By Royal Appointment

July 27, 2010 -

John Heald

I know a chap that works for Carnival who smokes Camel cigarettes and won’t ever smoke anything else. He does this because back in the day when companies were allowed to advertise their products on television, the man in the Camel ad was a pilot and back then pilots were very cool.  I will only wear Marks and Spencer’s underpants. I have no idea why, but having got through half a million of the things, I’m not about to change any time soon. There may be underpants on the market that are cheaper or made to a higher standard or more suited to my small at the front big at the back requirements but I am not interested in finding out. There is only one alternative to wearing Marks and Spencer underpants and that not wearing any at all.

I have a similar sense of loyalty to my Raspberry. I did not design it, and I have no shares in the Blackberry Company. But I get extremely angry when people say their Eye Phone is better. It isn’t better. You have to have a beard and fingers as thin as an ear wag cleaner to operate the touch screen thingy. My Raspberry is cool. I am a Raspberry man.

I am also a Barker shoes man, an Aston Martin man, a Sony TV man, a Diet Coke man — Pepsi tastes the same as licking Dwyane Wade’s jockstrap — a BBC news man, a Virgin frequent flyer, a Miami Heat fan and I have a weird loyalty to Megan Fox’s bottom. I bet you have a favourite local restaurant and you won’t even try any of its rivals. My mates here in the UK are totally loyal to their local pub and to go anywhere else would result in a public flogging by the rest of the lads.  And then there are cruise lines.

The brand loyalty with cruise lines is simply extraordinary. We are all brand loyal, but these days it takes only the slightest thing for people to threaten to switch to another line. But I can tell you that right at the top of the brand loyalty tree are the people who cruise with Cunard. They come from America, Canada, the UK and beyond and to even suggest that they sail with anyone else is like a broken pencil…………..pointless.

I know this because I have walked amongst theme these past two days and are Cunard men ……and Cunard women. And they are here onboard the Queen Victoria to sail around the British Isles and to experience something that is quite simply………extraordinary.

The day started with an early morning breakfast in the Liverpool Marriott Hotel where I was joined by Cunard’s President and our man in London, Mr. Peter Shanks.  As we shared a breakfast of eggs, bacon and baked beans I could not help but feel honored that the president of the world’s most famous ocean liner company was having breakfast……….. with me.

Here is our man in London Mr Peter Shanks.

I also could not help but wonder that considering I was about to meet Royalty that having baked beans for breakfast may not have been such a good idea. After Peter had paid for breakfast ………. thanks Peter…….we took a taxi to the port of Liverpool. It was a grey morning and because it’s the law in Liverpool……there was a heavy drizzle in the air. Yet, as we turned a corner and drove onto the waterfront, an amazing site confronted me. It was 8:30am, it was raining, it was a Monday morning and bugger me………..there were 200 plus people standing on the waterfront, peering into the greyness, umbrellas shielding them from the rain and all of this was accompanied by the sound of camera shutters and clicks and cries of “Wow, look at that” and “There she is, there she is.”

Peter had seen this before of course because wherever a Cunard ship goes, so go the crowds. From Sydney to Hamburg, nothing brings out the crowds like the grand arrival of a Cunard liner. For the people who stood yesterday on the quayside in the rain seeing the Queen Victoria arrive was nearly as good as being on her. Some people may not understand that statement because maybe most could not afford to take a Cunard voyage. Yet, the thought that people who could probably not have the funds to experience a Cunard voyage couldn’t derive any pleasure from seeing the Queen Victoria arrive is wrong. Because they do. They are the ones on the pier ………. pointing………….smiling and saying “Look at that!”

Liverpool is as Peter said in the day’s speeches “the spiritual home of Cunard” and the Cunard building is one of the three most famous buildings in Liverpool. It is from that building that Cunard ran its operations 170 years ago. It is remarkable that in the torrent of death that plagued ocean travel in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that Cunard did not lose a single passenger until 1915. And they could hardly be blamed for their first casualties when a German torpedo slammed into the Lusitania killing 1,201 passengers and crew. This terrible day was remembered a few days ago when the Queen Victoria stopped at the spot where this occurred and the Captain held a service of remembrance.

And so we boarded the ship to the sound of a local Ucayali band playing Beatles songs…….I am not sure if you know what a Ucayali is but if you don’t it’s like a guitar that has been shrunk in the wash. When Peter asked the Liverpool Cruise Terminal Manager what music she had organized to greet the passengers as they disembarked and she said “a Ucayali Band” I thought he was going to throw her in the river Mersey. But when they started they not only were there 12 men and women strumming their thingies but they were all singing the Beatles hits as well in broad Liverpudlian accents. And let me tell you……….you haven’t truly heard the music of John, Paul, George and Ringo until you have heard their music played on 12 Ucayalis.

