(1:36 p.m. EST) -- P&O has named the woman who will christen its newest ship -- the 115,000-ton, 3,080-passenger Azura -- on April 10, 2010. The honours go to Darcey Bussell, a former Royal Ballet principal dancer and much-loved ballerina.
Bussell danced with the Royal Ballet from 1988 to 2007 and was the youngest dancer to become a Principal with the company. She has won numerous dance awards and was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2006. She now lives in Sydney, Australia, with her husband and two daughters, but is due back in the U.K. shortly as a guest judge for the final stages of the BBC's "Strictly Come Dancing."
"Darcey Bussell epitomises glamour, sophistication and elegance, all qualities we have strived to achieve in Azura," said Carol Marlow, P&O Cruises managing director, in a press release. "Azura will offer the service, quality and entertainment associated with cruising at its very best and as dance will play a key part in this, it is entirely fitting for Darcey to give Azura the best possible start in life."
Bussell isn't the first high-profile showbiz personality to name a P&O ship; British icon Dame Helen Mirren was chosen to name the line's last new vessel, Ventura, assisted by a crack squad of Royal Marine commandos.
Exact details of Azura's naming ceremony have yet to be revealed. We do know that it will take place on Azura's top deck, while the ship is docked in Southampton, and that more than 1,200 people will be invited to attend. Among these will be the winners of P&O's own dance talent contest, heats of which are being held on 12 cruises across the fleet throughout this winter. The winning couple will perform at the ceremony, no doubt more than a little nervous to be dancing in front of one of the most successful and popular principal ballerinas of the present day. The ceremony will also benefit three charities chosen by Bussell: the Sydney Dance Company, the Royal Ballet School and the Prince's Rainforest Project.
Azura's highlights include a dance floor in the ship's atrium, 10 restaurants including an Indian restaurant by Michelin-rated chef Atul Kochhar, the line's first spa cabins and single cabins, and an outdoor movie screen that will show British film classics. Its maiden voyage is a 16-night cruise to the Mediterranean, with calls in Malaga, Corfu, Dubrovnik and Venice.
--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor
VIDEO: Darcey Bussell's Thoughts on Being P&O Azura's Godmother
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P&O Cruises Announces Azura's Godmother
November 22, 2009