On 20 September 1967 at John Brown’s shipyard on Clydebank in Scotland, Queen Elizabeth the second named the QE2 in the company of Prince Phillip and 30,000 spectators.
“I name this ship Queen Elizabeth the Second. May God bless her and all who sail in her,” she proclaimed.
Then, with the ceremonial shattering of a bottle of Australian wine against the huge bow, the ship began her first journey into the water.
On May 2 1969, thousands of well-wishers gathered in Southampton to watch the QE2 set sail on her maiden voyage to New York.
Four days, 16 hours and 35 minutes later, the QE2 arrived at Ambrose Light and thousands turned out to welcome the new Queen in New York on 7 May.
Mayor John Lindsay boarded the ship from a coastguard cutter outside the Verrazano Bridge along with other civic dignitaries and officially proclaimed it ‘QE2 Day’ in New York.
On 4 January 1975, the QE2 set sail from Southampton on her first World Cruise, a journey of 38,000 miles. She visited 23 Ports in 92 days and it was the first of 25 world cruises during her career.
In March 1975, the QE2 made its first transit of Panama Canal, making it the biggest ship ever to travel through the canal. There was less than a foot to spare as the ship made its way through the canal locks.
In May 1982, the QE2 was requisitioned for the Falklands War as a troop transport, a decision which reportedly gave the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher a sleepless night.
The ship sailed for South Georgia with 3,000 troops aboard, arriving back in Southampton on 11 June 1982.
The QE2 engines were converted from steam to diesel in Germany, in a move that was expected to save Cunard £12 million a year in fuel and ensured the QE2 remained reliable for the remainder of her career.
The plant came with two new propulsion motors and new variable pitch propellers, while parts of the passenger accommodation was also modernised.
To allow for the work, the QE2 was out of service from November 1986 to April 1987. The Cunarder’s Sagafjord and Vistafjord were used to cover QE2’s transatlantic schedule as well as world cruises.
The QE2 was decorated with the highly prized Queen’s Award for Export Achievements. This was to celebrate her growth and commercial successful in international trade.
This prestigious award was proudly received and meant that her role as a floating ambassador promoting British products around the world was formally recognised.
In July 1990, The Queen became the first reigning monarch to go on a voyage on a commercial liner with passengers.
The Los Angeles Times reported: “The Queen will attend a luncheon on board the QE2. An aerial display and fly-over by the Royal Air Force has been scheduled, and the same evening, passengers on the QE2 will attend a star-studded variety show and a laser-light and fireworks display.”
Until this date, the QE2 was owned and operated by the Cunard Line, a British/American cruise line based at Carnival House at Southampton, but in 1996 the Cunard Line ownerships was transferred to Norwegian construction company Kvaerner.
During this year she was also treated to a further $18 million refit. Works were undertaken in Southampton’s King George V dry dock – the final time QE2 would use the facility before its closure.
The refit concentrated on completing work outstanding from the 1994 refurbishment, as well as general touch ups.
In April 1998 Carnival Corporation announced they had acquired Cunard for $800 million. The QE2 was a significant part of this acquisition. During this time the QE2 underwent a $30 million refurbishment to prepare her for the 21st Century.
At the same time, Carnival announced “Project Queen Mary” – a transatlantic fleet mate for QE2. This resulted in the Queen Mary 2.
On 29 August 2002, at approximately 21.50 hours ship’s time, the QE2 completed five million miles – a world record and a world first.
Other ‘in numbers’ facts about the QE2 include: Withstanding a 30-metre high wave breaking across her bow during a hurricane, having the largest library on the seas, with over 6,000 titles on board and her Passengers consuming almost 20 tons of lobster and 1 ton of caviar each year.
After nearly four decades as the world’s most celebrated ocean-going liner, it was announced that the QE2 was to become a floating hotel off the coast of Dubai.
She was bought by Istithmar, the Dubai Government’s investment arm, in a £50.5 million deal that demonstrated the Gulf emirate’s continued commitment to investment in its tourist industry.
The QE2 began her farewell voyage around the UK. So great was the demand from customers wanting to experience the iconic ship, that her last sailing, from Southampton to Dubai on 11 November sold out in just 36 minutes.
Managing director of cruise agency Sovereign Cruise Club, Stefan Shillito said: “It’s like the Concorde effect. That was a travel icon and the QE2 is the same ilk and people want to experience it.”
More than 60 naval vessels and private boats met the 70,000 ton ship in the Persian Gulf as she arrived in her new home.