IT was a moment of pure magic.
Under the bright autumn sunshine, the Southampton dockside came alive with the vibrant scarlet, blues and gold as the Queen sent the christening bottle smashing against the huge hull of Queen Elizabeth.
As Her Majesty stood in front of the towering ship’s bow, the many decades of her long reign drifted away, back to the time when, as a 12-year-old princess, she stood beside her mother as she launched the original liner of the same name.
Now, more than 70 years later, history turned full circle to repeat itself as the Queen bestowed her own name on the 92,400-ton ship destined to carry Southampton’s rich seafaring heritage far into the 21st century.
The ceremony, watched by hundreds of specially invited guests and a television audience of many millions around the globe, brought one of the most famous and well-loved names back to life in Southampton, a city which proudly, and uniquely, boasts of being the home port for all three of the great Cunarders which have been called Queen Elizabeth.
A purpose-built arena, complete with a grandstand for the many hundreds of guests, a large sound stage, and a dais for the royal guest of honour, had been built in the shadow of the vessel berthed alongside the city’s Ocean Terminal.
Wearing a turquoise hat and matching coat, the Queen took her place on the royal dais as classical diva Lesley Garrett sang Amazing Grace, a song she performed at the naming of Queen Mary 2 in 2004.
After a short service of blessing, led by the Right Rev Michael Scott-Joynt, Bishop of Winchester, the ship’s master, Captain Chris-topher Wells, invited the Queen to perform the naming ceremony.
As the bottle crashed, the quayside erupted in a blizzard of confetti and streamers, the city’s waterfront echoed to a fanfare of trumpets and cheers, and a series of mighty blasts boomed out from the ship’s powerful whistles in salute to the royal godmother.
But before the ceremony began the Queen went on a royal walkabout around the ship’s decks, meeting members of the crew, visiting the bridge, and also viewing a new portrait of herself, specially commissioned by Cunard, which will hang as a centrepiece in the vessel’s grand lobby.
While the Queen toured the Cunarder, the VIP guests, including stars of screen and the stage, as well as familiar faces from television soap operas, attended a champagne reception in the Ocean Terminal.
Among those present were Oscar-winning actor Sir Ben Kingsley, TV personalities Carol Vorderman and Sir Jimmy Saville, Coronation Street legend Liz Dawn, actor Robert Powell, former hostage Terry Waite, Falkland War veteran Simon Weston, TV gardener Alan Titchmarsh and global travellers and television presenters Judith Chalmers and Alan Whicker.
At the end of the ceremony there were waves for everyone as the Queen left the dockside and guests embarked on the ship for a gala dinner and evening entertainment, which featured a West End-style musical.
The historic event crowned an unprecedented year of success for the port of Southampton, which saw the number of cruise ships based in the city continue to surge ahead and passenger totals crossing the dockside reach record-breaking levels.
Over the past six years, Cunard has brought into service three ships, QM2, Queen Victoria, and now Queen Elizabeth, all flying the Red Ensign with Southampton as their registered home port.
Equipped with the most advanced propulsion, navigation, communication and safety systems, the £400m vessel has been designed to pay homage to the art deco glory of the first liner of the same name.
Queen Elizabeth arriving in Southampton
The gleaming new decks and public rooms are a celebration of rich wood panelling, cool and exotic marbles, intricate mosaics, glittering, crystal chandeliers and sumptuous hand-made furniture and carpets.
Queen Elizabeth, which was built in Italy, is the second-largest vessel ever to be built for Cunard and can accommodate up to 2,172 passengers in 1,046 cabins spread over 12 public decks.
Since arriving in Southampton last Friday, Queen Elizabeth, together with Micky Arison, chief executive of the Miami-based cruising empire Carnival Corporation, Cunard’s parent company, Captain Wells, and the shipping line’s top executives all hosted a series of lavish events for thousands of travel agents, as well as representatives of marine services and industries, together with port and local authorities.
Queen Elizabeth’s entry into service was hailed by Roger Towner, registrar general of the UK Ship Register, who said: “I am delighted to welcome such a high-profile ship to the UK flag.
“Queen Elizabeth is the latest in a long line of the company’s ships to register with the United Kingdom and maintains the well established connection between Cunard and the Red Ensign.”