On This Day: The Queen launches the QE2 cruise liner

Julian Gavaghan
On This Day: The Queen launches the QE2 cruise liner

SEPTEMBER 20, 1967: The Queen launched the Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise liner on this day in 1967 – and revealed for the first time that the iconic ship was to be named after her.

A British Pathé newsreel shows thousands cheering at Clydebank as the monarch disclosed the secret identity of the ship that until that point was only known as the Q4.

The customary champagne bottle was then broken over the bow as the Cunard liner was sent sliding stern-first down the slipway at the John Brown Shipyard.

The happy moment unleashed another roar from the Scottish crowd followed by the 963ft yacht clanking its way into the River Clyde as the ship’s horn was blown.

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Fighter jets from the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm then flew past in a diamond formation as the vessel began a four-decade journey that capture the nation’s heart.

The luxury ship was considered to be the last of the great transatlantic ocean liners - being built despite the huge rise in passenger jet travel witnessed during the 1960s.

The QE2 – as she is typically called - was also the last oil-fired passenger steamship to cross the Atlantic in scheduled liner service.

She replaced the larger and costlier Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary, which were named after the current monarch’s mother and grandmother respectively.

The £50million vessel, which was capable of travelling at 28.5 knots (32.8mph), mainly sailed between Southampton and New York.

The ship, which originally featured three classes of services, maintained both the glamour and rigid social restrictions of an older world.

First-class passengers, including Hollywood A-listers Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, dressed for dinner in formal gowns and tuxedos.

And they were entertained by top-name show-biz stars such as Shirley Bassey and Des O’Connor.

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Meanwhile, the less affluent were blocked by stairways and lifts from entering first-class spaces even for a peek.

But the QE2, which later had a diesel engine fitted in 1987, wasn’t simply a passenger vessel that touched the lives of only the rich and famous.

During the Falklands War in 1982 she carried 3,000 soldiers to the British islands after they were invaded by Argentina.

The hull was repainted battleship grey and helicopter pads were installed along with an extensive refit to accommodate so many soldiers.

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Also, more than 650 Cunard employees volunteered to help look after members of the Fifth Infantry Brigade during the voyage.

But her days became numbered after Cunard built a new cruise liner, the Queen Mary 2, in 2004.

After 39 years – in which she carried 2.5million passengers, completed 806 Atlantic crossings and travelled six million miles – she was sold to a firm from Dubai.

But future of the once proud ocean liner, which has been docked at Port Rashid since 2009, is now in limbo.

Reports about her future range from apparent plans to use the vessel as a hotel on land in Dubai to selling for scrapping in China.