September 12, 2011
We Are Cunard
Posted in: Updates
This week we will share some of the wonderful happenings of Queen Elizabeth’s maiden call to Liverpool – including some moving video footage. I thought I would share with you my personal perspective of the visit.
The ship was due in on Thursday morning and so on Wednesday evening I found myself on a train speeding up to Liverpool. On arrival at the hotel – the receptionist said she was delighted to say that I had been upgraded to ‘The Cunard Suite’. My first reminder that Cunard touches so many parts of Liverpool. As I awoke early the next morning – the breakfast TV coverage was already up and running and talking of the excitement that Queen Elizabeth would be arriving at around 0800. Of course it was raining. I am not quite sure what it is about Liverpool and the rain – it rained when QE2 made her farewell visit in 2008, it rained when Queen Mary 2 made her maiden call and it really, really rained last year when Queen Victoria made her maiden call and when her Godmother The Duchess of Cornwall came to say hello. You know it is quite remarkable that having started in Liverpool some 171 years ago – we have visited Liverpool with 3 new ships in the last four years.
I walked down to the waterfront – and my first sight was of the many local people who had come down to see Queen Elizabeth arrive. And there she was – just starting her 180 degree turn on the River Mersey. Here is a shot I took that you don’t see very often – Queen Elizabeth sideways on in the River Mersey. The ship – as ever – did a grand job in safely coming alongside – but there was something missing – what was it? The whistle – I think Captain Wells was so busy rightly making sure he arrived safely – he had not had time to blow the ship’s whistle. Well happily – I knew somebody who did have the authority to blow the whistle – me. So I called the ship on my phone and sure enough he whistle soon blew loud and clear to the waiting crowds.
The next couple of hours turned into a little bit of a media frenzy. We were really pleased that so many TV, radio and local press had come down to see our arrival. I was able to talk of what a proud day it was for all of us at Cunard to bring our new Elizabeth to her spiritual home of Liverpool – and to see her sitting proudly in front of the famous Cunard Building (more of that in a minute).
The real media frenzy was over a little – or rather a larger row that has broken out between the ports of Southampton and Liverpool. Liverpool currently only have a ‘landing stage’ – which works for a day like this but would not work for a full embark or disembark. They now have an ambition to invest further to enable them to do a full operation in Liverpool so that cruise lines could sail from Liverpool. I sense there is quite a political agenda here and we have been very careful to remain agnostic – it is not our task to get involved. But it was quite tough for me to manage – even though I do have quite a bit of media experience. The TV reporters from Liverpool were asking me if we would ever sail out of Liverpool instead of Southampton and the TV reporters representing Southampton were asking me if we would stick to Southampton and never sail out of Liverpool. As you can imagine – this was a moment where it would be difficult to keep everybody happy. Just to be clear then – Southampton will always remain our UK home where we commence our UK voyages and where we have excellent facilities in the port– and Liverpool will always be our spiritual home and where Samuel Cunard established Cunard in 1840. If Liverpool were to develop their facilities in future years – then in the same way that we have some sailings starting in places like Hamburg, Venice, Rome, New York and Sydney – we would of course consider one or two voyages out of Liverpool that would be very well supported– with Southampton remaining our UK base – so there you have it.
As the ship was tying up – and before we welcomed some dignitaries on board – I took a walk over to look at the Cunard Building. Here are a couple of pictures I took – and note the Cunard flag flying proudly atop the building;
When you walk into the building it is still magnificent – and gives you a real sense of what Cunard was like all those years ago. The two main booking halls are intact and I intend to return at some point for a future blog where the building manager has volunteered to give me a tour of the many aspects of Cunard that still exist in the building.
So – back to the ship and a chance for me to catch up on how the ship’s company were doing and how the Maiden Round Britain Voyage was doing. We then held a plaque exchange where the Deputy Mayor spoke beautifully of her memories of Cunard as a child – and that her late husband had spent 52 years at sea as a merchant seaman. Events like this always remind me of just how many people’s lives have been touched by Cunard – and just how remarkable and visionary Samuel Cunard was in creating Cunard – I often wonder how he would view us today and I think that to still be here 171 years on with the youngest fleet in the world is a testament to his vision all those years ago.
Now on to the highlight of the day. We were taking all 2,000 guests to Liverpool Cathedral for a concert to celebrate ‘The Magnificent Elizabeths’.
