Cinema legend Sophia Loren will be in Southampton in March to name a new cruise ship – the largest ever launched in the city.

The Oscar-winning actress and legendary beauty will christen MSC Bellissima on March 2 in what is set to be one of the most glamorous events staged in the city.

The ceremony is the climax of a three day celebration to greet MSC's new flagship featuring TV presenter Holly Willoughby, Nile Rodgers and Chic, and Southampton's own chart-topper Craig David.

Holly Willoughby, presenter of This Morning, Dancing on Ice and, more recently, stand-in for Ant on I'm A Celebrity..., will host the naming ceremony at which screen goddess Loren will perform the traditional ribbon-cutting and officially name the luxury vessel before more than 3,000 guests from 20 countries.

Providing the live music for the evening will be three-time Grammy Award-winner Nile Rodgers and his band Chic.

MSC Bellissima will feature two brand new Cirque du Soleil at Sea shows, Varélia and Syma, and as part of the evening’s celebrations, guests will be treated to an exclusive performance during the naming ceremony, on the pier - the first time the famous circus troop has performed at a ship naming.

The entertainment will then continue on into the evening back on board the ship with a gala dinner followed by live music from platinum-selling UK singer Leee John.

The following day, March 3, there will be further celebrations in Southampton on board MSC Bellissima as MSC Cruises will invite 3,500 travel agents from the UK and Ireland.

This will be the company’s largest ever agent event and will feature a performance from Southampton born, award-winning songwriter and DJ Craig David.

Bellissima – which means ‘beautiful’ in Italian – will be the biggest ship ever named in Southampton, weighing in at 171,598 GRT (gross register tonnage) and measuring 315m in length.

She has been built at the Chantiers de l’Atlantique yard in St Nazaire and will be the company’s biggest vessel to date, able of carrying 5,700 passengers.

Bellissima, which is costing 750m euros to build, will have a specially designed performance space to accommodate Cirque du Soleil shows produced exclusively for the ship. The entire ceiling of the inside promenade will be covered by a giant 480sqm LED screen – a virtual sky transmitting images around the clock. There will also be 20 bars, 10 restaurants and a water park.

Antonio Paradiso, MD for MSC Cruises UK & Ireland commented, “I am so proud to be hosting the Naming Ceremony of MSC Bellissima in Southampton and to have the opportunity to showcase our newest ship to so many of our travel agent partners, media outlets, valued guests and future cruisers.”

“The naming ceremony is our opportunity to showcase MSC Cruises to the whole of the UK, and it is this sort of exposure that will allow us to raise the profile of cruise holidays. Each celebrity that is involved with the naming ceremony, or each dining or entertainment partnership that enhances our cruises provides an opportunity to present cruise to a new audience and it’s these new audiences that are so important in increasing the popularity of cruise”