed in 1914 by suffragette Mary Richardson. The woman here is about to be violated, too, by the group of men whose feet stand in a row at the top of the canvas.

Fraught bodies Casually Cruel, 2018, by Christina Quarles. Photograph: Courtesy of the artist, Pilar Corrias, London and Regen Projects, Los Angeles

Christina Quarles, whose works were recently at the Hepworth Wakefield, shows more of the same here. Her lascivious, fraught bodies morph and slew, clutching at themselves and at one another in scenes that are as much to do with a disjunctive repertoire of painterly and graphic devices, a drama of forms, as they are to do with any human action.

All at sea the left panel of Nicole Eisenmans Progress: Real and Imagined. Photograph: Courtesy of Ringier AG / Sammlung Ringier, Switzerland

Upstairs, Nicole Eisenman blows everything weve seen so far out of the water, with a pair of gigantic 2006 paintings titled Progress: Real and Imagined. In the left panel, the artist sits hunched in her studio on a rackety houseboat, drawing with a quill in a notebook. Shes all at sea in her floating studio. Great lumps of paint congeal on her palette. Flowers explode like fireworks from a vase. Stuff flies around the studio, someone drowns in the waves, the captain is at the tiller looking serious. There is so much to look at here. In the second panel, describing a ribald female utopia, there are foxhunts with hounds, a water-birthing, beach scenes, sex, death and fishing, and much besides. Hamburgers fly overhead. Painterly, cartoonish, thick and thin, hilarious, horrible, delicate, monstrous, funny and inventive, this is a world without men except for a decapitated fellow who gawps bleakly on the shore.

Another 2008 painting depicts a Brooklyn beer garden, with boozers and bores, hipsters and has-beens, divas and dykes, dancing and kissing, slurping and slumping, smoking and arguing. A waiter moves implacably through the throng. Lights dance on the trees, and death looks back at us through the crowd. This is all enormous fun. A more recent 2016 painting depicts a dusky seeping head under a pale yellow moon. This thickly painted, rough and tender image sleeps oblivious through the clamour around us.

Rumbustious Dana Schutzs New Legs, 2003. Photograph: Courtesy of the artist; Petzel, New York; Thomas Dane, London; Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin

Eisenmans art is full of life. Real life and the painters life. She takes things to another level. Dana Schutz, who hangs opposite Eisenman, can at least stand up to all this with her rumbustious, glaring, painterly images. The roaring comic quality of her work, and their setting on some overheated beach where a man eats his own chest (it looks more as if hes vomiting), a wide-eyed cousin to one of Picassos neoclassical nudes sculpts herself some new legs and a couple ill-advisedly go to sea in an overcrowded little boat have an oomphing sort of elan. Other figures crowd under a beach umbrella, the shore littered with fish bones.

Party on? Lenox, 2017, by Tschabalala Self. Photograph: Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias Gallery

In Tschabalala Selfs New York scenes a female cop, her gun sewn to her uniform, stares us down. A couple at a bodega stand before a wall of photocopied, hand-coloured product wrappings. Another pair of painted figures, each with a canvas of their own, compete with gigantic red legs painted on the wall behind and around them. Selfs work needs some funky music to go with it. There should be more of it, partying on while painting dies or doesnt.

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Most in tech would agree that following the launch of Alexa and Google Home devices, the “Voice Era” is here. Voice assistant usage is at 3.3 billion right now; by 2020, half of all searches are expected to be done via voice. And with younger generations growing up on voice (55% of teens use voice search daily now), there’s no turning back.

As we’ve reported, the voice-based ad market will grow to $19 billion in the U.S. by 2022, growing the market share from the $17 billion audio ad market and the $57 billion programmatic ad market.

That means that voice shopping is also set to explode, with the volume of voice-based spending growing twenty-fold over the next few years due to voice-based virtual assistant penetration, as well as the rapid consumer adoption of home-based smart speakers, the expansion of smart homes and the growing integration of virtual assistants into cars.

That, combined with the popularity of digital media — streaming music, podcasts, etc. — has created greenfield opportunities for better brand engagement through audio. But brands have struggled to catch up, and there have not been many ways to capitalise on this.

So a team of people who co-founded and worked at Zvuk, a leading music streaming service in Eastern Europe, quickly understood why there is not a single profitable music streaming company in the world: subscription rates are low and advertisers are not excited about audio ads, due to the measurement challenges and intrusive ad experience.