There will be plenty of coverage on our video blogs later this week – but here is a little sense of what we got up to and how I felt it went. Well first of all – we had all the right ingredients – and ingredients that only Cunard can create. So as many of our TV chefs would say these days ‘In order to prepare the perfect dish – you need some very special ingredients’ – here is what we had to hand;
- Queen Elizabeth
- 2,000 of our guests – many loyal to Cunard and many with us for the first time.
- An International mix – over 450 North American friends, 100 from Japan and over 1,000 British
- A packed Cathedral with not a spare seat in sight
- The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
- The Liverpool Welsh Choral
- Liverpool Cathedral Choir
- One of our great friends and Conductor – Anthony Inglis
- Two wonderful performers in Lesley Garrett and Jenny Williams
- A host of famous speakers to share their Elizabeth memories
To those remarkable ingredients you need to add 171 years of Cunard history, the wonderful and friendly people of Liverpool and what you get is another remarkable, magical and moving Cunard event. Our approach was simple – each speaker would relate to their own personal involvement with Cunard and Elizabeths over the years to be followed by an apt and moving piece of music.
After the National Anthem – and that was moving enough – I spoke first of the three Elizabeths, our proud links to Her Majesty the Queen and my final words were ‘Let’s Celebrate’ – which was followed by a full rendition of Zadok the Priest with the giant video screens showing the naming Ceremony of Queen Elizabeth.
Dennie Farmer – our Madrina went next and spoke of her memories of the first Queen Elizabeth and of her late husband whom she met on the ship and who went on to become Chief Engineer on a number of our ships. She was followed by Maureen Ryan whom many of you will know and who for many years worked on Queen Elizabeth and the QE2, she spoke so movingly of her memories and of so much dancing – as she finished Lesley Garrett sang ‘I could have danced all night’ – marvelous and uplifting. Next we had one of our most treasured guests – Keith Gledhill MBE. He spoke of when – as an 18 year old – he joined Queen Elizabeth in the Pursers Office. He spoke of how he was very nervous – and that the very first guest he was asked to look after was Bette Davis – remarkable and so good that he and his wife still sail with us on a regular basis, I was so pleased that Keith was able to speak and to do so on behalf of so many of our loyal guests.
And so to a moment of the concert, a very special ingredient that nobody other than Cunard can create and a moment that had tears in the eye of every person in the Cathedral. Simon Weston OBE served in the Falklands and travelled there on QE2. As he went up to the pulpit to speak there was a hush around the cathedral. As many of you know he was badly injured whilst there and commands so much respect in the way that he remembers those he fought with and those that did not return, he spoke of his time on QE2 and his joy that after the war and for many years since he has been fortunate to sail with us again. As he moved to the end of his speech, he spoke of those regiments and friends who travelled with him on the QE2 to the Falklands. And he spoke of those that did not return, especially those from his very own regiment – The Welsh Guards. At that moment, the main doors of the cathedral opened and to the stirring sound of drums, the full Band of the Welsh Guards marched into the cathedral whilst playing ‘I am Sailing’. I will own up straight away to having a tear in my eye and a huge amount of respect for people like Simon Weston.
The ingredients kept coming – Carol Thatcher spoke beautifully of her fondness for the QE2 and how much her mother Margaret Thatcher had agonised over sending the ship to the Falklands. Actress Anna Bentink spoke of how she starred in the footage of the QE2 maiden voyage and then actor and much-loved Roy Barraclough spoke of his memories of our ships. The final word was left to Captain Wells – very forward looking and uplifting. He also saved the best laugh of the day for his speech – and yes it is very joyous to hear 2,000 people laugh out loud in a cathedral. He referred to the fact that it was common on the very first Cunard ship Britannia for people to be ankle deep in water at times – and that water would run down the stairs. He then referred to a former Cunard Captain who famously said ‘You don’t want to worry when you see a little water running down the staircase – it’s when you see water coming up the staircase that you want to worry…’
And then it was time for the last Cunard ingredient. So here we were, poised for Captain Wells’ final words, in Liverpool Cathedral, with our guests, with Queen Elizabeth moored just down from the Cunard Building, Lesley Garret poised to sing, supported by Anthony Inglis and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra – what would the final ingredient be. The Captain finished by saying – ‘To travel with Cunard, now or in 20 years time, means you’ll never walk alone’ and as the finale to the concert the final ingredient was a magnificent rendition of Liverpool’s most famous song – ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. I have never witnessed a standing ovation in a Cathedral before– but at that moment not only did I feel immensely proud of all things Cunard and the team who had created this magical event – but of those three words that help us to carry on this wonderful tradition ……We Are Cunard.
Look out for the videos that will follow later in the blog – and do come and join us on our Round Britain Voyages in the future – they really are very special indeed….