1999 – The Year Everything Changed

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When Prince wrote his hit song, 1999, he was speaking of the future, envisaging like a lot of us did, that the world would come to an end in the year 2000.

In 1982, when the track was released, America was in the midst of a Cold War with Russia. Western nations argued that the Soviet Union posed a serious threat and responded by stocking up on nuclear weapons, leading many to believe that an apocalypse was eminent.

Others of the time maintained that by the year 2000, people would be living in domed cities, eating dog meat, and travelling by driver-less cars. Why is this relevant? Well, as crazy as these predictions were, they were right about one thing – and that’s how much the world changed at the turn of the century.

1999 was an important year for me. I was 10 at the time and finishing my final year of primary school. A child soon to embark on a new journey. Britain was also in a state of flux. In January that year, unemployment in the UK hit a twenty year low. Then, two months  later year a new national minimum wage act was introduced, bringing with it greater rights for people in the workplace. In football, Manchester United did the impossible and won not just the Premier League, but also the FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League.

In the medical world, former doctor, Harold Shipman, was charged with seven counts of murder, following the deaths of eight female patients in his care. His actions would forever alter medical practice in the UK, and lead to a tightening up across the board.

In London, two major structures were built that year – the Millennium Dome (now the 02) and the London Eye, both of which were unveiled in December and still remain to this day. I remember seeing the London Eye up close during the millennium new year’s eve celebrations and being utterly transfixed by it.

It was in August 1999 that I witnessed my very first total solar eclipse. I’d never seen anything like it before, and felt rather startled by the whole “black sky” thing. I watched it during playtime at school, and the teachers only agreed to let us see it provided that we wore the 3D glasses they gave us. To this day, that’s the only total solar eclipse I’ve ever seen.

1999 was, likewise, a pivotal moment for the internet. A time when more and more people were connecting to the web, at home and at work. Between 1999 and 2000, household internet penetration in Britain increased by 12 per cent, backed by new technology and improvements to connection speeds. All the while, society was sent into panic over a little something called the “Millennium bug”. Many worried that a series of tech bugs would suddenly cause computers to crash and malfunction by the year 2000, and lead to a worldwide meltdown. That didn’t happen, but the fear did persist for some time. Public safety warnings were even issued in the UK.

On the world stage, there was plenty happening that would come to affect Britain. On January 1st, the Euro was introduced, as a new single currency for those in the European Union. All EU states signed up for it to except Britain and Denmark.

Those on the opposing end argued that the euro zone economy was growing too slowly for there to be any real benefit, and, in the end, that prediction turned out to be true. Not only did the Euro prove to be job destroying, but it also helped to create a recession.

Devolution was another big topic. In a bid to decentralise government in Britain, two new parliaments were setup that year – one in Scotland and another in Wales – with greater powers devolved to both nations.

One of the most popular mobile phones in history dropped that year, and could be found everywhere around the world – including Britain. The iconic Nokia 3210 was a groundbreaking model which, for the very first time, made mobile phones seem cool. It did away with the dorky antenna, had a curvier, more seductive shape, and featured a simple yet addictive game – Snake – which I used to play for hours on end.

Being a child at the time, I was somewhat out of touch with what was going on around me, but I could sense that things were changing. Seeing the year 2000 on a calendar was weird to begin with – it’s not often you get to celebrate a new millennium. Just around the corner were some key moments in British history like the opening of the Tate Modern, the death of Damilola Taylor, and the appointment of Kevin Livingston as the first Mayor of London. A brave new age was upon us and, for better or for worse, things would never be the same.

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