So, they decided to create SF-based company Instreamatic, a startup which allows people to talk at adverts they see and get an AI-driven voice response, just as you might talk to an Alexa device.

Thus, the AI powering Instreamatic’s voice-driven ads can interpret and anticipate the intent of a user’s words (and do so in the user’s natural language, so robotic “yes” and “no” responses aren’t needed). That means Instreamatic enables brands which advertise through digital audio channels (streaming music apps, podcasts, etc.) to now have interactive (and continuous) voice dialogues with consumers.

Yes, it means you can talk to an advert like it was an Alexa.

Instead of an audio ad playing to a listener as a one-way communication (like every TV and radio ad before it), brands can now reach and engage with consumers by having voice-interactive conversations. Brands using Instreamatic can also continue conversations with consumers across channels and audio publishers — so fresh ad content is tailored to the full history of each listener’s past engagements and responses.

An advantage of the platform is that people can use their voice to set their advertising preferences. So, when a person says “I don’t want to hear about it ever again,” brands can optimize their marketing strategy either by stopping all remarketing campaigns across all digital media channels targeted to that person, or by optimizing the communication strategy to offer something else instead of the product that was rejected. If the listener expressed interest or no interest, Instreamatic would know that and tailor future ads to match past engagement — providing a continuous dialogue with the user.

Its competitor is AdsWizz, which allows users to shake their phones when they are interested in an ad. This effectively allows users to “click” when the audio ad is playing in the background. One of their recent case studies reported that shaking provided 3.95% interaction rates.

By contrast, Instreamatic’s voice dialogue marketing platform allows people to talk to audio advertising, skipping irrelevant ads and engaging in interesting ones. Their recent case study claimed a much higher 13.2% voice engagement rate this way.

The business model is thus: when advertisers buy voice dialogue ads on its ad exchange, it takes a commission from that ad spend. Publishers, brands and ad tech companies can license the technology and Instreamatic charges them a licensing fee based on usage.

Instreamatic has now partnered with Gaana, India’s largest music and content streaming service, to integrate Instreamatic into Gaana’s platform. It has also partnered with Triton Digital, a service provider to the audio streaming and podcast industry.

This follows similar deals with Pandora, Jacapps, Airkast and SurferNETWORK.

All these partnerships means the company can now reach 120 million monthly active users in the United States, 30 million in Europe and 150 million in Asia.

The company is headquartered in San Francisco and London, with a development team in Moscow, and features Stas Tushinskiy as CEO and co-founder. Tushinskiy created the digital audio advertising market in Russia prior to relocating to the U.S. with Instreamatic. International Business Development head and co-founder Simon Dunlop previously founded Bookmate, a subscription-based reading and audiobook platform, DITelegraph Moscow Tech Hub and Zvuk.

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The disco icon to follow in footsteps of Patti Smith, Yoko Ono and Nick Cave as curator of the London music festival, saying, Its about time, dont you think?!

Grace Jones is to curate the 2020 edition of Meltdown, the nine-day festival taking place at Londons Southbank Centre.

Year after year, the festival continues to spread its colourful wings, allowing its curators to bring together an array of diverse talent not seen anywhere else, Jones said in a press release. Its about time I was asked to curate Meltdown darling, dont you think?!

Bengi nsal, Southbanks head of contemporary music, said: Grace Jones is unlike anybody else. She was the first artist who made me feel that I could express myself, be whatever I wanted to be, and not be afraid of what the world might say.

Jones has performed at previous editions of the festival, as part of Jarvis Cockers 2007 lineup, and the following year with Massive Attack. Her lineup for the festival will be announced in the new year.

Meltdown was founded in 1993, initially as a classical music-focused festival. It soon widened its remit, making curators of artists including Nick Cave and Scott Walker. Jones is only the sixth woman to curate the festival in its history, following Laurie Anderson, Patti Smith, Anohni, Yoko Ono and MIA.

The next Meltdown will take place 12-21 June. Jones, who is 71, released her last album, Hurricane, in 2008, and published the autobiography Ill Never Write My Memoirs in 2015.

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Immersive show at the O2 will have music, memorabilia and a homage to Brighton Dome

It became an instant hit and helped propel four unknown Swedes to superstardom, but the opinion of the British jury at the Eurovision song contest in 1974 was a less enthusiastic nul points.

The British vote proved irrelevant. Everybody else seemed to love the performance by Abba of their song Waterloo, which kicked off a musical journey resulting in eight albums and a legacy that shows no sign of fizzling out.

