Globetrotter Judith Chalmers shared her favourite cruise memories with WOC

Star on board: Judith Chalmers

Author: Kaye Holland

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TV travel icon Judith Chalmers on the joys of cruising, travelling to Barbados and back in a day, and why she never got the hang of packing a holiday suitcase.

National treasure, Judith Chalmers – or Jude the Dude as she is known to friends – started broadcasting for the BBC at the age of 13 and learnt her skills on the radio programme Children's Hour. She went on to present Panorama, Come Dancing, and Miss World before hosting travel show Wish You Were Here between 1974 and 2003.

Did you miss travelling during the pandemic?
Oh absolutely. I missed it so much – travelling is such a lovely thing to do and cruise is a big part of it. I had been due to set sail on Seabourn Venture and I also had a Mediterranean cruise in the diary but the pandemic put paid to both so the urge to cruise again is certainly very strong.

I am going on a cruise next year to help the Lord’s Taverners, a charity that helps disadvantaged and disabled young people. I missed seeing new places and going back to visit old favourites. Thankfully for us all, and especially those who work in the travel industry, travel is on the way back.

What do you love most about a cruise holiday?
It’s the chance to escape the hustle and bustle of London traffic and spend 10 or so lovely days at sea with friends while also meeting new people. For me, it’s all about the people. I also love waking up in a new city each day and enjoying a new vista – in Lisbon, I was invited to lunch in a villa in the hills. I also love hobnobbing at the captain’s table!

Lisbon with its cobbled alleyways, ancient ruins and red roofs stands out as special. Credit: Shutterstock

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What has been your favourite cruise to date?
My husband [former English sports commentator and cricketer, Neil Durden-Smith OBE) and I have been on several cruises, including one to the Caribbean and one to northern Europe, but our favourite was a cruise to the Far East where we stopped off in Singapore, Japan, Taipei. It was so different and absolutely fantastic – the food, the people, everything.

How does travelling for work compare with travelling for pleasure?
Travelling for pleasure is so much more relaxing! I don’t have to write links and, on a cruise, I can just wallow in being onboard and taking everything in. I have the opportunity to actually get involved in activities onboard such as cooking and dance classes.

Where are you off to next?

– we have a house there and just love it – but my favourite country in the world is probably New Zealand. When my husband was in the navy – he was the aide-de-camp (ADC) to the governor-general between 1957-1959, I got to know New Zealand well.

I never realised anywhere could be so beautiful. It's so empty too – the country has a population of a mere four million – and I love the peace and scenery. The only issue is it’s so far away…

I recorded a Wish You Were Here in New Zealand back in the 60s and Neil showed me around his favourite haunts. We did one programme in the north island and one in the south. The north island has more people but is every bit as beautiful as the south. Hawkes Bay is pure paradise while Wellington is a wonderful city with a great harbour.

Judith counts New Zealand as one of her all-time favourite destinations.

You mentioned recording an episode of Wish You Were Here in New Zealand. Do you have anecdotes from your time hosting the travel programme that you’d like to share with us?
So many. I remember there was one episode where I was on a train in Scotland doing a piece to camera talking about the beautiful vistas when suddenly we went into a tunnel.

In another episode, a bat went up my skirt… and then there’s a very memorable trip to Barbados when we went there and back in a single day on Concorde. We landed, had lunch on a beach, and then hopped back on Concorde – it was absolutely outstanding.

Which destinations do you love to return to?
– we visit every January for some winter sun – and Portugal. We tend to visit Portugal twice a year, at Easter and in the summer, and the family often join us. My son [presenter Mark Durden-Smith] often comes with his wife, Rachel, and three girls, which is lovely. I also like to go to Devon to see friends – we’re still very active travellers.

As a seasoned traveller, do you have any packing tips to share?

Yes. First and foremost, in this era of Covid-19, pack hand sanitiser and a face mask to help keep you safe.

Secondly, keep your charger in your hand luggage. Mobile phones weren’t even a thing when I started travelling but they certainly are an absolute essential now, what with the built-in camera and maps. And if your battery is running low, you don’t want to dig too deep to find the charger.

Lastly, pack light. If possible, travel with just hand luggage – we’ve all heard the stories this summer of cases going missing – which means you’ll sail through the airport at the other end too.

That being said, I don’t exactly practice what I preach. I am a very heavy packer – I put everything I am thinking of taking on the bed with the aim of whittling it down but end up throwing it all in the suitcase. And about 40 percent of what I pack for a holiday, I probably don’t even wear.

Having recently been appointed Heathrow Express's new chief smile officer, retirement is not in Judith's vocabulary.

You've recently been appointed as Heathrow Express's Chief Smile Officer, with a remit to get everyone's journeys off to a great start, at the age of 86! What keeps you working?
Well, I am asked to work and so I do. That’s all the motivation you need. It’s nice to be appreciated and an honour to still be recognised as an authority in travel. People have always been interested in travel and other parts of the world that they haven’t had a chance to visit – and I am fortunate that I still have an image that talks about travel.

Any tips for people wanting to follow in your footsteps and pursue a career in broadcasting?

Be the person you are. I had the opportunity to do Wish You Were Here because they said it’s the woman in the family who usually makes the decision about holidays. People trusted me because I was honest and I said both the good and the bad about the places I travelled to.

Don’t be scared to give it a go. Do your own TikToks or blogs. Make your own content and stick it on YouTube. The avenues of a modern-day Judith Chalmers are self-determined. If you’re motivated, there’s no reason why you can’t make your own niche in the travel presenting world.

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About Kaye Holland

Kaye is a London-based wordsmith who has written for a range of publications including The Times, The Independent, The I, Culture Trip, The Sun, and ABTA among others. In June 2022, Kaye joined the Real Response Media where she looks – together with Lucy Abbott – after the World of Cruising website. Want to get in touch? Kaye can be reached at: [email protected]