Homer Simpson: RMS Queen Mary 2’s Famous Stowaway

When Cunard’s QM2 (Queen Mary 2) was announced, designers quickly realized that a noteworthy and significant art collection was paramount for retaining the company’s lavish image – step in Homer Simpson.

On the 8th of June, 1999, a significant announcement sounded through the pressroom klaxon. For the first time in four decades, a new cruise ship was to emerge bearing the proud lineage of the Cunard line.

“Project Queen Mary” would take the reins from the ageing Queen Elizabeth II (QE2); the last major ocean liner constructed, and Cunard’s flagship from 1969 to 2004.

The announcement showcased an ambition to design and develop the largest ocean-going liner ever built, proclaiming that the result would summon the “next evolution of ocean liner design.”

The stated goal was nothing less than ms“to create a new Golden Age of sea travel for those who missed the first.”

Although the ship would incorporate a range of modern engineering innovations, success would be determined by playing off the liner’s celebrated heritage.

The RMS (Royal Mail Ship) prefix would be added to the liner’s title as a gesture from the Royal Mail towards Cunard’s history, and the striking black and red livery would hark back to the Golden Age of transatlantic Blue Riband competition.

More importantly, the Cunard brand evoked imagery of luxurious appointments and lavish styling. As it was clear that RMS Queen Mary 2 would be historic, the grand lobby and vast interiors would require an art collection equal to her importance.

To assemble an initial QM2 collection, 128 artists were commissioned to craft 565 original pieces of artwork. These works of art would garnish an already impressive interior design, boasting an extensive and varied range of visuals to create the grand mantra necessary for any Cunard milestone.

Yet, of all the masterpieces that adorn the ship’s public spaces, one particular artefact attracts more attention than others.

And that’s because it shouldn’t really be there.

Cunard's Queen Mary 2 under construction in France. (Credit: Cunard/queenmarycruises.net)

Homer Simpson: QM2’s Celebrated Stowaway

On the second deck of RMS QM2 stands a series of impressive low-relief bronze-resin panels that depict cultural icons from each continent. When it comes to iconic North American imagery, the British artisans who moulded the artworks were spoilt for choice.

Let’s face it - the United States of America is responsible for some of the 20th and 21st century’s most vivid and popular culture. From the Statue of Liberty, to baseball, NASA, American native Indians, and fast food, there’s one symbol of Americana that goes beyond mere wonderment and remains universally recognised and adored.

Homer Simpson.

He’s nestled deep within the American panel, resting in his trademark pose – lounging blissfully in front of his famously wonky television, remote firmly in hand.

Yet, you’ll need to spend time looking for him, as he’s deliberately been made discreet to avoid initial detection when the artwork was being installed.

G&H Studios, located within England’s County of Somerset, played with the concept of introducing Homer to the artwork as an element of fun. While this tribute to America’s favourite cartoon father had to be visible, it also had to be tactfully judicious.

And that’s because they didn’t tell Cunard about it.

To keep the theme going, Cunard offer the best doughnuts in the business aboard RMS QM2. (Credit: Shutterstock)

Why you little…

The artists at G&H Studios had originally planned to place various quirky elements into the panels celebrating Africa, Europe, and cruises to South America.

However, after listing out the characters and people to include on each continent, designers realised that cruisers (and, indeed, Cunard) may have become aggrieved at certain inclusions.

For instance, there were discussions about putting a miniature Tony Blair into the scaled-down Houses of Parliament, and nothing gets people more riled up than political representation. Especially figures who have since fallen out of favour with the public.

Rightfully so, the studio decided to leave out heads of state and real-world individuals. Not only could certain passengers and staff verbally protest, but the panels would quickly become outdated as power changes and democratic voting, or criminal convictions, redecorated the corridors of power.

G&H Studios certainly understood the corridors of power. The 10-person firm had created similar masterpieces for the Royal Gardens of Dubai, the Victoria Palace Theatre, Hampton Court Palace, The Tower of London, and also Windsor Castle.

However – who could possibly be offended by Homer Simpson?

That’s why Homer kept his secret position aboard the QM2. Although, while discussed with hushed voices by those sharing their discovery during Cunard's dinner service, the miniature Simpsons' homage is now perhaps the worst-kept secret within the cruising industry.