The highs and lows of that Eurovision evening at the Brighton Dome are to be recreated at the O2 in London as part of a huge exhibition telling the story of Agnetha Fltskog, Bjrn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. The show will include artefacts, photos, videos, interviews, costumes and private letters, many of them going on display for the first time.

It is a much bigger version of a show at the Southbank Centre staged by its then artistic director, Jude Kelly, to mark the end of a year of Nordic arts and culture. The Abba team loved how seriously we took their story, Kelly said. They asked how would I approach it if it had a much bigger footprint.

While the Southbank show was in a small space and necessarily intimate, the O2 show has 1,300 sq metres (14,000 sq ft) and so can be big and bold, said Kelly. Visitors will be taken through the story of Abba, explored through their albums from Ring Ring in 1973 to The Visitors in 1981. Each will tell a wider story of what was going on around them at the time, culturally and politically.

It will be at times immersive and experiential. So a gloomy 1970s British living room will be created, recalling a time of three-day weeks, power cuts, the Goodies and aliens chuckling hilariously at how primitive earthlings were for peeling, boiling and smashing their potatoes. Visitors will then be able to watch the Eurovision night unfold in a crushed velvet homage to the Brighton Dome interior.

There will also be a Swedish folk park, a kind of socialist Butlins, said Kelly, and a key part of Abbas roots. And there will be a full-size helicopter, replicating the one on the front of the album Arrival, and equipment from the bands Polar studios in Stockholm.

There will be a wealth of personal memorabilia in the show, including Ulvaeuss school report As for manners and orderliness, B minus for music while among the many costumes on display will be the cape worn by Fltskog on the bands Voulez-Vous tour.

Kelly said Abba had always had a close relationship with their fans. Towards the end of the show will be a recreation of the Manchester living room of one superfan, Andrew Boardman, a shrine to all things Abba.

Kelly said all the bands albums were different. Each had a pop voice but also a very specific tone and it comes out of a particular moment in history, she said.

Thats what has always interested me in art anyway: what was going on around them at the time? What was going on around them musically? Politically? How was it that Abba kept this strong, single-minded determination to be the best of what a pop band is?

Whatever people think about Abba and their music, their global popularity is undeniable. Ive been to weddings in Nigeria where they are playing Abba, said Kelly. Ive been to parties in China where they are playing Abba.

With an Abba museum in Stockholm, a theatre production and two movies, the bands profile seems to grow year on year rather than diminish. This month the O2 will play host to Mamma Mia! The Party!, a theatre and dining experience that has been a hit since it opened in Stockholm in 2016. In the space of four hours it promises a spectacular show, a three-course dinner, and a 1970s Abba disco.

Abba: Super Troupers the Exhibition is at the O2 from 6 December.

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What was once a gloomy brickshed is now one of the most awe-inspiring art galleries in the world. As Tate Modern tops our chart, its architect reveals his trick: avoid glamour and keep it raw

It is totally unimaginable now, says Jacques Herzog, but this was a huge chunk of the city that was completely excluded from public life, overgrown and set back behind high walls. It felt like Sleeping Beautys castle.

The Swiss architect is referring to Bankside power station, the great brick hulk that he and Pierre de Meuron transformed into Tate Modern in the year 2000, turning it into a cathedral of art that is now officially the most popular attraction in the UK, receiving 5.9 million visitors last year. People dont just come for the art, but to experience the most powerful architectural transformation of the century, and one of the most majestic indoor public spaces in the world.

Its not so easy to deal with existing structures, not to destroy them and not to respect them too much, says Herzog, whose small, then-unknown practice was selected in the 1994 competition precisely because it proposed to do the least to Giles Gilbert Scotts power station. Some critics asked why we didnt leave some turbines, but we had to reduce it some way. By removing the ground floor and digging everything out, we tried to amplify the awesome power of the existing space.

Twenty years on, the project is no less powerful. In fact, it seems eerily ahead of its time. The turn of the millennium was a time when iconic architecture was in its overblown prime, every city desperate for a piece of the Bilbao effect, following Frank Gehrys thrashing titanium fish for the Guggenheim Museum. To take what seemed like a gloomy 1950s brick shed and strip it out, adding a bare minimum of new elements in raw concrete, glass and steel, was a deeply strange thing to do. Tate duly received flak from the architectural establishment for its reticence, accused of lacking the confidence to commission a more flamboyant new building.

