Godmother profile: Dame Judi Dench

From playing strong-willed movie characters to having Shakespeare as The Man Who Pays The Rent, Dame Judi Dench has enjoyed an eclectic acting career nearing seven decades. Who else could prove so perfect as godmother for Carnival Legend?

When it comes down to respectable actresses who possess enough clout to stage a thespian coup d'état, few can rival Dame Judi Dench. The Yorkshire-born luminary radiates more cultural gravitas than most small countries, having served as a positive influence within the British media since her professional debut in September 1957.

From playing the fictional head of MI6, amid other box office juggernauts, to some of Shakespeare’s most demanding roles – with the odd car insurance advert appearing between the slightly more appealing gigs – Dame Judi has consistently injected a sense of class and dignity to any project lucky enough to feature her talent.

This even includes 2012’s farcical disaster Run For Your Wife (*shudder*) where Judi went against typecast and, as a homeless lady, held on oh-so-tightly to a handbag containing nothing more than tins of cat food. Thankfully, that brief role only lasted a total of 18 seconds. The less said about that, the better...

Yet, never fear, Judi’s charisma and personality stretch far beyond the limited reach of the cinema and small screen. As author of numerous best-selling publications combined with her work as patron of over 180 charities – including her long-standing vice presidency of the disabled people's charity Revitalise – Judi rightfully retains court as a national treasure.

It should therefore come as no surprise to discover that Dame Judi remains in high demand. She’s crafted a public image Meghan Markle can only dream of, while being hailed by celebutantes as one of Britain’s most influential people.

Beyond Albion turf, Dench has likely done more to aid the reputation of British affairs than any UK politician, too.

Judi Dench: Cruise godmother

"I am godmother to 13 godchildren and a god-dog – now I'm godmother to a great ship".
Judi Dench

Does it come as a bombshell to hear that Dench was snapped up as a high-profile cruise ship Godmother to Carnival Legend by Carnival Cruise Line? We doubt it – and Bob Dickinson (president of Carnival at the time) was clearly bowled over was by Dame Judi’s presence.

As a hull-side banner highlighted how 2002 marked ‘30 Years of Fun’ for the cruise line, Legend’s launch ceremony took place in Harwich.

"It is an exciting privilege to have the legendary actress Dame Judi Dench serving as godmother to Carnival Legend," Bob Dickinson told reporters during the christening event. He added: "We are truly fortunate to have a Briton of her stature to help us introduce Carnival Cruise Lines to the European cruise market."

And he wasn’t wrong. The 88,500-ton Carnival Legend couldn’t have wished for a more majestic icon of sterling Britishness and all-round respectability to crack the traditional bottle of hull-bound champagne.

This is especially true given that three attempts were needed to smash the bottle against the hull of Legend.

When the launch ceremony’s champagne, winch-swung towards the hull, proved an especially resilient vintage – much like many of Dame Judi’s characters – Captain Claudio Cupisti stepped in to assist Judi with the task as they switched to a hands-on approach.

Undeterred, and upon the third attempt, the bottle finally smashed and Dame Judi was subsequently and unexpectedly sprayed with champagne. Despite the surprise soaking, Judi gracefully smiled and took it all in her stride. The media briefly referred to her as 'Dame Judi Drench', which she laughed off.

All that grace and well-natured calm proved that Dench was the right choice. Back in 2002, Legend’s launch coincided with Carnival Cruises attempting to manoeuvre into European inventories. Having Dame Judi Dench as the traditional cruise ship godmother brought global attention and nobility to these proceedings, despite the soaking.

Don’t forget that a ship’s godmother is far from a cynical marketing gimmick. Nautical superstition is engrained in contemporary cruise DNA. With this, each ship requires a godmother to bring good luck and stability – which is why only certain living legends will do. And Dame Judi certainly meets that criteria.

Offering a huge amount cultural clout, Dame Judi Dench brought class to Carnival Legend's launch ceremony. Credit: EON Productions

Dame Judi Dench: A beacon of British legacy

Having studied at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, Judi quickly became a long-time phenomenon of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Dench is equally well-known for her work and distinguished temperament – something that she recently sent-up during a riotous cameo in David Tenant and Michael Sheen’s sitcom Staged.

While some are fans of Dame Judi’s regal Shakespearian portrayals and royal turns, others remember her most fondly as Jean Mary Pargetter in the romantic sitcom As Time Goes By.

Starring opposite Geoffrey Palmer as a feisty businesswoman who is rekindling her love affair with an old flame, nine seasons and a run of special episodes beamed Dench’s impressively warm portrayal into millions of living rooms through the medium of BBC2.

In 1995, Judi famously became the first woman to portray the 007 series character, M, in the Bond movie GoldenEye. The role is said to be modelled on Dame Stella Rimington, who served as head of MI5 between 1992-1996. In her role as M, Judi played Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig’s MI6 superior.

