One of Southampton's most famous and much loved former luxury liners was drowning in debt and heading for the indignity of a watery grave.

But the financial tide has turned for RMS Queen Mary which has been given a new lease of life in a £16 million restoration project.

Talk to any seasoned seafarer and they will say that the Mary with its distinctive three funnels – woven into the city's skyline during its working life of crossing the Atlantic – was probably their favourite ship.

Launched by George V in 1934 the liner was worshipped by prime ministers, presidents and Hollywood stars, including A list passengers like Liz Taylor and Bob Hope.

On October 31, 1967 the Queen Mary set sail from Southampton on her final cruise arriving in Long Beach on December 9, 1967 after clocking up 1,001 Atlantic crossings.

Daily Echo: RMS Queen Mary in the fitting-out basin in March 1936 Image: Stewart Bale/Cunard

The sunshine state of California was to be the final resting place for this icon of the seas. The legendary liner's retirement looked rosy in its new role as a popular tourist attraction and floating hotel, attracting more 55 million visitors.

But in years to come there were fears that Long Beach could have been her graveyard. Six decades of neglect left the ship sinking in the harbour weighed down by crippling debt.

The grand old lady of the sea needed urgent repairs to stay afloat and an estimated £204 million to restore her to her former glory. A safety report filed in bankruptcy court warned of its leaking hull with risk of flooding and potential capsizing. The liner which had graced the ocean waves faced the indignity of being broken up for salvage.

After being closed for three years for £16 million repairs, the former Cunard liner, which sailed through the bombardment of World War 2 as a troopship, has survived to fight another day.

Defying all the odds it is now welcoming visitors and has financially sailed back into the black. In four months the ship generated £9.9 million in revenue, reaping more than £2.3 million in profits – more than she earned during the entire year before the pandemic struck.

Daily Echo: RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach California is in need significant repairs according to assessments and photos in 2019 and 2020. Photo courtesy QMI Restore the Queen campaign group

People are coming from around the globe to visit her and a spokesperson said: “There is nothing else like it anywhere in the world. The Queen Mary is not about to roll over and sink and if we look after her she could last the millennium.”

For three years after her maiden voyage, the Queen Mary was the grandest ocean liner in the world carrying Hollywood celebrities like Bob Hope, Clark Gable, Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire; royalty such as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and world leaders including Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower and American royalty - the first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

The liner has a rightful place in history. The Churchill Suite where Sir Winston Churchill stayed on his three voyages. He called the Queen Mary his “wartime headquarters at sea” and signed the D-Day declaration while aboard.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, whose much-documented love affair was to rock royalty and the world, were regular passengers and travelled with 85 steamer trunks.

The Queen Mary's speed record, capturing the prestigious Blue Riband, was unbeaten for 14 years. But when the famous liner docked in New York in September 1939 that would be the last time she would carry civilian passengers for many years. As World War II started, the Queen Mary's transformation into a troopship had begun. She was painted a camouflaged grey colour and stripped of her luxurious amenities. Dubbed the "Grey Ghost" because of her stealth and stark colour, the Queen Mary was the largest and fastest troopship to sail, capable of transporting as many as 16,000 troops at 30 knots. After the end of WWII, the Queen Mary began a 10-month retrofitting process, which would return the ship to her original glory. On July 21, 1947, the Queen Mary resumed regular passenger service across the Atlantic Ocean, and continued to do so for nearly two more decades.

Daily Echo: The Queen Mary, launched from John Brown’s yard in 1934, is estimated to need £235 million in repairs

The increasing popularity of air travel signalled the end of the golden age of transatlantic travel for the Queen Mary. By 1965 the entire Cunard fleet was operating at a loss and they decided to retire and sell the legendary Queen Mary. There was not a dry eye in the port as she sailed from her home port of Southampton into retirement.

The liner still makes a great play on its reputation as one of the most haunted venues in America, claiming 57 ghostly spirits. Its tours include Haunted Encounters, the Paranormal Ship Walk, The Grey Ghost Project and 57 Ghosts Seance.

The ship weighed 81,237-ton with 12 decks and on the day of its launch in 1934 a well-known English psychic, Lady Mable Fortiscue- Harrison predicted - “The Queen Mary will know her greatest fame and popularity when she never sails another mile or carries another fare-paying passenger.”

How right the Lady was as RMS Queen Mary remains afloat and sails into a new chapter of her proud maritime history.