Just what is there to do at the O2? I ask because a heck of a lot of people seem to go merely because it's there, and not because they've come to North Greenwich for anything in particular. There's an arena, of course, but loads of people who come don't seem to have tickets for that. They simply turn up at the giant dustbin lid and expect to be entertained. Why do they come?
It could be for the cinema. This is pretty big, especially given that it serves a catchment area of not-many local homes. And it's a bit of a honeytrap, sucking up punters via a glowing escalator, then making it surprisingly difficult to find their way out again. But that doesn't explain the crowds wandering around at ground level outside.
It could be for the restaurants. There are probably more restaurants here than any other non-high-street in the country. All the big chains are on site, or at least all those above fast food level - there's nothing so base as a KFC or McDonalds. The O2 wants you to sit down and eat when you visit, not graze and snack and disappear. Japanese, Italian, American... there's even a Harvester just opened at the very far end. Maybe that's why people come, for the ultimate choice in mid-range non-threatening dining out. Could be.
It's not for the shops. There aren't any shops, as such, unless you count a store peddling mobile phones and a single newsagent. Nobody comes here for a retail blowout. So it must be for an experience. The O2 likes putting on an experience for its visitors. If it's an advertisement then the experience is free. And if it's not an advertisement then the experience costs. Like so...
Titanic - the Artefact Exhibition: Wow, this was packed on Sunday. Not that I ventured inside, but there were long queues waiting outside and a steady stream of people dripfeeding out of the shop at the end. Somewhere inbetween are 300 artefacts recovered from the ocean floor, and some stories and videos and stuff. You might enjoy, I'll pass. Cost of an adult ticket: £13 (weekdays), £15 (weekends) Cost of a second class ticket on the Titanic: £12
The British Music Experience: And this wasn't packed at all. At least there was nobody queueing up outside, in stark comparison to the throng jostling nextdoor. A group of floppy youths stopped and enquired at the desk, but I don't think Dusty and Oasis were for them. It's fully interactive inside, I'm told, with a live music studio and recordings you can play at home. But I wonder if the internet and games consoles are making this place increasingly irrelevant. Cost of a ticket: £15 (adults), £12 (children) Cost to buy the new Adele album on iTunes: £7.99
Dinosaurs Unleashed: This is very new. They've erected a big white tent outside the back of the Dome and filled it with animatronic dinosaurs and CGI effects. Not something your average punter is going to want to see, but absolutely magnetic for children of a certain age with a palaeontological fixation. On Sunday it seemed to be doing a roaring trade (sorry), and I lost count of the number of family groups walking out into the drizzle with a grinning Junior in tow. Cost for a family of four to see 22 animatronic dinosaurs here: £42.60 Cost for a family of four to see 5 animatronic dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum: £0
The Nissan Innovation Station: What's that glowing blue portal leading seductively off Entertainment Avenue? Why not collect a barcoded bit of cardboard from the entrance and find out. Ooh, a forest of glowing LED bullrushes... and you're in. What you've wandered into is a seductive interactive car advert, with umpteen screens beckoning you over to press, prod and communicate. Nissan cars make noises, what noises do you make? Don't electric cars travel a long way, especially our new model? Would you like to enter all your personal details on this keyboard so we can email you later? Someone's gone to a heck of a lot of effort to build four rooms of surreptitious automotive pluggery, but never mind, it'll keep the next generation of consumers busy for quarter of an hour. Cost to look round the Nissan Innovation Station: nil Cost to buy a new Nissan Qashqai: from £15995
The Sky 3D Gallery: You'll find this three-storey prefab in one corner of the entrance piazza, tucked up against the wall where the casino isn't. It's billed as the world's first 3D gallery, which may be electronically true but conveniently ignores centuries of classical sculpture. On the ground floor grinning staff will give you some 3D specs, which you then take upstairs and watch some 3D TV. Football and rugby, Disney and Pixar, ballet and wildlife... it doesn't take long to work out that this is nothing but a giant advert for 3D stuff you can watch on Sky. Nothing arty, nothing original, just mass media pixels which they hope you'll subscribe to later. It probably works too, because I bet hesitant Sky customers are most likely to upgrade to 3D only once they've experienced what they're missing. And on the roof? Just an empty viewing gallery, which is great assuming you think the O2's entrance piazza is worth viewing, and not really otherwise. Cost to look round the Sky 3D Gallery: free Cost to subscribe to Sky World 3D HD for a month: £62.25
So, what you get at the O2 is a captive family audience it's dead easy to sell to. Some come knowing what they want to do, and leave having spent £80 on dinosaurs and food or whatever. Others simply turn up with time to fill, but still leave with their wallets emptied. I was going to complain how nakedly mercenary the entire place is, except that the original Government-sponsored Dome was exactly the same. In 2000 the exhibits were sponsored by BT, Marks & Spencer, McDonalds, Tesco, BSkyB et al, and in 2011 it's only the brands that have changed. Come on down, the Millennium Experience is as shallow as it ever was.
What's on this weekend? Spring Into Summer Saturday 30 & Sunday 31 May
40 free guided London walks. Purley Festival Friday 29 - Sunday 5 June
Bunting week, below Croydon. E17 Art Trail Sat 30th May - Sun 14th June
250 arty Walthamstow things.