Jemma Carr and Martin Robinson, Daily Mail, December 31, 2020
Sadiq Khan spent up to £1.5million of public money on a BBC-backed ‘woke’ pro-EU, NHS and BLM firework and drone display on the Thames that was cooked up in secret with Scotland Yard and narrated by Sir David Attenborough, MailOnline can reveal today.
Labour’s Mayor of London kept the taxpayer-funded event a mystery to avoid crowds gathering during the pandemic at Greenwich where rockets were fired from a barge in the river and 300 drones flew above the O2 Arena in south-east London.
10.8million locked-down Britons, forced to celebrate New Year at home and eager to bid farewell to a miserable 2020, tuned into BBC One to watch the display, which City Hall told MailOnline had a £1.5million budget with Mr Khan having the ‘final sign off on the content of the display’.
Many watching on TV were outraged and said the show was ‘ruined by politics’ after Thames bridges were turned blue and yellow in a tribute to the EU as the UK finally left and 300 drones made the shape of a BLM fist and a turtle with Africa on its shell during a climate change lecture by Sir David Attenborough – but ended with no Auld Lang Syne.
The BBC helped with the planning of the broadcast, which the Mayor’s office said: ‘Looked ahead in hope to 2021, including sending a message to European Londoners that they will always have a home in our city’.
Mr Khan also defiantly tweeted critics this morning by sharing a MailOnline story and saying: ‘Anyone else think it was pretty good?’, leading to a mixed reaction of those enjoyed it and others who blasted him including one who replied: ‘No. You made a NYE celebration political. Disgraceful’. Another wag tweeted sarcastically: ‘Apart from the BLM & EU images, the commentary, the god awful singing and mostly dodgy musical taste…….I really liked it’.
Last night’s controversial display was curated by Mr Khan with the help of the BBC, Titanium Fireworks, SKYMAGIC drone displays, Durham Marenghi Lighting, Signify audio and Jack Morton, a London media agency. The Mayor of London has also thanked the Met, The Port of London Authority, and the Civil Aviation Authority for their help in putting it on.
One critic tweeted Mr Khan directly and said: ‘This was a opportunity to unite, yet you continue to want to divide us all, disgraceful’. Another wrote: ‘Even making firework political now spoilt it for me’, and one angry BBC viewer said: ‘It was a disgrace. The whole thing. Propaganda to fireworks, lights and music. Wish we hadn’t watched it, like many others I know’.
One irate viewer, who pointed to Mr Khan’s previous pro-EU displays, tweeted: ‘Had my London fireworks ruined by politics again. Turned off after four minutes.’ Another said: ‘The symbolism was incongruous and divisive. Disgraceful’.
A spokesman for the Mayor said: ‘It reflected some of the defining moments of what has been a very challenging year for our city and country, including the significant impact of Black Lives Matter, Captain Tom’s incredible fundraising efforts and our appreciation for the NHS’.
A Greenwich resident shocked by the unannounced fireworks said it ‘sounded like the Blitz’ while another local tweeted: ‘I live a 3 minute walk along river from it. We weren’t even told it was happening. Hence our traumatised pets!’
Another wrote: ‘The irony of David Attenborough voicing over that our planet is fragile and we need to look after all the inhabitants during the London fireworks. All whilst a shed load of explosive go bang, polluting that fragile environment and frightening the c**p out of most the inhabitants’.
Labour’s Mayor of London Mr Khan was involved in curating the firework display, which began with a bang at midnight when a nightingale bird in European Union colours appeared over the O2 Arena just after Britain’s trade deal with Brussels kicked in.
A raised fist – which became synonymous with the Black Lives Matter movement this year – first appeared as spoken-word artist George the Poet read an extract of his poem Coronavirus: The Power of Collaboration.
The writer – who turned down an OBE last year due to the ‘pure evil’ of the British Empire – read: ‘The future holds unexposed danger, but no stress. Humankind is no stranger to progress. And as we have proven, when we collaborate, progress follows fast.’ The NHS logo and Captain Sir Tom Moore were also depicted in the show, which was produced with the help of the BBC. But the display also lacked a performance of Auld Lang Syne, with just a few notes from the Hogmanay classic being played before host Alicia Keys instead launched into her song New York from a concert streamed from Los Angeles.
Another Twitter user said the show was ‘going well’, but said organisers ‘just had to force politics into it’ while someone else commented: ‘Well, the London celebrations were a little bit political weren’t they! Could’ve just set off fireworks and had a bit of music, but no.’
One viewer added: ‘Can’t believe the London firework display. BLM, all about change, new ways… never seen so much politicized bulls***.’
It is unclear exactly who curated the lightshow, which will have been signed off by officials at Sadiq Khan’s City Hall and paid for by London’s taxpayers.
The display also featured an extract from a poem written by New Zealand-born Tomos Robertson – who goes by the name Tom Foolery – titled The Great Realisation.
As fireworks lit up the sky, a narrator read: ‘In 2020, a new virus came our way. We knew what must be done and so to help we hid away.
‘Old habits became extinct and they made way for the new. And every simple act of kindness was now given its due.’
Just seconds later, a bird appeared in the sky – in reference to the building of the Nightingale hospitals – after a clip of a news broadcast states: ‘Buildings were lit up in blue, the colour of the NHS’.
But many have wondered why the bird also featured yellow in its wings on the night the UK left the European Union for good.
Towards the end of the show, the shape of a turtle appeared in the sky as Sir David Attenborough said: ‘Happy New Year. Our planet is unique. A living world of diversity and wonder. It’s also fragile.
‘With a new year comes the opportunity for change. And if we act, in 2021 we can make a world of difference.’
Fireworks were also seen over Tower Bridge in the capital.
As he continues, the turtle changes colour and the shape of Africa appears on its shell.
‘Together, we can turn things around. Together, we can restore our fragile home and make it a happy new year for all the inhabitants of planet earth.’
Mr Khan shared a clip of the BLM segment of the show with the caption: ‘Our New Year’s Eve show just sent a loud, proud message to the world: London stands together against racism – tonight and always.’
He tagged George the Poet, whose real name is George Mpanga, in the tweet. Mr Mpanga opened the BBC’s coverage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding with one of his poems and his work has won the support of the Duke of Sussex.
Mr Khan confirmed that the traditional fireworks show would not go ahead back in September, saying that ‘we can’t afford’ to have large numbers of people congregating amid the coronavirus pandemic.
He dubbed the alternative celebrations ‘something that people can enjoy in the comfort of their living room’ at the time.