It was incredible foresight from Nick [Serota, former Tate director] to think of using this building. He had seen artists working in industrial spaces in London and New York, but to turn it into a gallery was new, says Herzog. We knew we had to keep it raw. We didnt want to go for glamour, or add decorative elements or formal details. We learned from arte povera that poor materials and ugliness are powerful aesthetic elements.

The as found aesthetic seems so familiar now, but at the beginning of the century, this carefully judged bricolage of rough and smooth, combining the mighty mineral heft of industrial materials with precise surgical incisions into the existing fabric, was something new for London. And not without its difficulties to achieve.

Precision and care Jacques Herzog, left, and Pierre de Meuron. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Observer

Construction in England is Herzog pauses. Lets say, less careful. It would have been impossible if Nick hadnt been so insistent on the Swiss quality of building. Even though its a rough building, it needed some precision and care, particularly with the elements you touch, like the handrails.

Herzog & de Meuron has cemented its position as probably the most sought-after architecture practice in the world, consistently reinventing its approach for each new building, be it a stadium, opera house or the little roadside chapel currently keeping Herzog busy. But Tate Modern remains its defining work.

It is the key project of our company, he says. It always returns, when Im talking about programming a space without a given programme, or involving the public, or reusing existing structures, or how to discover spaces that are somewhere between spooky, mysterious and beautiful. You cant invent that. There is a lot of beauty in the world that we have to appreciate before we transform it.

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It was Britains answer to The Wire. But the gang drama was dead until the rapper stepped in and pitched it to Netflix. Its stars and writer talk grime, gentrification and Boris Johnsons Britain

I told them I was on my way out to meet some singer called Drake, says writer Ronan Bennett, recalling the unlikely story of how he went out for dinner with the Canadian rapper and somehow managed to make himself seem less cool in front of his children. Drake was a fan of Top Boy, Bennetts Channel 4 drama about the lives of drug dealers and residents on a fictional Hackney estate called Summerhouse. He had been recommended it while on tour and loved it so much, he began posting stills from the show on Instagram with clumsy attempts at London slang (real bod man). When he found out it had been cancelled, he decided to bring it back by teaming up with Bennett and pitching it to Netflix.

The pair arranged a dinner in London to thrash out a plan much to the disbelief of Bennetts kids, who had to inform him he was about to meet one of the biggest pop stars on the planet. My children were like, Whaaaaat? he says. But honestly, I didnt know who he was.

Luckily for Bennett, Netflix and quite a few other people did. He was into the shows music, says Kane Robinson AKA Kano, the grime MC who starred in the original series as Sully, a duplicitous but driven dealer. It wasnt a shock that Drake liked it. What was more shocking was that when he posted about Top Boy, the reaction was mad. Youd wake up and have hundreds of messages.

He understands the culture and saw that [the show] needed to come back, adds Ashley Walters, who plays Dushane, the titular Top Boy who rises from low-level street dealer to potential East End kingpin. We were all on the same page it just happens that hes Drake.

Drake fronted a pitch to Netflix in LA and an hour later they had a deal. But Top Boy wasnt the easiest sell. Originally pitched to the BBC as a one-off TV film, the Beeb balked at the language and its stark gang-related subject matter, so Bennett shopped it to Channel 4, which commissioned it and greenlit a second season. The Independent called it Britains answer to The Wire, while Vice dedicated an oral history to the making of it. The show got a mixed reception from residents of Hackney when the Observer screened it to youth groups, but it was lauded by critics for its brutal portrayal of life in east London just after the 2011 riots.

Top girl Letitia Wright in the original series. Photograph: Tristan Hopkins/Channel 4

Bennett cant remember the reason Channel 4 gave for cancelling, but it felt abrupt and left him shocked with a storyline for a third series that looked destined never to see the light of day. I didnt ever think it was going to come back, says Robinson. It looked like it was a non-starter.

But despite the cancellation, Top Boy didnt disappear completely. Both Robinson and Walters were asked about it incessantly as it began to find another audience, first on DVD and then on Netflix. It became a touchstone in the music world, with such grime acts as Skepta working references into his Mercury prize-winning album, Konnichiwa. It proved to be a hothouse of young black British talent: Michaela Coel had a bit-part in the original series, as did a pre-Black Panther Letitia Wright, who stood out as an ethically compromised young gang member. Other grime MCs, including Scorcher and Bashy, also featured before going on to get parts in films. In 2016, rumours that the show was coming back began circulating. Then, during his sold-out run at the O2 in London this April, Drake played a trailer confirming its return.