The man himself! Homer on board Cunard's RMS QM2.

Finding Homer on the QM2

Although you won’t find Cunard Line trumpeting about Homer’s inclusion on the North American panel of deck two, word of mouth ensures that Homer gains plenty of attention. He’s a popular topic over dinner, and children adore tracking him down.

So, where will you find Homer?

If you want to take the challenge on for yourself, using the limited information we’ve given you, then look away. Otherwise...

You’ll find Mr Simpson hanging out on deck two, on the starboard side panel situated by the Golden Lion. When standing in front of the North American panel, locate the giant Roswell satellite dish just under the Statue of Liberty. Homer’s right there, enjoying Rainier Wolfcastle’s latest blockbuster.

He might not appear obvious to start with, so inspect the bottom of the satellite dish thoroughly.

The bronze-style shine has long since been worn away as people either point to their discovery or pat Homer for good luck. A bit like the worn nose of Edinburgh's Greyfriars Bobby fountain, except this time it’s a 239lb cartoon character.

The QM2's Britannia Restaurant. (Credit: Shutterstock)

What of the other Art on the QM2?

When not looking for Homer Simpson, the RMS QM2 offers more than 5000 pieces of bespoke artwork. And we’d recommend absorbing the exhibits.

The artists involved would likely neck an entire bottle of cooking sherry to numb the pain of discovering that, after all their efforts, your sole venture was to find a miniature Simpsons’ character.

Perhaps the most impressive exhibit remains the 300-square-foot Gobelin-style tapestry that decorates the aft end of the Britannia Restaurant's multi-deck layout. Designed by Dutch artist Barbara Broekman, the tapestry depicts QM2 sailing from New York City.

Further atmospheric and monumental works include the panels of black painted and etched glass that line the walls of Deck 3, and a visual display of QM2 against a rising sun (sculpted by Scottish visionary John McKenna).

There are lashings of historic maritime art to keep the heritage naval theme alive, including impressive blow-ups of Captain Stephen Card’s early paintings.

Furthering that theme, Cunard has installed various images taken where QM2 crossed paths with other Cunard ships – including the original RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach, California.

The basis of this collection is, naturally, Art Deco. Recalling the designs of the “Golden Age” vessels that the original press release showcased, Cunard also wanted the ship to feel contemporary. The stylists were instructed to evoke the celebrated heritage, rather than reproducing the past.

So, alongside the works of New York’s Giancarlo Impiglia – who successfully combines elements of Cubism with Art Deco underpinnings – and the 1930s-inspired reliefs of Illuminations (the ships combined lecture hall, planetarium, and cinema), the ship is draped with contemporary art and tastefully presented historic panels.

The QM2 in drydock during the refit of 2016. (Credit: Dietmar Rabich)

Homer Isn’t Going Anywhere Anytime Soon

Critics have repeatedly praised the QM2 collection, and with each refit and update of the ship, new items are brought in to replace certain older ones.

The last great overhaul of interior artwork occurred in 2016 (at the time of writing), giving rise to speculation that the infamous American stowaway may be hauled overboard and into private ownership.

Yet, Homer is still there, reflectively having travelled more than two million miles across the globe. It’s good to know that Mr Simpson remains aboard with the secretive blessing of Cunard and all those who sail with the QM2.

According to maritime enthusiasts, chances are, he’ll still be there in twenty years’ time.

That’s quite a bold claim but it makes perfect sense. The QM2 was designed and built to have a minimum life span of forty years; it’s why it cost over £1 billion to build.

That doesn’t mean that she’ll be hauled away for scrap in 2044. In theory, the ship will most likely be renovated and presented with new engines for a new generation.

Only time will tell what awaits the QM2, but regardless of impending fate, the artworks will live on in private collections when the time comes – including Homer and his beloved television.

About Calum Brown

Calum holds a deep interest in all things heritage and remains one of Britain’s most enthusiastic historians.

As a seasoned journalist, he has spent considerable time abroad and relishes all forms of transport. Shipping is in the blood, with a family connection to Stena Line embedded in his DNA. He also refuses to admit that 21st Century music exists.

Calum has developed a skill for bringing history alive, and always insists on making heritage accessible for everyone.