The “horrible Frenchman” who saved Blair’s “tent”
He took personal affronts badly and they still irritate. “The difficulty at the Dome was not the turnaround itself,” he said, “but he was insulted daily. The worst thing was being shot twice a week by John Humphrys [on the Today programme]. “
When Gerbeau arrived in February 2000, the 12 million visitors Tony Blair predicted seemed like a piece of cake in the sky. “How the hell was a tent with no attractions and no history in the middle of nowhere supposed to do that?” It was never going to happen. “
Politicians have tried to blame him for their own incompetence. “I was the scapegoat, without a doubt.” His only ally, he said, was Cabinet Minister Mo Mowlam. [she died in 2005 aged 55] who would take her for a comforting tea at the Ritz. At the mention of her, he becomes emotional. “My hero. She saved my life many times, bless her soul.
Gerbeau reduced ticket prices and queues, introduced travel packages and beefed up shows. By the end of the year, its allotted time, the dome had been visited by 6.5 million people and attracted more people than the Alton Towers. He says it took him three months to recover from the exhaustion.
For his next gig he took over a failing ski resort in Milton Keynes and created X-Leisure, with 19 theme parks. It made him a rich man. In total, he turned around nine failing companies. What turns him on about the London Resort, however, is that he will be left to run it. “Usually you fix the problem and then you are very kindly urged to go away,” he says. “Do you know why? Because people say, ‘That horrible Frenchman is still here.
“I like to run things. My life will begin at the end of 2024 when we open the park. We try to bring something amazing to people, especially in these difficult times. A second park is due to open there in 2029. Last month, details were announced of a prehistoric nature reserve dedicated to dinosaurs, adventure and an active excavation site for future paleontologists.