P&O Tabs Helen Mirren to Christen Ventura

February 4, 2008
Can't get the Queen to handle godmothering duties? P&O Cruises, which is launching its innovative new Ventura in April, will forego minor royals in its godmother designee -- and opt for the next best thing: Helen Mirren, England's fictional Queen.

Indeed, Mirren, who won a Best Actress Academy Award for her lead role in "The Queen," will preside at the ship's christening ceremony on Wednesday, April 16 in Southampton. On hand to help smash that bottle against Ventura's hull (if you recall the launch of Cunard's Queen Victoria was a tad marred when efforts by Godmother Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, to break the bottle failed) will be an insurance policy in the form of Royal Marine Commandos. "This is a rather unusual assignment for our lads," said Royal Marines display team commanding officer Lt. Colonel Steve Richards, "but well within their capabilities. They are very keen to assist Dame Helen with the launch -- they will not let her down."

For Mirren, this is her debut as a cruise ship godmother. The beloved actress, considered a British icon, has been invested with the title of Dame Commander of the British Empire (the equivalent of knighthood) for her accomplishments, which also include the longtime starring role as Jane Tennison in "Prime Suspect," along with key turns in "Calendar Girls" and "Gosford Park." Dame Helen made her acting debut with the National Youth Theater in 1965 by playing Cleopatra and moved on to the Royal Shakespeare Company.

The choice of Mirren, a godmothering virgin, is a fresh one and suits P&O's newest and largest superliner built for Britain. Said P&O Cruises' managing director Nigel Esdale: "Dame Helen Mirren embodies glamour, vitality and Britishness, which are all values that will be a feature of Ventura. We are honoured that she has agreed to become Godmother. The arrival of Ventura is set to usher in a new era for the British cruise industry and will accelerate the rate of progress of an already fast growing market."

The 115,000-ton, 3,100 passenger ship, aimed to offer something for every type of traveller, will feature a variety of new options. Prime among them include a range of dining choices from Marco Pierre White's The White Room to the family friendly Beach House, and entertainment selections that go from Tate Modern art lectures to a 14.5-metre Scalextric track for kids.

P&O's Ventura is currently under construction at Fincantieri's shipyard in Monfalcone, Italy. The ship will depart on its maiden voyage to the Western Mediterranean on April 18.