That time Mary Berry claimed a world record for Viking

It’s almost 10 years since Mary Berry claimed a Guinness World Record in the name of Viking.We look back on the perfect pairing between Viking and TV’s baking guru

Celebrity baker, and all-round enforced grandmother of the nation, Mary Berry has become a staple of BBC-sponsored television. As the blueprint for the values of yesteryear and all things culinary, Dame Berry's name fronts the cover of no-less than 80 cookery books. Not to mention the dozens of primetime shows dependent on her presenting skills.

Appointed Dame commander of the order of the British Empire by the Queen in 2020, Dame Berry is, quite literally, a living legend of the edible arts.

However, as the matriarch of comestible televisual delights, it’s easy to assume that Dame Berry’s forte therefore remains solely kitchen-based. A bit like Scarface, but with flour rather than cocaine. Or Rambo with a whisk.

It may come as a surprise, then, to learn that Dame Berry boasts a strong connection to the chic world of river cruising. She’s one of Viking’s various ‘godmothers’, making offers (of baked goods) you can’t refuse.

That may sound a bit strange, granted, but the need for a godmother per ship stems from an age-old belief that feminine energy brings good luck (and protection) for future sailings.

The superstition has led to marketing opportunities on both sides of the media machine; Cunard utilising their Royal connection with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II christening the new-age RMS Queen Mary 2, and Viking employing the likes of Joanna Lumley for maximum public effect.

As the selected godmother of Viking Alsvin, Mary Berry’s positive mantra was chosen to bring the new Alsvin a healthy dollop of success and serendipity. Judging by the Viking brand’s indelible growth, her motherly residence has certainly brought the idiosyncratic cruise line good fortune.

Not only that, but Berry also holds a remarkable world record – courtesy of Viking – unlikely to be beaten anytime soon.

Mary Berry with the Captain of Viking Alsvin. Credit: Viking

Mary Berry: 2014 Guinness World Record attempt

Back in March 2014, the master baker hit headlines for launching 14 ships in less than 24 hours. Not only did the TV star walk away with the Guinness World Record, but her reputation was heightened far beyond the BBC’s mainstay as a doyenne of family cookery.

Traversing the European continent and jumping between three countries and three cities in only 24 hours, Dame Berry found herself whisked between Amsterdam, Avignon, and Rostock, and firmly grabbed the nation’s attention as a dedicated brand ambassador.

Her frantic European adventure climaxed with the christening of Viking Alsvin in Amsterdam, smashing a bottle of expensive Champagne across the vessel’s bow, and officially becoming the ship’s godmother.

Naturally, the Le Cordon Blue-trained Dame Berry embellished the occasion with her typical regal dress-code, bringing a 1960s-themed injection of command to an already high-brow event.

As champagne cascaded down the ship’s fresh paintwork, the launch clinched a world record for most ships inaugurated in a single day by one company, breaking the previous record of ten vessels in a 24-hour period; also held by Viking.

Eight of the 14 vessels had been christened in Amsterdam, with three in Avignon, France, and another three in Rostock, Germany. It had been a whirlwind tour, but as both a marketing exercise and an organisational challenge, the success was palpable.

Mary Berry (right) and lesser mortal James Martin during an event. Credit: Shutterstock

Up for the task

While the logistics of the venture undoubtedly remain impressive, you’ve got to commend the vivaciousness of Dame Berry, aged 78 at the time, for taking on a ‘Michael Palin-on-acid’ task of such magnitude.

That willingness and energy remains exactly why Viking headhunted Dame Berry for the task.

Wendy Atkins-Smith, UK managing director of Viking, said at the time: “Mary embodies the Viking spirit of exploration – and also the spirit of the curious, experienced travellers who sail with us all over the world.”

Berry spent time aboard the Viking Alsvin on the day, absorbing the ship’s ambience before exploring a world most known to her – the fast-paced kitchen, where she watched Viking’s highly-trained chefs at work in the gleaming new galley.

“After spending some time on board the Alsvin, I can see why people are so taken with river cruising,” Dame Berry proclaimed when making an official statement.

“As someone who is fascinated by travel, culture and food destinations you certainly get a sense of the Viking spirit on board.”

Mary Berry aboard Viking Alsvin after claiming a World Record. Credit: Viking

Who is Mary Berry?

If you are unfamiliar with British television, then Dame Berry may not resonate. Yet, if you delve into her backstory and clock her contemporary achievements, you’ll understand why Viking was destined to associate themselves with her loyal followers.

Mary Berry means more to the British people than purely a TV personality. She may garnish the bookshelves as a writer and rotate across all manner of BBC coverage as a celebrity, but her character, knowledge and calm demeanour has crafted a recognisable and comforting brand, rather than a mere ego-serving human.

Following the trend for middle-class women of the era, Berry was encouraged to partake in domestic science classes before she then took everything one step further. While studying catering at a British college, she landed a position at the French Le Cordon Bleu culinary school.

Le Cordon Bleu remains respected as the oh-so-fancy culinary bootcamp of choice for those seeking to establish themselves as a world-class chef. Starting on campus aged only 22, Berry graduated before landing a diverse range of cooking-related work.

Taking the plunge and publishing her first book - The Hamlyn All Colour Cookbook - in 1970, this led to hosting opportunities with the BBC and Thames Television (now ITV). A slew of cooking shows ensued, complemented by guest articles and interviews across a wide range of magazines and tabloids.

Although constantly active on the cookery scene, and helping scores of Brits – both home and abroad – in challenging themselves from the comfort of their home kitchen, Dame Berry didn’t hit the stratospheric heights of fame until uber-popular The Great British Bake Off premiered on BBC Two in 2010.

As one of the shows judges, she would cast her expert eye over baking challenges presented to the show’s contestants; almost like a grandmotherly Gordon Ramsay, minus the swearing and “I’m going to gut you” Paddington-bear-on-cocaine glare only a Glaswegian can muster.

“I think Mary Berry's a bit like the Queen”, Ramsay has been quoted as saying.

Media politics sadly came into play, and the production company behind The Great British Bake Off (TGBO) moved across to Channel 4, leaving the BBC behind. Loyal to the organisation that helped build her career, Berry refused to participate and allowed TGBBO to steam headfirst into a pale imitation of what it once proudly was.

And it was this loyalty, amid the clear demonstration that an increase in pay-packet did not equal justification for unjust behaviour (here’s looking at you, Paul Hollywood), that displayed Berry’s humble and human side. Her attitude was accessible for everyone.

She was proof that you didn’t need to bully your way forward. Instead, expertise and passion would bring success if you crafted the perfect mantra. Something of which Viking related, making the pairing of culinary genius and river cruise line a match made in heaven.

About Viking

Viking is the largest river cruise line operator in the world, with a fleet of 76 ships running sailings across four continents on an army of award-winning ships.

The river arm of Viking is just one of Viking's cruise options, the super-premium Norwegian ocean cruise line known for its superlative cruise experience, small ships with Scandi-chic interiors and fantastic destination and cultural enrichment programme.

On the river, Viking offers cruisers the chance to sail in Europe, Asia, Africa and the US, offering facilities like sundeck swimming pools, relaxing Aquavit terraces and well-stocked libraries.

Continually making new additions and expanding, Viking has recently upped its Nile river cruise game with two new ships, and also sails the Mississippi river.

The cruise line also champions themed cruises, taking passengers to the likes of the Passion Play at Oberammergau and offering exclusive pre-and post-cruise land tours.

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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.