I am not sure whether I was in the right place at the wrong time or the wrong place at the right time, but either way, this past Monday I was separated from my journalistic colleagues, who earlier had filed outdoors and taken their seats in the grandstands to see Britain’s Monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, send her namesake ship into service.
What all of us had hoped for was a close encounter with the Queen, and we knew we wouldn’t get that outside. We were told she would tour the ship, but details were intentionally vague, and it was only after all passengers, including my colleagues, had left the ship for the naming ceremony that the Monarch, dressed in a blue dress and hat, boarded Cunard’s sparkling new ocean liner.
The fact that I ended up inside instead of outside and caught in the Queen’s gaze was a combination of luck and poor planning.
My Failure To Launch
The story began on the balcony of stateroom 5009. With a better vantage point of the staging area than the grandstand offered, I had hoped to film the Queen as she christened Cunard Line’s 90,400-ton Queen Elizabeth, delivered just days before.
The balcony certainly would be more comfortable than the grandstand, and besides, cameras were not allowed past the security checkpoints. I could think of no reason not to stay on board and film.
Just to be sure, I had asked if it would be okay if I stood on my balcony to film, and the consensus was that I could. No one had a clear answer – until minutes before the ceremony was scheduled to begin. That’s when I heard a knock at my door. My room steward walked in, surprised to see me, and told me that I had to clear the room and that the drapes must be drawn over the balcony doors and not opened until the ceremony had ended.
I quickly consented, thinking that if I failed to, a sniper’s Royal bullet would take me out. Before exiting, however, I asked if it would be okay if I left my video camera on the balcony and set it to record. With no objection from my room steward, I pointed my camera toward the stage, pushed the record button, and bolted down to the lower decks, rushing to get outside.
As I was on my way to exit, I noticed that in the ship’s Grand Lobby, the balconies were lined deep with Cunard employees. They were awaiting the Queen, who, I learned, had boarded her namesake and was touring the ship.
After 15 minutes or so, she appeared in the center balcony of the Lobby, acknowledging the mix of ship officers, waiters, and bellhops, and facing a large mural of the ship she had named 43 years before.
As she proceeded to the Queen’s Room, she passed before me, not 10 feet from her. Her eye caught mine, briefly, but nonetheless the Royal eye had met mine, a claim that none of my colleagues would be able to make.
After several minutes, the Queen and her consorts began to file outside to greet the hundreds of people awaiting her in the stands, patiently watching black and white footage of Cunard ship namings of the past. I tried to follow, but was told that nobody else could leave the ship. I was also not allowed to go back to my balcony, and so I headed to the Royal Theater with the Cunard crew, where we watched the naming ceremony on a large screen.
Outside, the ceremony, as my colleagues would remark later, was a much more subdued affair than the last two Cunard ship christenings. The Queen said fewer than a dozen or so words, including the requisite, “I bless her and all who sail on her,” before sending a bottle of white wine (not champagne) smashing onto vessel’s ship’s bow. It broke on the first try, not mimicking the misfortune Bowles experienced with the Queen Victoria.
The two-level theater I shard with Cunard’s crew, however, was filled with excitement and a palpable sense of pride. They cheered loudly, and at the end of the ceremony, shouted out in unison, “We are Cunard!” On that day, we certainly were.