Pets on board
Famous faces on the high seas
Renowned for being a reliable and safe way to travel, Cunard regularly welcomes high-profile guests on board. Here, historian Chris Frame offers a behind-the-scenes look at some of the famous passengers in the ocean liner’s history.
Ever since RMS Britannia first crossed the Atlantic in 1840 - propelling Sir Samuel Cunard into the spotlight - famous figures have become a regular sight on Cunard's ships. Charles Dickens was among the cruise line's early passengers, and such was the novelty of a Transatlantic steamship service that Sir Samuel received over 1000 dinner invitations following Britannia's maiden voyage.
As Chris explains: “Cunard Line created the first regularly-scheduled steamship link between the United Kingdom, Nova Scotia and the United States. This was a very big deal at the time. People were very excited to see the new steamships, and founder Sir Samuel Cunard became highly sought after. The line was safe, efficient and speedy, attracting the attention of all sorts of well-known people to Cunard.”
Cunard's Umbria and Etruria, introduced in 1884, were the largest, fastest and most elegant liners of their day. Etruria counted Winston Churchill as a passenger on several voyages. Churchill was well known for his preference to sail on Cunard’s Queens – particularly Queen Mary, while President Eisenhower journeyed to Europe on board Queen Elizabeth in 1951.
A royal connection
The first Royal to travel on board a Cunard ship was Prince Alfred, Queen Victoria’s second son, in 1861 when he travelled on SS Arabia. Since then, Cunard has enjoyed a close and enduring relationship with the British Royal Family.
“The Cunard link with royalty grew and strengthened over the years," says Chris. This included HM Queen Elizabeth (later known as The Queen Mother) launching the RMS Queen Elizabeth in 1938, with Princess Elizabeth, who was to become Queen Elizabeth II, at her side.
The Queen Mother stepped on board once again in 1946, again accompanied by Princess Elizabeth, and she even briefly took the wheel from Commodore Bisset (pictured).
In 1967, HM The Queen launched Queen Elizabeth 2 in Scotland, furthering the bond between Cunard and royalty. She even travelled on board the ship in 1990 – the first time a reigning monarch had sailed on board a passenger ship operating a commercial voyage.
Cunard wasn't just for queens: in 1987 HRH Princess Diana travelled on board Queen Elizabeth 2 on a short day trip.
One year later, HM The Queen Mother visited Queen Elizabeth 2 in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the launch of RMS Queen Elizabeth.
Pillars of society
Cunard's modern, yet classic, flagship Queen Mary 2 has similarly hosted many dignitaries and politicians over the years; people who have shaped the world.
“As the flagship of the Cunard fleet, and the largest ocean liner ever constructed, Queen Mary 2 has attracted many famous people since she entered service in 2004,” comments Chris. The ship was used as a hotel during the 2004 Athens Olympics, with George H. W. Bush, Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac all staying on board in Piraeus. Yet, it is her famous Transatlantic Crossing between Europe and America that continues to attract most celebrities to Queen Mary 2.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu travelled from Port Luis, Mauritius, to Cape Town, South Africa, on board Queen Mary 2 in 2010. This voyage was similar in significance to Queen Elizabeth 2’s 1998 passage between Durban and Cape Town, when Nelson Mandela sailed on board. In the ship's visitor book, he wrote: "Travelling on QE2 was an unforgettable honour and a pleasure.”
“Nelson Mandela’s comment sums up the Cunard experience really well. Despite the fame and success of the many politicians, celebrities and royalty who have sailed on Cunard ships, these well-known and famous people are just as excited as everyone else to be sailing on board a Cunard ship, and particularly a Cunard Queen.”Chris Frame, Historian
In addition to royals, world leaders and dignitaries, Cunard’s ships have also played host to acclaimed stars of the stage and screen. Notable celebrities who have travelled on board Queen Mary 2 include comedian John Cleese, and actors Carrie Fisher, Jane Seymour and Meryl Streep. Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Ed Sheeran are a few more of the iconic names from the entertainment industry to sail on board. Explore this long-established connection in the next instalment of our series commemorating our 180-year anniversary.