UAE - The QE2 which holds sway in all its magnificence at Mina Rashid Port in Dubai, stands as the most enduring legacy of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth in the UAE — and also her links with Dubai and the UAE.

The cruise liner – inaugurated, christened and held close to her heart by the British monarch – which sits placidly today at the Mina Rashid port after being turned into a floating luxury hotel, has had a glorious, queen-sized (sorry for the pun) history. It has been called into a war; it has hosted Royalty; it has been fitted, retroffitted and repurposed; and always invokes a huge sense of nostalgia even as it has gone on to age gracefully on the Dubai seas.

“Whenever she comes to Dubai, Queen Elizabeth II always asks about the ship” said Ferghal Purcell, general manager of QE2.

“That is how deep her connection to the ship is.”

As celebrations for the platinum jubilee of Britain’s longest-reigining monarch got underway in the UK, Khaleej Times tracks the ship liner’s 55-year journey right from its launch in 1967 to its conversion as a floating hotel in Dubai. KT attended the special Platinum Jubilee Heritage Tour at QE2 to get upto speed with the ship’s history and its deep connection to Queen Elizabeth II.

The Naming

In 1967, more than 25,000 people lined the street as the newest, most celebrated ship in British history was launched at John Brown’s shipyard by shipping company Cunard, which was simply called the Q3-Q4 project - its official name was still a secret.

On the day of the launch, as Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip made their way to the ship, the Queen was handed an envelope with the name of he ship on it. However, on seeing the grand vessel, the Queen put down the envelope without opening it and announced: “I name this ship Queen Elizabeth the second. May God bless her and all who sail in it.”

To commemorate the event and the naming, a 7 X 7-foot tapestry of original works of art was donated to the ship in 1969 during its maiden voyage. This fabric painting occupies a spot of pride at the hotel’s lobby.

The History

The QE2 was designed to be one of the fastest transatlantic ships, sailing from its home port of Southampton in the UK to New York in five days. However, even during its launch, the makers knew they were fighting a losing battle. Transatlantic jets were already becoming more popular and the preferred method of travelling. In a bid to attract more passengers, cruise liners began offering packages whereby people could sail one way and return on a flight.

In 1982, the ship was refitted with helicopter pads and other reinforcements after it was called into service for the Falklands War. Several parts of the ship were converted to make it battle ready over a eight-day refit. In May 1982, the ship sailed with 3,000 troops and 650 volunteer crew for battle.

In 1988, Queen Elizabeth II and the Queen Mother were invited for a luncheon on board to celebrate the anniversary of the first Queen Elizabeth ship.

In 1987, the ship’s steam powered engine was converted to diesel-powered, bringing an end to 146 years of Cunard’s association with the steam engine. The vessel underwent 16 extensive refits during its roles as a cruise ship, warship and floating hotel.

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Queen Elizabeth II visited the ship next in 1990. For the 150th year anniversary of Cunard ships, the company organized a “Spithead Review” at the port of Spithead, near Southampton. For the celebration, the Queen attended a luncheon on board.

There were frenzied preparations to welcome her. Resident tour guide Christopher Galloway, who has researched and interviewed several people who were on board at the time, describes the mood at the time.

The ship with its opulent interiors and luxurious amenities has several other links to the queen.

The first-class lounge for the Cunard vessel was named the Queen’s Room. A multi purpose room, the guests could enjoy jazz music in the morning, a leisurely tea in the afternoon and practice some dance lessons in the evening. It was designed by celebrity interior designer David Nightingale Hicks, who was married to the cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, Lady Pamela Mountbatten. When it was launched, the lounge was considered an epitome of comfort and style.

While walking through the quarter deck, visitors can see an original portrait of then Princess Elizabeth before she was married to Prince Philip. Set in the Windsor Castle gardens, this painting by Edward Haddaway is famed for its incredible detailing and the fact that it is the largest portrait of Princess Elizabeth afloat.

Over its 55-year history the ship has become a symbol of British opulence and arguably one of the most famous liners in the word.

Arrival in Dubai

After her final voyage, there were several countries, including Australia, China and South Africa which wanted to own the QE2. However, the UAE that won the bid to buy the vessel for over Dh367 million ($100m).

QE2 arrived in Dubai in November 2008 where she was greeted by a flotilla of ships which included My Dubai, the private yacht of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. The ceremony was marked with fireworks and an Emirates Airbus A380 flypast.

Ferghal Purcell says he has come across several people across the globe with ties to the ship “My friend’s father was a young man who was just taking up photography in the 1960s. He saw the ship before it was even close to being launched and took some photos of it. When he came to Dubai recently, he asked if he could visit the QE2. Of course, we took him on a private tour, and he shared the original photograph he had taken

The team behind QE2 have big plans for her. “We know that the ship is a piece of history, and we want to honour it,” said Ferghal Purcell.

“I am a custodian of history and I want to preserve that for the people. We want to recreate the ship to show off its history. I have met so many people who come here just to see the vessel because they have some memories related to it. This is what the QE2 is about. A connection to a glorious past.”

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