'WHY DON'T we do it for the cameras? Come in closer, George,' purred Joanna Lumley to ICE president George Fleming as they cut the ribbon to officially open the Our River exhibition at the ICE last week.
Lumley was guest of honour at the opening of the exhibition about the history of civil engineering on the Thames, which is part of the London String of Pearls millennium festival. John Smeaton and IK Brunel also made a surreal appearance in the form of human statues.
Lumley was enthusiastic about the exhibition and talked of her fascination with the Thames. She was born and raised in India where she spent a lot of her childhood travelling with her family by boat to other Asian countries. It is from these experiences that she believes her love of water comes.
'I moved to London when I was 18 and became immediately fascinated by this amazing city with the Thames snaking through it,' said Lumley. 'I spend much of my free time driving around London to see all the wonderful new structures that are being built.'
Lumley enjoys walking along the Thames watching the comings and goings along the busy stretches of water. 'I enjoy watching the rats running up and down on the banks. I love river rats,' she said.
She talked of her plans to build a garden bridge over the Thames in memory of Princess Diana (NCE 21 October 1999). The pedestrian, tree- lined bridge concept is a steel structure clad in semi opaque back lit glass. She is eagerly awaiting the election of the London Mayor so she can lobby for her plans.
Lumley spent some of her evening at the ICE gambling on the roulette wheel in aid of the Telford Challenge - the engineering charity to relieve poverty. As she was escorted around the exhibition by Fleming, she seemed delighted to see the image of her garden bridge proposal in the future projects section. She described the displays as 'absolutely exquisite'.
The Our River exhibition tells the stories of the engineers who have crossed, cleaned and controlled the Thames, and how their work has shaped London's character. There are many projects featured including the first London Bridge, Brunel's Thames Tunnel, Bazalgette's sewers and a moving model of the lifting into place of the London Eye. Telford's original drawing equipment is also on display.
For more information on Our River, contact Shona Cooper at the ICE (020) 7665 2150. For information on the String of Pearls, see the website at www.stringofpearls.org.uk or tel (020) 7665 1540.