September 27, 2013
After 11 years with Cunard Line I shall be leaving the business at the end of September. I will miss all the many friends and colleagues across Cunard Line and I shall miss the many passengers that I have so much enjoyed meeting over recent years. At the same time after 11 exciting years, I am looking forward to finding a new personal challenge.
The first thing I should say is that Cunard Line has probably never been in such good shape. If I think back to when I joined the business in 2002, we were sailing with QE2 and Caronia. Today we have three fine ships and one of the youngest and most successful fleets in the world of cruising. Indeed – it was wonderful to hear last week that the 2014 Berlitz Cruise Guide named our ships the top three large ships in the world. There is no question in my mind that the success of Cunard, both today and over many years, is down to our people on board the ships. The leadership shown by our Officers and the White Star Service so proudly displayed by our Crew is our secret to success – and I have so much enjoyed working with them. I have also made some great acquaintances amongst our passengers – most notably when visiting our ships on the other side of the world. And I am very confident that our officers, crew and passengers will continue to make Cunard even more successful in years to come.
Over recent years through social media I have shared many of my experiences – especially through the ‘WeAreCunard’ blog where many of our bloggers have responded with interesting and sometimes challenging comments. So I thought what better way to sign off than recall some of my personal highlights from the last 11 years. So here goes – and in no particular order;
Queen Mary 2 – without doubt the most exciting aspect of my time with Cunard. To be involved in the design and launch of what was the largest, widest, tallest and most expensive ship ever built was simply awesome. She is just different and magnificent. Whether cutting through enormous seas, arriving in New York or Sydney or just being onboard she continues to turn heads wherever she goes. We named her on a very windy day in Southampton in 2004 – the ship was revealed to the song ‘What have you done today to make you feel…Proud’ as right on cue, a huge silk curtain fell to the ground to reveal the ship. As a ship launch, I believe it has yet to be beaten and maybe never will be beaten. She is 10 years old next year – and still magnificent.
Special Relationships – I have been very fortunate to represent Cunard in meeting many famous people from around the world. Her Majesty the Queen has graced us by naming two of our ships as well as coming to say farewell to QE2. The Duchess of Cornwall has been a wonderful friend to Queen Victoria and visited several times. President George Bush was a real gentleman, Lesley Garret a true friend to us, Terry Waite always welcome and Deputy Prime Minister(at the time) John Prescott always a character and usually a challenge. If I had to single one person out, then it would be Desmond Tutu. He sailed with us into Cape Town and said grace at our World Cruise Dinner. He showed great interest in everybody he met and it was an honor to meet him – an inspiration. When asked who he would invite to his Captain’s table he replied ‘The Dalai Lama, Mandela, Bono – and then with a twinkle in his eye – Madonna’
New York – Such a big part of our history and lots of memories for me. I watched Captain McNaught bring QE2 into New York for the first time and he scraped the ship down the side of the dock – ouch. We held 2 Three Queens events – and both were awesome and freezing at the same time. On the 2nd occasion I was asked to ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange which was very special – and just before pushing the button our Chairman Micky Arison said ‘keep it open a bit longer, our share price is down..’.
Sydney – Another place with special memories. There is a magic that happens when our ships arrive in the harbour and it is always very moving. The most special was when we held a memorial service on the aft deck of Queen Mary 2 for Australian 2nd World War veterans who had gone to war on our first Queen Elizabeth. Around 40 of them came – with an average age of 95. It was another moment where we made everybody cry and it was very moving – remarkable men.
Liverpool – OK so I may have generated some unhelpful competition and rivalry between Southampton and Liverpool. Well the former is our ‘home’ and the latter is our ‘spiritual home’. Talking of Liverpool, I was there last week and I had a personal tour of the famous Cunard building. It was quite something with the original panelled Board Room and the cavernous marble check-in halls. It reminded me just how enduring Cunard Line is. Over recent years we held three very moving Cunard concerts in Liverpool Cathedral where the Cunard magic moved many present to tears. I am hopeful that Liverpool will play a special role in Cunard’s 175th anniversary in 2015.
