THE ADMIRAL AT THE QUEEN VICTORIA CHRISTENING

Our maritime insider takes his usual wry look at cruising’s big naming ceremony in Southampton last December

Ship christenings date back at least 4,000 years when voyages were often dangerous. Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans invoked their gods. Judaism, Christianity and Islam each had their own ceremonies to call on God to protect them; however it was France and England that developed the modern, secular ship naming ceremonies.

Until a few hundred years ago, only men were allowed to christen new ships, but, by the 19th century, tradition had shifted to women as the preferred name-givers. In the last decade, American cruise lines have preferred the erroneous epithet, Godmother.

Taking his prestigious seat in the Orchestra Stalls in the purpose-built auditorium on the dockside adjacent to the City Cruise Terminal one chilly day last December for the christening of the latest Cunarder, the Admiral rubbed shoulders with the pillars of the cruise industry, a spattering of celebrities and the occasional Knight of the Realm.

To a clarion call from the Royal Marines Fanfare Trumpeters, the heroine of the hour arrived. Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall was escorted to the Royal Box within this amphitheatre by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales.

With a graphic of Queen Victoria, Queen Mary 2 and the recently-commissioned Queen Elizabeth filling a vast, white screen, Carol Marlow welcomed the 2,000 guests. During her address, the Cunard president referred to the company’s explosive expansion thus: “Three new ships in six years… this, ladies and gentlemen, is a revival. Cunard’s lion roars again.”

This old caviler muttered his objection that QE2 was absent from the pageant of the fleet, but his confrere interjected that this tableaux represented a vision of the future.

Sir Derek Jacobi, in the personae of Phileas Fogg, then took the audience on a retrospective of the Cunard Line from the vantage point of the Victorian era. This was followed by the coloratura soprano Katherine Jenkins performing a mellifluous rendition of the ‘Gypsy Dance’ from Bizet’s Carmen.

As the flamenco leitmotifs and rousing lyrics came to a crescendo, the white screen behind them rose to reveal the bow of Queen Victoria, accompanied by an effervescence of fireworks.

Transforming the fanfaronade from raucous to regal, the Choirs of Winchester Cathedral descended through the audience singing Faure’s transcendental ‘In Paradisum’, before the Prayers of Blessing were offered by the Lord Bishop of Winchester. With the stage now graced with an assemblage of ship’s officers, Captain Paul Wright escorted the Royal Party to the podium.

The sense of disappointment when the bottle of Veuve Cliquot Champagne failed to smash was palpable; even the new Master of the ship couldn’t disguise his crest-fallen countenance.

Fortunately, the mood was soon lifted as tenors Alfie Boe, Jon Christos and Gardar Thor Cortes, singing together for the first time, raised the roof with a sumptuous rendition of Puccini’s Nesun Dorma. This was followed by a rousing chorale of ‘Rule Britannia,’ complete with the audience waving Union Flags – a touchstone of Cunard tradition.

As this seminal event drew to a close, the Admiral exerted his vocal chords singing ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ – with the three tenors assisting in the chorus! It was a seasonal event that hit all the right notes.