October 13, 2010
We Are Cunard
Posted in: Queen Elizabeth
President and Managing Director
I write this whilst at sea on the maiden voyage of Queen Elizabeth. We enjoyed a beautiful sail away from Southampton last evening in glorious sunshine and all on board are now settling nicely into the voyage. I have not had much time to reflect on what took place in Southampton on Monday when Her Majesty graced us with her presence. It was a remarkable, emotional, exciting and very proud day for all of us who have been involved in bringing this magnificent new ship to life. I thought I would describe for you how my day went and perhaps share with you an insight into our very special day.
Up at 0530 and off to a series of radio and television interviews – the interest and excitement across the media was electric. On many of the interviews I was asked if the bottle would break to which my confident answer was – ‘No – it will obliterate’ – more of that later.
We greeted a thousand guests who had joined us on board for lunch prior to the ceremony. Another thousand were gathering for a welcome reception in the terminal and they would then also join the ceremony and then stay on board for our Gala Dinner. As part of the celebrations we invited our friends from Princes Trust and in doing so raised a further £30,000 for the cause. One of their Ambassadors, Sir Ben Kingsley, spoke briefly prior to lunch. I say briefly – but I have never heard such an eloquent and powerful speech and I am sure it rightly put our Princes Trust relationship front of mind.
As our guests enjoyed lunch I stood in the empty arena with a TV crew. I spoke to 17 different North American TV Breakfast Stations in 90 minutes. I spoke to Cincinnati, San Francisco, Sacramento, Fort Myers and many national stations and was taken aback by the international interest of what was about to happen. Then – as 2,000 guests took their place in the grandstand alongside the parade ground we had created – I had 45 minutes to myself to prepare for the arrival of Her Majesty The Queen.
So here we are. I am standing on a red carpet at the forward brow looking down the length of the ship. Behind me is what I can only describe as a ‘posse’ of media. At exactly the promised time, around the corner at the end of the dock came the beautiful royal car. I can’t describe the feeling as the car travelled slowly down the dock towards us. Next to me stood one of our security officers, I whispered to him ‘This is certainly one moment you can tell your family about’.
Nervous, yes but as soon as I was introduced to Her Majesty she put me at ease with a wonderful smile. She would be with us for 60 minutes and at that point I knew it was going to the proudest 60 minutes of my business career.
We were up and running as I introduced her to Captain Wells who in turn introduced his senior officers. As we set off towards the first lift – the first challenge. Her Majesty asked if she could see a suite – something we had not thought we had time for on the tour. The answer was ‘Of course Maam’. I glanced at the team and I knew they would make it happen. We arrived on the Bridge and Captain set about his work. We will all remember the magical moment that Her Majesty pushed the button for the ship’s whistle. It was just a short blast – perhaps the enormity of the sound taking her a bit by surprise. Outside on the naming parade ground we hear 2,000 guests roar with laughter and applause – they too had been taken by surprise not knowing that the pictures they were seeing were live.
Onto the cabin and Her Majesty showed real interest – and was able to compare to ships of old. (I am rather hoping she may come back for longer one day) From there we were down to the Royal Court Theatre. As we then walked through the ship we had the Ship’s Company present all cheering and applauding Her Majesty. I was so pleased that the ship’s company was able to see Her Majesty at such close quarters and the smiles on their faces were wonderful. In the Queens Room we introduced a small number of dignitaries and our Hotel team. For me the proudest moment of the day had arrived as I was able to introduce my wife to Her Majesty.
Through the Grand Lobby, past the wonderful Royal Portrait, a signing of the visitor book and then we were ready for the ceremony.
Hopefully you have seen the video of the ceremony on the blog, or the short three minute version below this post. It was indeed remarkable. Singing the National Anthem with Her Majesty present is a very emotional moment and it set the tone perfectly. I am very fortunate to represent all of those who work so hard for Cunard and I had been thinking about this speech for quite some time. It was important for me to say the right things, but for me it was also important that the speech came across as personal. OK – so when talking about ‘easing dollars from American pockets’ I meant to go on to say ‘Rubles from Russians’ and instead said ‘Russians from Rubles’ and everybody giggled – well making Her Majesty smile works for me.
There are moments and there are moments. Let me tell you – standing with Her Majesty The Queen to my left, Carnival Corporation Chairman to my right and the world’s media in front of me all thinking the same thing about the bottle – that is a moment. And when Her Majesty uttered those famous words and pushed the button all eyes switched to the bottle of Rothschild Wine hanging perilously above the bow. Well – as planned, it did not smash it obliterated. Unconfined joy all around me – not least for myself and I let out a yelp of joy. I could now start to enjoy the day.
Her Majesty left as she had arrived with a lovely smile and some very kind words. For the 2,000 present we had enjoyed a moment of history and a moment made special by the presence of such a warm, marvelous and much loved monarch. After all had left the parade ground, I managed to find our event organizers, musical conductor and events team to thank them for what they had achieved. And I made sure the biggest ‘high five’ went to the man who made sure my ‘moment’ turned into a moment of sheer joy – the man who made sure the bottle obliterated. Our ambition was to ‘make the hair on the back of your neck stand to attention’ and that it did.
The evening concluded with a wonderful formal dinner in the Britannia restaurant. I have to admit I enjoyed my first cold glass of beer. We at Cunard are blessed with a marvelous history and we try our very hardest to continue the fine traditions that have set us apart for so many years. Monday was indeed remarkable and I would like to put on record just how proud I am of every single person at Cunard and those who helped to make it happen. If there was ever a day to say ‘We Are Cunard’ – then Monday was indeed that day.
That was two days ago and we are now settling into the maiden voyage – more of that shortly…………….