Star on board: Rebecca Adlington, OBE
The four-time Olympic medallist on her triumphs in the pool, the Paris Olympics, and why an Alaska cruise is on her bucket list
What do you love most about cruise holidays?
I’ve only been on one cruise actually, and that was immediately after the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games where I won two golds in the 400m and 800m freestyle [the first women's swimming gold for Britain in 48 years].
It was a 12-day cruise around the Mediterranean with my then-boyfriend and his family and, because it came directly after the Olympic Games, there were a couple of British people on the ship who recognised me.
What did I love most? The opportunity to visit multiple destinations in a single trip without having to unpack more than once, and also the chance to enjoy some downtime on board.
What would be your ideal cruise destination?
It would probably be the upcoming cruise I am doing with Cunard [Rebecca will be sailing on board Queen Victoria from Colombo to Cape Town at the end of March 2024.]
I’ve been to South Africa before but not Cape Town – in fact, I have never visited any of the destinations [Sri Lanka, Mauritius, and South Africa] on the itinerary so I am excited to explore this part of the world.
My husband and children are coming with me – I want my kids to experience different cultures, and traditions so that they can respect and celebrate diversity.
While onboard, you will be giving a speech. What can passengers expect?
I’ll be speaking about my life and career to date and obviously, my Olympic success will play a big part of that. Beijing was my first Olympics and the venues were absolutely brilliant – the pool was like a cube and it had all these bubbles on it and different lights and next door was the iconic Bird’s Nest.
I’m told though that many of the venues now lie abandoned and forgotten which is a real shame, but Beijing will always hold such a special place in my heart.
It was my first time competing in front of any sort of crowd. No one expected me to get a medal – least of all myself – and I won two at just 19 years of age.
The London Olympic Games four years later where I won two bronze medals were also fantastic – some athletes go through their entire career without a home Games so I felt so lucky – but Beijing probably just edges it.
Of course, I retired from competitive swimming when I was 23 – I felt I had achieved everything – and I am now 34 so there are many other things for me to talk about. There's my punditry work and reality TV show appearances including I’m A Celebrity.
Speaking of which, the 2023 series of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here suffered a sharp fall in viewing figures…
That’s what is being said but I enjoyed it. I loved Sam [Thompson, who was crowned King of the Jungle] – and his honesty around his ADHD diagnosis.
I was in the jungle for the 2013 series and don’t regret it. I learnt a lot – how to sleep with snakes and spiders and face my fears – and am still in touch with some of the contestants.
I overcame so much in that jungle. But looking back, I was completely naive about show business and the way the footage was edited down from 24 hours to 25 minutes.
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Who would be your ideal cruise travelling companion and why?
It would be my husband [Andy Parsons] and children – my son Albie, and daughter Summer [from her previous marriage to swimmer Harry Needs]. I love family time.
The only thing we don’t see eye-to-eye on when travelling is food. I like to try the local dishes from each destination – I can’t wait to indulge in fresh ingredients with Cunard – but Andy prefers what I call a beige diet, and Summer can be a fussy eater.
You mentioned your family there and of course, you have been wonderfully open about your miscarriage heartbreak. Is there anything you would like to say to our readers who may be going through miscarriage and baby loss?
I spoke about my miscarriage [Rebecca tragically lost her baby daughter, Harper, at 20 weeks in October 2023 after a routine scan failed to detect a heartbeat, and had previously miscarried at 12 weeks in August 2022] to help others.
It’s a subject that we, as a society, have traditionally found difficult to talk about. I’m devastated and heartbroken – I don’t think you ever really recover but over time the grief becomes a little bit more manageable – but if sharing my experiences helps others going through a similar situation feel less alone, then…
What’s your top travel tip?
Pack well and make sure you experience the culture. Connect with locals, learn about the history, explore the cuisine, and embrace the customs and traditions. I imagine it would be easy, especially on a luxurious ship like Cunard’s Queen Victoria, to stay onboard but I’d urge everyone to explore.
Which destinations are still on your bucket list and why?
I think that would have to be Alaska – it’s so rugged, vast and wild and that appeals. I’d like to experience the beautiful national parks, charming pioneer towns and wonderful wildlife and I’m told that a cruise is the best way to visit Alaska. Who knows maybe I’ll get to cruise to Alaska with Cunard in the future...
Finally, what is next for you Rebecca?
First, I am going on a holiday with my family. Then at the end of March, I’ll be speaking onboard Queen Victoria. In the summer, I’ll be joining the BBC's punditry team for the Paris 2024 Olympics talking about the sport I love.
Olympic Gold medallist, Rebecca Adlington OBE, is an Insight Speaker for Cunard.
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