The UK has changed a lot since Top Boys debut in 2011, especially in the way gangs are viewed. The rise in knife crime has become part of the national conversation, with the media reporting on such concepts as county lines, in which drug gangs send young members to rural locations to drum up new trade. Drug dealers have never been more under the microscope, especially after 2018, when there were 135 homicides in London, 76 of them stabbings. So was there any hesitation in bringing back Sully and Dushane, dealers who manipulate young kids, murder rivals and use knives?

No, says Bennett without missing a beat. I think its important to bring it back in that context. Why? I consider myself a highly political person in everything I do, says the writer, who up until recently was the chair of his local Labour party. But I never beat the audience over the head with a message. However, I dont think anyone who watches Top Boy would fail to realise that the answer to the question Why is knife crime happening? is simple. Its poverty, exclusion and its racism. Thats why these kids feel completely outside the norms of a society that cold-shoulders them, that closes doors on them, that looks down on them, that despises them. And then its a spiral.

Theyre denied any kind of self-respect. Where are they going to find that respect? They need to feel good about themselves and they need to find that value somewhere. They create a different value system and its one that is deeply, deeply fucked up.

Belated return Walters and Robinson in the forthcoming third season. Photograph: Netflix/PA

Robinson and Walters think there is an urgent need to bring a gang drama to the screen, believing the new series will provide a vital window into a world that is still misunderstood. The medias attention [to gangs] is on another level, says Robinson. But who are we if were not talking about the current climate? What picture do people want us to paint? Its not a true story but there are a lot of truths within it.

Whoever is outside looking in, says Walters, should see this as correspondence. Youre getting the people who are down there at street level reporting to the rest of the world. Thats what I see Top Boy as, thats what I see Kanes music as. Its important for people to listen and take time to watch whats going on in these shows, especially the ones like Top Boy that are painting an accurate picture.

Poverty has a smell. Its cheap, bad food. Its damp, unwashed clothes Ronan Bennett Photograph: Antonio Olmos

That picture isnt pretty. In the new series, which will launch on Netflix in the autumn, theres a glimpse of the harsh life inside British prisons, where disagreements from the street continue to fester. There are young men still children, really forced to look after their families and turn to drug-dealing to provide. An immigration story surfaces that has echoes of the Windrush scandal.

Top Boy has always been about showing the wider view of how societal pressures add to the chaos of street life. In the first two series, we see a salon owner and the manager of a chippy struggling to stay open as rents increase. A mother with mental health issues has to deal with her own problems and the needs of her son, who is perilously close to getting caught up in the drug game. For Bennett, thats all a way to paint a fuller picture of life in breadline Britain.

Until recently, wed go around canvassing [for Labour] and you could literally smell poverty, says Bennett. It has a smell. Its cheap, bad food. Its damp and unwashed clothes. When they open that door, you think, Would I like this life? No. Thats why this happens and thats what Top Boy shows.

Walters believes gentrification plays a part. I think its one of the reasons why a lot of knife crime is happening, he says. What were not talking about is how people are being displaced and how somewhere like Croydon has one of the highest knife crime rates because all the kids from Peckham, Brixton and the surrounding areas were being moved there which created war, essentially, because all the kids were being mixed up together.

Then there are middle-class drug users, who have been accused of fuelling the gang problem. A well-off couple appear in season three is that who Bennett is skewering? Ive seen the whole debate about middle-class drug use, says Bennett, who adds that he has never taken or bought drugs. That obviously happens. I guess thats something people have to confront, but for me the answer is decriminalisation. Nothing else works. Would that include all drugs? Yes. Im in favour of decriminalisation but with regulation. I would say to my kids, Please dont do this. I think its bad for your health and taking drugs is really risky. But this is the way to make it less risky.

Bennett points out that in the Shoreditch restaurant were sitting in, there are probably people who have bought or sold drugs that day. Are they fuelling knife crime? he asks, looking around. I guess. But in a bigger way, its the entire apparatus that weve built around the so-called war on drugs that is responsible.

Theres always been a bleak, nihilistic thread running through Top Boy, as young people without much hope struggle to simply get by. Can Bennett see things getting better in real life under a Boris Johnson government, with the hardline Priti Patel in the Home Office? No, not remotely. If you handpicked a bunch of characters in Britain that have less intelligence, less sympathy and less understanding of the kind of social and economic backgrounds that our characters come from, you could not do a worse job. There is no hope that they will have any understanding of what it would take to solve this problem. They are unbelievably out of touch.

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