Independence Christening Ceremony's Sweet Moments

May 1, 2008
A farmer's wife from Derbyshire in England became the star of the show when she named Royal Caribbean International's new ship Independence of the Seas in Southampton yesterday.

Elizabeth Hill was chosen from 1,700 applicants for the job of godmother to the 160,000-ton, 4,375-passenger vessel, the third and last in a series of "world's biggest cruise ship" to be launched by the line.

Unusually the ceremony was held in the theatre. "You may have noticed we are inside," chairman and chief executive officer Richard Fain joked as we arrived at the ceremony's Champagne moment.

"We are here in England, after all, and we wanted to demonstrate that we are familiar with the idiosyncrasies of your climate." It was a good decision as it had been pouring with rain for most of that April day.

There were more things laid on to give the event a U.K. flavour (Independence will be sailing from Southampton to the Mediterranean for the rest of the summer). Such as? A Scottish drummer played as the VIP's took their seats at the front along with a Highland band complete with bagpipes. And there was some superb Irish dancing. The geographic representation then widened a bit as former Royal Caribbean singer Kerry Ellis sang the Louis Armstrong's hit "What a Wonderful World" and the British national anthem -- we also had the national anthems of Norway and the US -- and then we were on to the main event.

"Historically we have gone for celebrities and royalty to name ships; this time we wanted an unsung hero," Richard Fain said, revealing they had had 1,700 nominations for the role of godmother within three weeks of launching the search in the U.K., done in partnership with Olympic Gold medallist Sir Steve Redgrave's charity fund set up to help young people.

Editor's Note: Royal Caribbean has incorporated the heroic godmother concept in U.S. launchings such as Freedom of the Seas; that ship was christened by Louise Calder, who had provided more than 400 children with special needs with foster care.

Elizabeth Hill was nominated by her daughter Alicia, who coincidentally was having her 13th birthday while mum was doing her godmother bit. Mum apparently got to the last six before she even knew she had been nominated. "I hope she wins so she can go on a cruise and actually have a holiday," Alicia told the judges then. That's a certainty, now, as a free cruise is part of the prize.

So why did she win? It's all to do with the Gamelea Countryside Training Trust she set up in 1999 on her husband's farm to help young people and adults with physical and learning disabilities. They come to the farm and learn horticultural, art and pottery, how to look after animals, grow vegetables and a host of other skills.

By the time Fain had finished his introduction, there was barely a dry eye in the house. Then Elizabeth took the microphone.

“It's like a dream. Ordinary people like me don't do this. I'd like to thank my husband -- it is his farm, after all, my family, my daughter. This is beginning to sound like an Oscar's speech, isn't it? It's an honour and privilege to be godmother to this wonderful ship.”

And with that, a podium appeared from the stage, the hull of the ship came up on the backdrop and Elizabeth pressed the button. There was a huge explosion that fooled us all for a moment. But no. The bottle hadn't broken.

Fast forward to the ABBA lookalikes show in the theatre that evening and cruise director Ken Rush showed a replay, desperate to prove that it cracked first time around and smashed the second time.

The second time? I didn't know you had two shots at good luck, but hey, maybe it's time to start a new tradition?

--by Jane Archer, Cruise Critic contributor