Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Pyrotechnic Alchemy

I stood in a crowd of a quarter of a million people, cheering as 2012 ended and 2013 was heralded in. London's South Bank heaved with excited faces - all the world's cultures, age groups and hairstyles, down by the Thames for the fireworks.

We had walked from Tower Bridge - where I took a few quick photos on my phone - to join the growing throng until it thickened to an impasse. There we cheered as midnight chimed from the newly-named Elizabeth Tower, a BBC helicopter flickered in and out of clouds and the pyrotechnic alchemy started.

And it was some alchemy - the crowd loved the feel-good 'well done Britain' messages and the well-chosen music mix. The interruption of 'Mind the Gap' and a few words from the PM, Mayor and even Her Majesty must have absolutely delighted tourists. On reflection, though, I couldn't help thinking: could we have spent more?

It's an odd suggestion, given that it was a great display and that the economy is still in intensive care. My logic's simple: it was great - but was it great enough to catch the world's attention? The bill for the event was huge, but advertising bills often are. A truly spectacular New Year display gets your advertisement on every major news site in the world. Not a bad return.

Sydney's waterfall of sparks, Dubai's spectacular display from the Burj Khalifa and Copacabana's annual extravaganza will be talked about the world over. Will London? One hopes so, but it is possible to imagine a better show. As government keeps telling us, we're competing with an entire planet. We shouldn't be satisfied, to continue the metaphor, with any less than gold.

In times when money's tight, the competition gets all the more stiff - so, when setting budgets, we shouldn't shy away from paying a high premium for making sure it's Britain being talked about. 

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