November 14, 2008
We Are Cunard
Posted in: Updates
As I mentioned in my previous blog – we will be featuring some guest bloggers to share their experiences of that memorable day and of course it’s always fantastic to hear from readers. We’ll be hearing from QE2 herself very soon but in the meantime it’s a great pleasure to introduce Peter Shanks (Chief Commercial Officer for Carnival UK) with his guest blog.
We started by preparing to welcome HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. He duly arrived and came on board just as it turned 1100. Being the 11th of November and Armistice Day – we therefore started with a 2 minute silence. To do this in the presence of HRH in front of the famous ‘Falklands Corner’ on deck 2 was very moving indeed. As we stood there, two historic aircraft flew over the ship and dropped a million red poppies over the ship. Given that it was the 90th anniversary of the end of World War One – this was a very special tribute and carried out in true Cunard style.
HRH then continued round the ship meeting as many of our current and past crew as he could, including past Captains. On arriving in the Queens Room we asked HRH on our behalf to present a specially commissioned painting of QE2 to the Mayor of Southampton. This had been unveiled in June by Her Majesty the Queen when she came to bid farewell this year. HRH The Duke of Edinburgh decided he would say a few words. Marvellous I thought – the time had come for one of his much loved personal insights. The picture was of QE2 in the Solent weaving her way amongst a flotilla of yachts. HRH is a keen sailor and went on to mention that many times he had to take action as this wonderful liner had him in her sights. He went on to say that Cunard then built two even bigger liners to get in the way of his yacht! There we go – mission accomplished. My objective throughout the QE2 farewell celebrations has been to promote the fact that although QE2 is moving on we have two other fabulous liners and Queen Elizabeth on the way – and here we were with HRH endorsing the story himself. He went on to say that his one regret was that he had not had the chance to cross the transatlantic on a Cunard Liner. Now we are about to launch some fabulous offers for Queen Mary 2 Transatlantic Crossings and I will make sure that HRH gets a personal mailing!
Now I have not mentioned the heroes of the piece yet – the Cunard crew. They set about serving lunch for HRH and 70 guests in the famous Princess Grill. They served immaculate smoked salmon, beef wellington and coffee. We only had 55 minutes for lunch before being out on deck for a very special fly-past. The Cunard team delivered – in fact they did it with time to spare and nobody felt rushed. It was a beautiful lunch and our famous White Star Service was very much in evidence.
So out we all went onto the upper decks. We were expecting a Harrier Jump Jet from the Royal Air Force at 1340. Now for those of you who may not know what a Harrier is – it is a vertical take off fighter aircraft. They came into service at the same time as QE2 in 1967 – and played a major part in the Falklands War alongside QE2. So at exactly 1340 the jet whistled in. It stopped dead in its tracks just 500 feet opposite the funnel. It hovered, bowed its nose in respect, turned and then screamed off into the distance at full speed. Unbelievable, one iconic engineering feat paying tribute to another.
We bid farewell to HRH, it had been our pleasure to have him on the ship and he made the day very special indeed – especially for all those amongst our crew that he was able to meet.
Let me now fast forward to 1830, with all guests embarked for the final voyage of QE2. No normal voyage – this is the one that sold out in 36 minutes at full brochure price. By now the media interest for the departure was at fever pitch. Our President Carol Marlow was hosting a special event in the upper level of the QE2 Terminal. I had volunteered to be the co-presenter on the 60 minute live BBC coverage of the departure. The water was full with hundreds of small boats, tens of thousands of local people lined every inch of water, helicopters were in the air the ship was ready to go and the fireworks were primed.
My strategy for co-presenting the live BBC broadcast soon became apparent to all. No matter what I was asked I was going to refer to the future of Cunard , the wonderful Queen Mary 2 , Queen Victoria and of course Queen Elizabeth. The wonders of live television – as I have learnt from watching the more astute politicians, you can say exactly what it is you want to say no matter what the question. After all, why let the facts get in the way of a good story.
Well I sort of achieved my objective, but I have to be honest and say that the evening was of course about a very special lady – the QE2 – and rightly so. Like all good ladies, having been fashionably late in the morning – she left on time to the second. The presenter asked me afterwards , as we stood at the bow , how was I so confident to say live on TV that the ropes would definitely be let go in two minutes and she would come of the berth in four minutes. I told her it was just the confidence I had in the crew – the real answer being the blackberry messages I was secretly glancing at every few minutes.
As to what happened next –pictures say it better than words. QE2 slipped off the berth lit up by flash bulbs from ship and shore and sound drowned out by the band. She moved slowly down to salute the many thousands of local people escorted by hundreds of boats. Just at that moment we relayed a message in person from the Captain to giant screens ashore. He finished his few words with ‘she will never return to Southampton again………………’. Then – the mighty QE2 whistle sounded, everybody cried (except me because I used to play rugby) and the fireworks then lit up the sky.
As the fireworks finished you could just pick up the sound of thousands of people with ‘Three Cheers for QE2 – hip hip , hip hip, hip hip ‘. And then the QE2 slipped through the dark and off to the next chapter of her life in Dubai.
All of us who work with Cunard are so very privileged to be part of such a legendary company. The one word that binds us all together is ‘proud’ . This was an event of which we can all be proud and an event that hopefully will persuade more and more guests around the world to come and witness the pride we all share.
We are Cunard !