Great People – It would be wrong to single out too many people who during my time at Cunard have made such a difference as there are so many of them. But a special mention is deserved for some of the Captains who I considered friends – McNaught, Wright, Bates, Wells, Olsen, Philpott, Clarke, Oprey as well as Commodores Warwick, Warner and Rynd. All great leaders and all considerable characters. I have worked with some terrific Hotel Managers including John Duffy, David Hamilton, David Stephenson, Robbie Howie, Jacqui Hodgson and David Sheppard – always calm and so proud of what they and their teams do. We have had some real characters amongst our Chief Engineers and in Entertainment Directors then Ray Rouse and Paul O’Loughlin – take a bow. And one special lady who has managed to keep all onboard focused and supported – our Hotel Operations Director Tracy Jessop deserves an enormous amount of credit. But when I look back at my time I will remember so many of the very special people on our ships – Bedroom Stewards, MaitreD’s, Waiters, Butlers and the chaps who work so hard down below and keeping the decks in such great condition. I have also enjoyed working with our shore based and sales teams in Southampton, Hamburg, Los Angeles and Sydney. Together – as we have said so often – We are Cunard !
QE2 – The first time I set foot on QE2 was in Southampton in 2002. I have to admit I was not sure, she was getting old. But when I first sailed and experienced the ship I understood the magic of Cunard Line. There was something about QE2 that will never be matched – she was a part of history. It was a sad time in 2008 when she retired – although I stand by the decision to retire her and then introduce a new Queen Elizabeth as it was time. Her Majesty The Queen came to say goodbye, and I will always remember hosting Baroness Thatcher at that lunch – as well as the RAF Harrier that paid tribute in such a spectacular way. None of us will forget the cold November evening when she slipped her ropes in Southampton for the last time and the city said goodbye to their favourite ship.
Proudest Moment – A number of people have asked me what my proudest moment was during my 11 years with Cunard. It was without question at the launch of Queen Elizabeth. It was one of those special days – the sun shone and the world’s media was expecting. The build had not been easy and the teams involved had worked miracles. I was fortunate to be the one to stand up and make the speech prior to Captain Wells asking Her Majesty to christen the ship. During my comments I mentioned that ‘there is only one person present here today who was present at the christening of Queen Elizabeth in 1937, QE2 in 1967 and the new Queen Elizabeth today – and that person is Her Majesty The Queen’. Well on that mention, Her Majesty sat bolt upright and giggled with pride – that was quite a moment and something I shall always treasure.
Over the years our blog has covered all these special moments and more – and I am sure there will be some very special events in Cunard’s future – notably with the 175th anniversary in 2015. If I had to pick one moment that stands out in my mind – it is an example of the teamwork that has been so much fun and so inspiring over the years. Having watched the team work so hard on the build, introduction and launch of Queen Elizabeth, the ship arrived in Sydney Harbour. That afternoon I arranged a private climb of Sydney Harbour Bridge for our Chief Engineer, Hotel Manager, Hotel Operations Director and myself – or if you like Colin, Robbie, Tracy and Peter. During the climb, Chief and Hotel Manager mentioned it was the first time they had taken a few hours ashore since the launch of the ship. It was fun and when we got to the top of the Bridge, down below us was Queen Elizabeth. A spectacular sight, but that was not the moment I will remember. We finished the bridge climb and walked back towards the ship, I was late for a charity function – but on the Chief’s insistence we were forced into a bar. Four cold beers were ordered and as we clinked glasses, it was the culmination of a huge amount of work by everybody involved with Queen Elizabeth – and a moment of friendship that I will treasure for a long time and remember each time I visit Sydney.
I hope all of our bloggers continue to enjoy their voyages with Cunard in the future and thank you for all the interest you have shown in my time with Cunard over the last 11 years. One thing is for sure – all those very special people will be there to meet you and look after you when you next choose to sail with Cunard.