Debbie McGee on Prince Philip's cruise birthday party & surviving storms with Paul Daniels

Author: Steven Murphy

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Debbie McGee, dancer and wife of late magician Paul Daniels, sat down to talk about her love for travel. “I couldn’t believe I had my own butler – I felt like the Queen!” she said of Cunard cruises.

Debbie McGee, 63, and her late husband Paul Daniels have for many years taken their magic show on board.

Debbie recently held the British public spellbound once again, this time with her performance on Strictly Come Dancing, which she also took to the high seas.

After a career of assisting her husband on stage and making a name of her own in the dance and TV world, Debbie reflects on her love for travel. She recalls the amazing memories she made with Paul both travelling and performing on cruise ships around the world.

Here, she talks her love of sailing, her favourite ship and her midnight chocolate feast…

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Did you miss travelling during the pandemic?

Oh, absolutely. I'm a traveller. And, of course, I’ve travelled my whole life for work. But I did finally get away in October last year. I went sailing in the Caribbean with some friends. It just felt amazing.

It wasn’t exactly a cruise – it was a three a three-cabin catamaran. I just love boats – that's one of my passions – so there was no way I was going to say no!

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Can you remember the first cruise you went on?

Well, how about this for a start? The first cruise I ever went on, was on the QE2. Paul and I were invited on for Prince Philip's 80th birthday and it was a big party.

We then cruised for five days, and I loved it. It really gave me the bug. I really didn't know what to expect and haven't realised that there are so many wonderful things about it.

Debbie's most recent trip was to the Caribbean with friends last October. Credit: Shutterstock

What surprised you?

The first time on the old QE2 it was the days where you had a butler and you could just ring when you woke up and get a cup of tea – it felt like you were the queen! I had never had that sort of service before.

Even in hotels with room service, it’s just not the same as this is somebody that gets to know you and will look after you. I hadn't realised it could be so luxurious.

What do you love most about cruising?

I love the fact that you only unpack your suitcase once! All done. And then you wake up in a different country.

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You and Paul Daniels used to perform on ships. Did you enjoy that?

We both did. We loved it. But we what we loved just as much that you make friends so quickly on a cruise ship over dinner and so on.

I've still got friends I met now and there’s a couple I'm still friends with from Scotland that were on that very first cruise!

Take a cruise and you'll only unpack your suitcase once! Credit: Shutterstock

Were you and Paul good travelling companions?

We were very good. We're both love seeing new places and enjoy people's company and we like getting to know new people. So, cruises were obviously great for us.

What’s your happiest cruising memory?

I think the QE2, especially as it’s now decommissioned – as it was an old fashioned, real ship with such a wonderful history. We did loads of cruises on there going over to New York.

Although we did have one experience in 1995 where we hit a wave about 100 feel high. It made the press here as the lifeboats boats were blown off, and we lost anchors and all sorts. This huge wave even went down the funnel, which was halfway back!

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On that night, the captain told everyone to have dinner early and go straight to bed and stay there until he messaged. Then huge wave hit about 2am in the morning. When it settled, Paul looked out the door and said, “Well, nobody's running up down the corridors, and there's no alarms, so we must be okay.”

There was a lot of damage, so we sort of limped into New York. We had to stay there for a few days for repairs, so were allowed to use the QE2 as a floating hotel – how great is that?

But all of my cruises have been memorable. In later years I would go on them with my mum and dad, because they loved cruising, so those were happy memories.

Most itineraries are round-trip from New York or Boston. Credit: Shutterstock

What’s been your favourite destination?

I do like the Caribbean cruises because I like the sunshine. But I loved all the ones even going up to the North Cape, or all the ones around Europe and going you know, along the coast of Italy to Portofino and Monte Carlo was lovely and so interesting?

Have you got a favourite Cruise Line?

I think what’s great is that they all bring you something slightly different, which I really like.

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What was your last cruise before lockdown?

It was with P&O and it was a Strictly cruise. We around Europe – Gibraltar, Spain, Italy, Malta. I absolutely loved it.

One of the things that I was really sad about the first lockdown year was that I was booked to host the next Strictly cruise. I hope they come back.

Malta is great for architecture. Credit: Shutterstock

You must get recognised a lot when you’re on board?

I think I'm quite lucky that Paul Daniels Magic Show fans were all really nice people and families. And now I have all the fans from Strictly who are equally nice. And they're always interesting. You always learn something from somebody you don't know.

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How are you at packing? Do you have any tips?

Now, it’s interesting because if I'm on tour for work, I'm really good. I have one week black, one week brown, one week navy. Everything's the same colour scheme and it's not a problem at all.

But when I'm going on holiday, I'm terrible because I want to take everything! I end up packing and then thinking that suitcase is too full and go back and take stuff out and so on.

But one of the reasons I like going to the Caribbean is you won't need warm clothes. You can fit in loads because and you only need light shoes and sandals. But I do have a list on my computer of all the stuff like phone charger and those little bits you might just forget that are important.

Debbie would love to visit Alaska sometime. Credit: Shutterstock

Do you enjoy the food on cruises?

I mean, I just think that food on cruise ships is delicious. I've had hundreds of fantastic meals on ships. There was one wonderful one on Aurora where you pay a cover charge and it was amazing. Oh, and the midnight chocolate buffet also does stick in my mind!

What are your travel plans for this year?

I’m going with a bunch of friends to Turkey in April. I have stopped off there on cruises but never any longer than that.

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About four years ago I went with nine friends from my village to Turkey and just loved everything about it. So, we're doing the same trip again.

Which destination is currently on your cruise hit list?

Although I like the sunshine, I haven't ever been to Alaska or around that way, so I’d love to do that.

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