This fitted perfectly with what Judi plays best – strong-willed women in positions of authority who are, on occasion, opposed by those they manage.

While it is easy to become absorbed in Dame Judi’s grand acting career, her public admiration largely stems from a down-to-earth approach to life. Unlike other high-ranking celebrities, Dench has never taken herself too seriously.

Working up through the ranks, Judi was able to build her career with a generous helping of protean usually reserved for self-approving Hollywood types. She morphed into a major player, hiding in plain sight without demanding attention for her craft.

Her trademark look – stylish, authoritarian, fresh yet low-maintenance – has been perfected over the decades and is recognisable to millions of aspiring viewers. And that’s the mantra Carnival Cruise Line found so very attractive.

Why Dame Judi makes the perfect Carnival godmother

Who wouldn’t want to be associated with such a public gem? Mixing together old-school values with mass modern approval, Dench offers an honourable identity that resonates strongly across all ages – but mainly those of a certain generation with money to spend on upgrades, drinks packages and longer itineraries.

And those potential high-spending customers generally spawn from a generation that has been able to follow Dame Judi’s career from the very beginning.

Equally, they’re also likely to have frequented a Shakespeare production and fully appreciate Dench’s theatrical background, admiring her subsequent move into mainstream success.

And yet, above all that, is the fact that Judi is simply Dame Judi Dench. Perhaps viewed by some as antiquated and somewhat retro, no one can deny that Judi is also undoubtedly cool.

Brimmed with commanding integrity, full-on commitment and understated jurisdiction, she consistently downplays her own importance to ensure guaranteed success of even the most morally complex project.

She’s been undoubtedly successful in her craft, embellishing her busy awards cabinet with an Oscar while retaining a stoic record of Royal appointments. Judi was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1970 before Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1988. Throughout it all, Judi has managed to never be overbearing.

She’s a hard woman to dislike. As an intensive artist who remains confident in her abilities while also self-deprecating – she never watches her own films, she has claimed, for fear of her terrible performance – Judi projects the epitome of a person who understands herself and therefore relishes other people. Ultimately, Dame Judi feels approachable and relatable.

Dench doesn’t shy away from the difficulties that life has bestowed upon her. From talking about the premature death of her beloved husband Michael Williams from lung cancer to fighting for charities and supporting smaller media productions, Judi doesn’t ignore the troubles of the world but instead tackles them head-on.

As a British figurehead, her openness in terms of personal strife, health concerns and contemporary struggles makes her far more relatable than those who elevate themselves onto a societal pedestal purely out of self-satisfaction and narcissistic egotism.

Dame Judi is a woman of the people and acknowledges that she wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without them. What a dame.

Carnival Legend docked near the Sydney Opera House. Credit: Shutterstock

About Carnival Cruise Line and Carnival Legend

Founded in 1972, the Carnival Cruise Line has impressively risen through the ranks to become known as “the world’s most popular cruise line.”

Carrying millions of passengers each year, equating to almost a fifth of the entire global cruising demographic, Carnival promise to offer a fun vacation both at sea and ashore.

Currently comprising of 25 ships, with another two due to join the fleet by 2024, Carnival prides itself on the strength and variety of the lines that make up its pedigree. These include Princess Cruises, the Holland America Line, Costa Cruises and the ever-illustrious Cunard.

In 1996, Carnival Cruises made history when they launched Carnival Destiny, which at the time, was the largest passenger cruise ship in the world with a weight of over 100,000 tons.

Among the many destinations that Carnival Cruises offers are Mexico, Alaska, Europe, The Bahamas, Hawaii, New Zealand and Brisbane. Wherever you go, your nominated Carnival ship will easily stand out from the crowd thanks to a proud red, white and blue coloured funnel atop each ship, a distinctive trademark of the line.

The Finnish-built Carnival Legend resides within Carnival’s Spirit class. Currently undertaking cruises to the Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean, Greenland and the Panama Canal as well as Transatlantic crossings, many exotic locations await those who sail with Legend.

For those seeking thrills at sea, the notorious Green Thunder waterslide awaits. Alternatively, for those looking for something slightly more sophisticated, the Alchemy Bar can likely accommodate a Martini shaken, not stirred. Carnival Legend is proud to offer private balconies with 80 per cent of her suites as well as alternative dining options.

For those who find themselves caught up in a holiday romance that will romp on once back onshore, Carnival Legend is the first of line’s fleet to also feature an onboard wedding chapel.

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About Gillian Carmoodie

Gillian has been a part of the heritage world for longer than she would care to admit. From piloting pre-war racers across Montlhéry and traversing the Cumbrian mountains with an Edwardian automobile, to flying a WWI Tiger Moth and obsessing over all things shipping, Gillian lives for history.

When not buried in a book or lost to the archives, you'll usually find her under the bonnet of her classic Rover or exploring the old shipyards of the North East. When partaking in work for RNLI, Land Rover or RRM, Gillian mostly runs on high-octane Earl Grey.