The Royal party were due to arrive at 11 am but because of some technical problems with the helicopter they were running around 1 hour late. And so while Peter went off to make sure all was ready I took the chance to have a quick wander around the ship. I was last here of course during the naming ceremony and as I walked around I remembered just what a regal, majestic vessel she is. My first stop was the Queens Room which can also be found on the Queen Mary 2 and will be found on the Queen Elizabeth. On Cunard ship’s this is heartbeat of the ship and probably the most famous room on any vessel in the world.

The artwork is stunning and the two huge chandeliers shine their light down on the dancers who float across the floor. Last night an eight-piece orchestra and singer provided music from yesterday and it was fascinating to see both young and old take to the dance floor. In the afternoon the tradition of English High Tea is served. This involves pots of tea, using proper tea, not tea bags, accompanied by fresh cream and jam-filled scones, finger sandwiches and treats. It is a room to watch the world go by from, to dance and fall in love with your partner all over again

Let me start my review of the show room with an apology. I am no doubt going to delve into my limited bag of superlatives……..but bloody hell …….this place is extraordinary. I had seen the theatre last time I was here but had forgotten just how beautiful and how unique the Royal Court theatre is. Let’s just say that I was gobsmacked……and to remind you that is a word that means your mouth just hangs open and although you try and find the words…..nothing happens and you just stand there looking stupid with your mouth wide open stammering to find the right words…. dribbling slightly.  It reminded me of the time when I first saw a photo of Megan Fox’s bottom.

Seating is on three different levels. The lower levels, the upper levels and of course the private boxes of which I will speak more about later. All the seats are deep crimson and made of the finest materials. They are indeed luxurious theatre seats and because of the brilliant design of the room there is not a bad seat in the place. We have all been in theatres on land and at sea that have a few seats that because of poles (I mean that structurally not people from Poland) blocking views but the Royal Court had none of this and therefore every seat (and I sat in all the areas to test this ) was indeed the best seat in the house.

Then, of course, there are the private boxes. These can be reserved for a small fee of $25 and for that you do not just get to see the show from a box not dissimilar from those in Milan’s La Scala or London’s Albert Hall but you also get a bottle of champagne and personal waiter service who will see to your heart’s desire during the performances. And as I will tell you more of later ……… the show I was to see that evening truly complemented this extraordinary showroom at sea.

Then it was off to the pub. And while for many Queen Victoria guests the Queen’s Room is the place to be the Golden Lion British Pub is the place to have fun. The Golden Lion is designed on the typical British pub with wooden beams and traditional Pub Grub served for lunch such as Fish and Chips, Shepherd’s Pie and of course Spotted Dick. This is a great place to hang out and enjoy the great British traditions of drinking, eating and moaning about the weather.

A quick glance at my watch told me it was time for a quick toilet break, make sure my tie was straight and my fly up…………and then it was time to head to the Grand Lobby. This is where dreams are made. The dream of being on an ocean liner bearing the name of a monarch and sweeping down the richly carpeted stairs to the accompaniment of a classical quartet or the majestic sounds of the harp all come true here. I am not talented enough to provide the right words to describe how you will feel when you walk down the stairs past the grandfather clock that chimes out the hours……….there is simply nothing like it.

Arriving in the Grand Lobby I was met by Captain Paul Wright who I had met on my previous visit. I can safely say that this Cornishman is what a Captain of an ocean liner should be. Professional, courteous, and with a fun and engaging personality that makes Royals to chubby cruise directors feel totally at ease. Here he is.

Captain Wright has some Carnival history as well because he was the fifth officer ……. yep …….fifth officer on a ship called The Empress of Canada which of course soon after became Carnival Cruise Lines’ first ship…………….The Mardi Gras.

It was as the Master of the Queen Victoria explained what was about to happen that I realised just how privileged this Essex boy was about to me. Captain Wright explained that Peter Shanks would meet the royal party at the bottom of the gangway and escort them into the ship where he would present her to the Captain.

Then the Captain would escort the Duchess into the Grand Lobby where he would introduce her to the Hotel Manger, the Chief Engineer, the Entertainment Director……..and me …………… me ………a Carnival cruise director……….someone who used to serve Pina Coladas and Slippery Nipples on the M/S Holiday………..and who had never worked for Cunard…………..was about to meet a member of the Royal Family. I felt humbled, nervous and somewhat guilty that I was going to meet her and yet other Cunard senior management were not.

