The lady who launched
The Duchess of Cambridge makes a right royal splash
A DALMATIAN on the docks upstaging a leviathan of the seas? It seems unlikely, but so it is on this blustery day at the port of Southampton, southwest of London, as Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, braving the elements (a snappy 14C with passing clouds and the ‘‘possibility of showers’’) and occasionally patting her famous tummy bump, takes her place among assembled dignitaries and contingents of media for the naming ceremony of the good ship Royal Princess.
She is the 3600-passenger vessel’s official godmother cum patron, representing a suitably regal connection, and this is the Duchess’s last solo engagement before her baby arrives in July. The former Miss Middleton is wearing a black-and-white dotty ‘‘coat dress’’ and there is a buzz in the crowd about the pattern. Paw prints? Snow leopard? The fashion writers in our midst fire up their iPhones and shriek. It’s a style known as the Dalmatian from high-street retailer Hobbs. Tweet, tweet.
Before the Duchess has smashed the 15-litre Nebuchadnezzar of celebratory champagne against the ship’s hull, been all but hurried off the dais by gusts from Southampton Water, had a quick tour of Royal Princess with Captain Tony Draper and tooted its bellowing horn, the £169 ($280) garment has sold out online.
The Brits do pomp and ceremony very well indeed and proceedings are opened by the white-helmeted Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Portsmouth and the orange-kilted Pipe Band of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards, of which Prince William is Colonel of the Regiment. We guests are also treated to a song apiece by chart-topper Natasha Bedingfield and West End musical star Kerry Ellis as the Duchess smoothes her considerable hair back into place and readjusts her pert black Sylvia Fletcher hat.
Above our heads in the tiered spectator stand, long, taut strings stretch 300m towards the back wall where they are anchored in place like nautical rigging. With more formal instruments such as violin, cello, drums and flute, this Earth Harp convolution is part of the percussive orchestra Mass Ensemble and the music is eerie and ethereal. Seated beneath, big-day-out hats wobbling, my next-seat neighbour and I agree it feels like being inside a vibrating harp.
The Right Reverend Tim Dakin, Bishop of Winchester, conducts the traditional ship’s blessing, wishing good fortune and safety for the ship, its passengers and crew. The Duchess says but a few words and the final dash by all present to escape the cold temperatures and impending rain is all but unseemly.
Royal Princess is the 17th liner in the fleet of Princess Cruises, a company that has long embraced the concept of godmothers. Its first Royal Princess (later rebranded as Artemis) was launched in 1984 by Diana, Princess of Wales. Confusingly, a second Royal Princess, which was added in 2007, is now known as Adonia.
This 2013 factory-fresh ship, shiny and fabulous, is described as ‘‘new generation’’, which is instantly apparent up on the bridge where Captain Draper commands what could be the Starship Enterprise given the plethora of electronic gizmos and absence of nautical charts (there is a lone piece of paper pinned in a glass cabinet and shelves empty of books or binders). The presence of two seamen in nautical blue shirts, their binoculars trained to the horizon, seems a reassuring connection with maritime tradition. They are ‘‘look-outs’’ doing four-hour stints and on watch for anything the ship’s sophisticated radar system might not detect.
The interior designers of most new ships seem to subscribe to the Bling Cycle school of over-embellishment and while Royal Princess has its quota of swirly carpets, chandeliers, shimmering installations that cascade like mermaid tresses and (occasionally unfortunate) murals, the overall look is sleek and stylish with some genuinely witty artworks, such as the framed black-and-white photographs outside the casino on Deck 6. There is an image of a socialite-slender woman wearing a colossal lampshade (my caption: ‘‘Does my head look big in this?’’) and a bow-tied and bowler-hatted chap with binoculars who appears ready for a jolly spot of racing at Royal Ascot.
One thousand photos taken by previous Princess Cruises passengers, all beautifully framed, hang along stateroom corridors and I am delighted to discover one by a T&I reader of Brisbane’s Gateway Bridge. It’s a lovely connection and the images, chosen from many thousands of submissions, are all superb.
The buzz on board centres around the Piazza at the centre of the triple-storeyed Atrium with glittery staircases, soaring columns and curves. The Atrium is appar-
Clockwise from above, the SeaWalk; ready to launch; Sabatini’s; the Atrium overlooking the Piazza; the bright and breezy SeaView Bar; smiling service at the International Cafe.