QE2: Forty and fabulous

SHE'S the world's most famous cruise ship, having carried the rich and famous in fabulous style.Features editor TRACEY SPARLING reports on a souvenir book, created to mark the 40th anniversary - and farewell years - of the Grand Dame of the Seas.

By Tracey Sparling

SHE'S the world's most famous cruise ship, having carried the rich and famous in fabulous style.

Features editor TRACEY SPARLING reports on a souvenir book, created to mark the 40th anniversary - and farewell years - of the Grand Dame of the Seas.

AS officers aboard the QE2 pored over charts in the final moments before their next voyage, a hurricane was brewing many miles away.

On September 7 1995 the famous liner left Southampton, bound for New York, via Cherbourg. Magician Paul Daniels and Coronation Street star Johnny Briggs were among the passengers.

Officers were continuing to monitor the progress of Hurricane Luis from the Caribbean, which looked like it would pass close to their course. On September 10 they changed course to avoid the worst of the storm, and advised passengers that the effects of the storm would be increasingly felt after dinner. By the evening winds were higher than forecast and waves were up to 40ft.

Most Read

The next morning the eye of the storm was 130 nautical miles away but the sea was a whirling white mass with spray and foam submerging the bow. At 2.30am a rogue wave was spotted looming out of the darkness, and hundreds of tonnes of water broke over the QE2's bow.

It was the biggest wave Captain Ron Warwick had seen during all his 38 years at sea.

He said later: “It looked as if we were going straight into the white cliffs of Dover. The wave seemed to take ages to reach us, but it was probably less than a minute before it broke with tremendous force over the bow. An incredible shudder went through the ship followed a few moments later by two smaller shudders. At the same time the sea was cascading all over the fore part of the ship including the bridge, and it was several seconds before the water had drained away from the windows and vision ahead was restored.

“The fact that the QE2 handled it so well is a tribute to her. I think British people should take pride in such marvellous engineering.”

The wave was later confirmed by monitoring equipment to have been 95ft high and 1,200ft wide.

Amazingly, most passengers slept through the drama, and only learned of it when they were presented with a Storm Certificate as a momento, the next morning.

The QE2 has had many such adventures during the 5.5 million nautical miles she has sailed since her launch in 1967- that's more than any other ship ever, and the equivalent of travelling to the moon and back 15 times.

This iconic ship has carried almost 2.1 million guests on romantic and luxurious journeys including 24 world cruises, which will stay treasured in the memories forever. For forty years she has often been in the news, whether because of storms, stowaways, collisions, ransom threats, drug smugglers or wartime service.

So all things considered, broadcaster Carol Thatcher had plenty of material to draw gems from for her new book QE2 Forty Years Famous.

She said: “The QE2 has been a phenomenon for 40 years, and there is no doubt she will continue to be so for a few more. She is just one of a long line of noble Cunard transatlantic liners but she has served longer than any other, travelled further than any other, visited more places around the globe than any other and arguably is more loved than any other. Like her predecessors QE2 has pedigree, but she is the ultimate triumph of a great tradition.”

She thanked Eric Flounders and Michael Gallagher from Cunard Line for the research, and revising and rewriting the book at length.

Michael said: “It took about two months' worth of weekends and most evenings from start to finish. We actually had a chunk written beforehand so it was a case of greatly expanding that. We were not allowed to use any of our work time!

“Friends had said over the years that there was a book 'in there' that needed to be written, but I never really thought I'd be up to it. Eric and I were both very keen to mark the 40th anniversary and a way of doing that long term is put the story down in writing.

“It is a great story and one that had perhaps not been told completely. Plus many inaccuracies tend to pass down from book to book over the years and we were keen to dispel them. This is perhaps the first true reflection of the QE2 story - with many added bits that our research unveiled.”

This is a landmark year for the QE2, after which she'll be fondly remembered by many. Her popularity was proved when an estimated one million people turned out to see her when she called at Liverpool for the first time in 1990.

Michael added: “QE2 is the most loved ship afloat today. She has fans and admirers the world over and many of them have never even stepped aboard.”

So what does Michael personally love about her?

He laughed: “That is the $64,000 question. It was interesting to discover that whenever you asked a fan why did they love her so, no one was able to put it into a simple sentence; they all had several reasons, and that is the same for us really. “We can't just say it's because of this or it's because of that. She's the best - perhaps that is good enough!”

The QE2 is the fastest merchant ship in operation, with a top speed of 32.5 knots - she can go faster backwards than most cruise ships can go forwards!

But she will come to rest in Dubai. She is to be sold in a $100 million deal which will turn the iconic liner into a star attraction at The Palm Jumeirah - the world's largest manmade island.

The QE2 will be delivered to buyer Dubai World in November 2008, where she will be refurbished to her original décor and adapted for her new home. From 2009, the vessel will be berthed at a specially-constructed pier to create a luxury floating hotel, retail and entertainment destination.

Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, chairman of Dubai World, said: "The QE2 is without a doubt one of the wonders of the maritime world, and is easily the most famous serving liner in the world today. I am delighted we will be able to create a home for her on the newest wonder of the world, The Palm Jumeirah."

"QE2 at The Palm Jumeirah will become one of the must-see experiences of Dubai and of the Middle East. Dubai is a maritime nation and we understand the rich heritage of QE2. She is coming to a home where she will be cherished."

In the meantime, Cunard Line has announced a series of special 'Farewell Voyages' for the QE2, for guests to share in her farewell to her country - and also to experience a farewell tandem crossing of the Atlantic, where she will bid farewell to New York, her second home.

Carol Marlow, president and managing director of Cunard Line said: “Guests who sail these voyages will take their place in history on the longest serving, most famous Cunarder and will no doubt be greeted by groups of well-wishers who will salute her one last time.”

The QE2's final voyage will leave Southampton for Dubai on November 11 next year.

Meanwhile the Queen Victoria which is currently being built in Venice, will join the fleet this December.

The Queen Mary 2 has been the flagship of Cunard since May 2004; whether the nation will adopt her as 'their' flagship remains to be seen!


To see the view from the QE2's bridge at this moment, see the webcam: at www.cunard.co.uk/ourships.


Star reader Mavis Bensley wrote a weekly column about her round-the-world cruise on the QE2 earlier this year. Now we want to hear your memories - write to Your Letters, the Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

Cunard Line was formed in 1839, mainly to carry the Royal Mail between the UK and North America, and in 1840 was the first timetabled steamship service across the Atlantic.

Jimmy Savile

Rod Stewart

Nelson Mandela

Princess Diana

Edwina Currie

Chris de Burgh

Mick Jagger

Yoko Ono

Dick Francis

John Travolta

Julie Andrews

Murray Walker

70,327 tonnes in weight

1,778 maximum guests

1,016 crew

963 feet long

204ft 1.5ins high from keel to funnel

117ft 5.5ins wide at the Bridge wings

Cost: £29m in 1969. Since her launch Cunard has spent 15 times that in refits.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter