On this day in history….20th January 1997

On this day in history : 20th January 1997 – Her Majesty’s Royal Yacht Britannia begins her final official voyage – before she is due to be de-commissioned later in the year….

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Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia

This last foreign mission was to bring home the Prince of Wales and Chris Patten, who was the last Governor of Hong Kong before the handover to China on the 1st of July 1997….

HMY Britannia was originally commissioned for King George VI – the Queen’s father – but sadly he died even before the keel was laid…. One of the first things Her Majesty did on becoming Monarch was to change the plans for the decor of the Royal apartments of Britannia – she viewed the proposed plans as too formal and ‘stuffy’…. Instead she opted for white-painted walls, mahogany woodwork, brass fittings and chintz covered armchairs and sofas…. She wanted to create the feeling of a ‘country home at sea’…. The only thing she would have liked – but because of regulations was not allowed – was an open fire in the drawing room….instead she had to settle for an electric fire….

 

The Queen and the Royal Family loved HMY Britannia…. Her Majesty once described the yacht as being the one place she felt she could truly relax…. The Royal apartments were filled with personal photographs and heirlooms….

HMY Britannia was built at Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire and was launched by Queen Elizabeth on the 16th of April 1953…. She first went into service in 1954; her maiden voyage was from Portsmouth to Grand Harbour, Malta – departing on the 14th of April and arriving eight days later…. She carried Princess Anne and Prince Charles to meet their parents who had just completed a Commonwealth Tour…. Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh embarked on the 1st of May 1954 for the very first time….

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Ship’s Bridge Image credit: Salicia via Flickr

During her 43 year service HMY Britannia sailed some 1,087,623 nautical miles…. The 412ft long yacht, which weighs nearly 6,000 tons, completed 696 foreign visits and 272 official voyages on British waters….including annual Royal family holidays…. Known as the ‘Western Isles Tour’, each year Britannia would take the Royals on a cruise around the islands off of the west coast of Scotland…. She was also used for four Royal honeymoons…. Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong Jones sailed to the West Indies upon her in 1960 and Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips were also carried to the Caribbean in 1973…. In 1981 Prince Charles and Princess Diana enjoyed a Mediterranean cruise for their honeymoon, followed by the Duke and Duchess of York, who sailed to the Azores in 1986…. As recently as 2011 the yacht was used as part of Royal Wedding celebrations when Zara Phillips and Mike Tyndall held a pre-wedding reception onboard…. She has a capacity for 250 guests….

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When HMY Britannia was launched she was the largest yacht in the World…. In order for her to sail a crew of 21 Officers and 250 Royal Yachtsmen were required…. When the Royal Family were aboard they would be accompanied by up to 45 household staff, including a hairdresser, surgeon and chauffeur – (yes, a Royal limousine was carried onboard)…. The Royal party would travel with around five tons of luggage….and when she sailed Britannia would always be accompanied by a Royal Navy warship….

The crew, who were accommodated at the front of the yacht away from the Royal apartments, wore plimsolls to keep a tranquil ambience…. Orders were given by hand signals and shouting was forbidden – as was running…. Any work that needed to be done near the apartments had to be done in silence and completed by 8am….

 

However, HMY Britannia earned her keep…. She was built so she could be converted in to a hospital ship, able to accommodate approximately 200 patients if required during wartime…. Fortunately her services in this capacity were never needed…. In event of a nuclear war the intended plan (with the code name ‘Python System’) was for the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh – along with the Home Secretary – to take refuge onboard the yacht off the north-west coast of Scotland….

She was also used to entertain dignitaries…. American Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton all enjoyed hospitality onboard…. Used by the government to entertain prominent business figures HMY Britannia was an Ambassador for British trade and industry….during the period of 1991-1995 she earned some £3 billion for the Exchequer….

Nowadays she earns her keep as an award-winning visitor attraction…. Berthed at Ocean Terminal, Leith, Edinburgh she receives 300,000 visitors per year….

In 1997 the Conservatives committed to replacing her if re-elected…. Labour did not divulge their proposed plans…. On winning the election Tony Blair’s Labour Government announced HMY Britannia’s retirement and that there would be no replacement….

A de-commissioning ceremony was held on the 11th of December 1997 at Portsmouth Dockyard…. At 15.01 Her Majesty was piped ashore for the last time and all the clocks onboard HMY Britannia were stopped…. The Queen openly cried as The Band of HM Royal Marines played ‘Highland Cathedral’….

Since the de-commissioning of HMY Britannia the Queen has twice chartered MV Hebridean Princess – a private charter cruise ship – for a family holiday in the Scottish islands…. But surely, it could never be the same for Her Majesty, could it….

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On this day in history….3rd December 1993

On this day in history : 3rd December 1993 – Princess Diana, wanting more privacy and to avoid the constant attention from the paparazzi and tabloid press, announces she is withdrawing from public life….

Image credit : Paisley Scotland via Flickr

“When I started my public life, 12 years ago, I understood the media might be interested in what I did. I realised then their attention would inevitably focus on both our private and public lives. But I was not aware of how over-whelming that attention would become. Nor the extent to which it would affect both my public duties and my personal life, in a manner, that’s been hard to bear. At the end of this year, when I’ve completed my diary of official engagements, I will be reducing the extent of the public life I’ve lead so far”….

32-year-old Princess Diana made her announcement at a charity event held at the Hilton Hotel in London…. She and Prince Charles had married in the Summer of 1981 and Prince William was born in July 1982 – followed by Prince Harry in September 1984…. It was not long after that the marriage began to fail and in 1992 they separated and finally divorced in 1996….

On this day in history….1st July 1969

On this day in history : 1st July 1969 – Prince Charles is invested Prince of Wales by his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, at Caernarfon Castle, in North Wales….

Caernarfon Castle prepared for the Investiture

Prince Charles had been created the Prince of Wales on the 26th of July 1958, when he was just 9-years-old – but it was 11 years later, when he was 20, that his investiture took place…. It is a title traditionally given to the eldest son of the reigning monarch…. Prince Charles is the longest serving Prince of Wales in British history, making him the longest waiting heir ever to become monarch….

The tradition began in 1301, when King Edward I of England gave the title to his son, Prince Edward (later to become King Edward II)…. It was after deposing the last native Prince of Wales, Llewelyn ap Gruffudd, following the conquering of Wales….

Millions of people watched the investiture of Prince Charles on television and huge crowds were attracted to Caernarfon – and to the castle which had seen the investiture in 1911 of Edward VIII before him….

Image credit : Journalist Geoff Charles – National Library of Wales CC0
Image credit : Journalist Geoff Charles – National Library of Wales CC0

The centuries old custom involved the Secretary of State for Wales, who read the Letters Patent in Welsh…. The Queen then bestowed upon Charles a sword, coronet, ring, the gold rod and the kingly mantle…. Prince Charles then took his oath….

“I, Charles, Prince of Wales, do become your liege man of life and limb and of earthly worship and faith and truth I will bear unto thee to live and die against all manner of folks”….

He then gave a speech in both Welsh and English….

Image : Pinterest

On this day in history….29th February 1964

On this day in history : 29th February 1964 – The Queen’s cousin, Princess Alexandra, gives birth to a son – believed to be the first ever royal baby to be born on February the 29th….

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Princess Alexandra, June 1961 – Photo credit : Harry Pot – National Archief (Netherlands) CC BY-SA 3.0nl

Princess Alexandra gave birth at home in Richmond, Surrey; her husband, Angus Ogilvy, was with her and her mother, Princess Marina, was also at the house…. The 9lb 6oz baby boy was born at 12.15am and was a week overdue…. He was named James Robert Bruce and later christened in the chapel at Buckingham Palace…. Two years later he was to be joined by a sister, Marina….

Princess Alexandra’s baby was the first of four royal babies to be born within a matter of weeks of each other…. The Queen’s fourth child, Prince Edward, was born on the 10th of March….and her sister, Princess Margaret, had a daughter, Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones, on the 1st of May…. Finally the Duchess of Kent had her second baby, Lady Helen Windsor, on the 28th of April….

On this day in history….23rd December 1992

On this day in history : 23rd December 1992 – A national newspaper publishes the Queen’s speech – scheduled to be aired on BBC television two days later, on Christmas Day….

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Queen’s Speech, 1992 – ‘annus horribilis’ – Image : The BBC – fair use

The source of the leak was never found – but the text for the five minute broadcast, which had been recorded at Sandringham, was spread – virtually word for word – across the centre pages of The Sun…. The newspaper insisted it had done nothing wrong and had come by the story by ‘good old-fashioned techniques’….

“1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure”…. – Her Majesty the Queen….

1992 was a difficult year for the Royal Family…. It was the year of the catastrophic fire at Windsor Castle – and the breakdown of the marriages of both Prince Charles and Prince Andrew…. From the speech came the infamous phrase used by the Queen to describe the year…. “annus horribilis”….

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Image via You Tube

Her Majesty sued The Sun and was awarded £200,000 in damages – which was immediately donated to charity…. In the following years certain changes were made surrounding the annual Christmas Queen’s Speech…. The venue was changed from Sandringham to Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace – and the media received no information as to the speech contents until late on Christmas Eve…. In 1997 the BBC’s monopoly to televising the speech was ended by Buckingham Palace – and became shared on a yearly rotating basis with ITV…. Some believe it was a snub to the BBC – over their interview with Princess Diana in 1995…. Nowadays the Queen’s Speech can even be viewed live on social media….