And so we lined up and waited. Above me were the Cunard team of cooks, stewards, dining room staff, bridge officers and service personnel all resplendent in their uniforms and by the way before I forget………..Cunard have the best uniforms at sea throughout all the departments. They combine and sense of tradition with modern flair…………basically……..they all look damn smart and here enedeth John Heald’s fashion column.

I stood chatting to the Cunard Senior Officers and discovered that the Hotel Director Jacqui had worked for Cunard for an astonishing 30 years. She served on the Queen Elizabeth 2 when it was commandeered by the British government during the Falklands war with Argentina. The ship was used as troop carrier and Jacqui spoke both of the fear that the ship would be a huge and valuable target and of her sadness when some of the troops she got to know during the voyage to the Falklands………..never came back. And she spook of her pride when the QE2 returned to the UK to a heroes welcome. Jacqui represents exactly what Cunard is all about and it was an honour to meet her.

Here she is.

The Entertainment Director Amanda and I chatted about the job that we both share albeit somewhat different in most aspects it is the same. She invited me to appear on her live morning show which I did. I was according to Peter Shanks “well behaved” which I guess I was but it was great to be a part of her show and it is surprising that this morning how many people stopped me and said they had seen me on TV and that I was “funny”……..maybe I should come back and do a voyage as guest cruise director………I’m joking Peter……….I think he just fainted.

And then suddenly the chit chat stopped because…….she……….was here……… and under a blaze of camera flashes, arrived the Duchess of Cornwall, Mrs. Prince Charles, and the Godmother of the Queen Victoria……..Her Royal Highness…….. Camilla…..walked up the gangway.

Before her arrival Amanda and Jackie had told me that they had been given protocol information on how they must address her. I had been given bugger all and suddenly I had no idea how I should address her. The ladies showed me the paper that said you should address her as either “your Royal Highness “or “Maam.” I decided to go with “Maam” but then I started thinking was it Mam as in Ham or Marm as in Farm……..I started sweating and my hemmerhoids were pulsating…………and she was now just a few moments away.

Captain Paul Wright was in command and steered her down the line introducing the Chief Engineer and the Hotel Manager and I knew she was talking to them but all I kept thinking was marm as in pork………sodding hell that’s not right is it……..your Royal Marmness ………… bugger……..and suddenly I heard the Captain say “This is John Heald from Carnival Corporation” and as he did so…….. in very slow motion a Royal hand extended its way to mine.

I bowed my head ever so slightly deciding a curtsey would probably have me spending some time in the Tower of London…………….and this is what I remember of the conversation.

Me                                           Welcome Home Mam

The Duchess Smiled               Thank you it is wonderful to be here again

Peter Shanks                           John is also a famous blogger and has 6 million readers

The Duchess                           Oh, how long have you been doing that?

John                                        Three years, cruise ships and ocean liners fascinate so many people and there are always stories to tell and I shall be honoured to write about today

The Duchess                          Congratulations

And then she smiled………..and moved on……and it was over. I hadn’t said Mam as in Ham and my head has yet to be placed on a spike. I had been nervous………strange that………and in the process I had ruined a perfectly good pair of underpants.

The Duchess then unveiled a beautiful plaque marking Cunard’s brilliant 170 years of service and tradition and then in unison the crew of the Queen Victoria gave three cheers for their Godmother. It was a day that many of them will never forget as after the ceremony she toured her ship and stopped to speak to many of them and from what Peter told me she did so in the most sincere of ways. Before she left the Duchess cut a huge cake again marking the 170th birthday of Cunard and Peter’s speech to the gathering masses showed once again just what passion he has for his job and the Cunard line. He should be very proud of himself and his crew…..I know I am.

I do not think Camilla will ever forget this day either. There has been a lot written about her, including some in jest by myself, but all I can say is that she did the ship proud once again and for me it was a day I will remember and treasure for a long time to come.

There were many highlights from yesterday and one of them was the concert in the Royal Court Theatre given by the Halle Orchestra. This 30-piece orchestra is one of the most famous orchestras in the UK and at this point some of you may be thinking…..oh classical music….. boring.

Well, this wasn’t a concert of Mozarthovens’s 209th violin concerto written in A Flat Minor ………oh know this was something far, far more special. The concert started with the National Anthem, the words of which were not only in the program but also displayed on the theatres screens. I was sitting next to William and Mary who are blog readers and had booked this round the British Isles voyage after reading about it on the blog. They are from Maine …….. yep ……… Maine and yet they sang the National Anthem as though they were from Manchester. As did everyone else. The Brits sang out loud…… did the 300 or so American passengers as did the Canadians and the Australians in fact everyone sang…….apart from two French passengers ………. miserable sods.

The sense of ceremony overtook me and I threw my head back and sang the words to God Save the Queen with great gusto. The audience listed to two brilliant opera singers and enjoyed the Last Night of the Proms atmosphere right up to the finale of Land of Hope and Glory which again involved the audience singing and waving the Union Jack flags we had been provided.

Yet the highlight of the show was the singing of a song called You’ll Never Walk Alone. This song means so much to so many and none more so than the people of Liverpool. It is an anthem that is sung by 40,000 Liverpool football (soccer) fans before every match and over the years it has been done so with tradition and pride….much like Cunard. These last few years the song has been sung in the memory of the 96 Liverpool fans who were tragically killed in a crush at a football game and in memory of the now 325 British troops who have died in Afghanistan. Unfortunately I don’t have any video yet of the concert and the singing of this song…..but I thought you might like to see what it sounds and what it feels like when the people of Liverpool sing it.

The whole concert and particularly the singing of You’ll Never Walk Alone was one of those rare moments where every hair on your body stands on end and you are covered in goosebumps.

Let’s pause now and have a look at some photos. They were snapped by me on my Raspberry camera thingy and I haven’t received the ones of the ceremony and the Duchess and I yet from Cunard but I will post them as soon as they send me them… My photos are somewhat random and my thanks as always to Stephanie H for putting them in a slide show thingy. Here they are ……

Remember at the start of the blog I told you how there were 200-plus people standing on the pier, in the rain, looking in awe at the ship. Well that number grew and grew throughout the day. Some had come to try and get a glimpse of the Duchess, but most had come to stand and stare at the Queen.

By 11 pm the crowds had grown and around 1,000 plus stood on the quayside joined by 2,000 or so on the ship all watching the stunning firework display. The bangs and the whooshes were met by huge gasps and the bright and shimmering lights reflected beautifully in the windows of the high rise buildings that stood on the storyline. It was simply breathtaking. Then Captain Paul Wright gave three long blasts of the ship’s horn in salute to the people of Liverpool and as a thank you for their hospitality. The crowd cheered and waved and the Captain gave three more blasts of the ships whistle in return……..and on this went for a good 10 minutes. Cheer – ship’s horn……. cheer…..ship’s horn. It was sensational and dare I say something that is really only happens to a Cunard ship.

Eventually to the sounds of the Beatles Tribute playing band on the lido deck Captain Wright sailed us away from Liverpool and headed us to Belfast from where I have written today’s blog thingy.

I want to thank Peter Shanks and the Captain and crew for this most treasured of days.

Finally…….. before going to bed I went for a cigar at the Churchill Cigar Lounge.

This small yet intimate lounge has gorgeous seating for around 15 people and when I got there it was mostly full. I took a seat, smiling and nodding at the passengers already there. There were a mix of Brits and Americans and they were all in conversation with each other. I immediately reminded myself that striking up a conversation like the one they were having would never happen in a hotel or a resort and it making new friends so instantly is something that is unique I think to the industry we all love.

Anyway, I sat and lit my cigar and listened to what the passengers were talking about. It stated with a chap from Chicago who was telling everyone his opinion on President Barack Obama. I won’t bother repeating what he had to say but let’s just say that Mr. Obama will not be on this bloke’s Christmas card list. Anyway, there they sat, smoking cigars and drinking fine cognacs and there I sat puffing away on my Petite Edmundo, sipping on a fine Diet Coke. I while everyone in the room expressed their opinions on world affairs I sat….in the corner …. the grey man.

I then listened to a British chap passenger who was telling his new American buddies what a sad state of affairs his country was in. He moaned about our National Health Service, our trains, our football team, our roads, our government, Gordon Brown, how he Olympics were a waste of his taxes, British Airways and our education system.

I listened to this and then just as I finished my cigar and placed the last embers lovingly in the ash tray the Brit passenger said “This country has nothing to be proud of. “

I stood to leave and just couldn’t help myself.

I said, “Actually, sir, it does.”

“What’s that then?” he replied.

I opened the door………..looked back at him and the rest of the room and simply said.

” Cunard”…………………and went to bed.

Your friend

Hi, I’m John, and this is my blog. So please don’t mistake my opinions — or those of my dear friends, fans or commenters — for those of Carnival Cruise Line or Carnival Corporation. My apologies in advance for anything I may say that upsets you, but this disclaimer covers Carnival and puts the blame directly on me………….. bugger.