The former private secretary of the queen, Lord Charteris, was once asked the secret of her indefatigability and replied memorably: "The queen is as strong as a yak."
She continued: "She sleeps well, has very good legs and can endure for a long time." He could also have added that, during most of his reign, he also had his yacht.
Rear Admiral Sir Robert Woodard remembers well the day of 1990 when he went to see the Queen when she was named Officer of the Royal Yachts Flag, since the captain of Britannia was known. Would it be useful, he asked, if he had to offer his own thoughts on the role of the yacht? He said yes.
"People who know us know that Buckingham Palace is the office," he began, "Windsor Castle is on weekends and something occasional of the State, and Sandringham and Balmoral are on vacation." Well, they are not what I would call vacation. For example, there are 90 people who come to stay with us at Balmoral this summer.
"The only holidays I receive every year are from Portsmouth to Aberdeen on the Royal Yacht, when I can get up when I want and use what I like and be completely free, and if you as a Royal Yacht flag officer can produce the Royal Yacht for my summer vacation, that's all I ask.
The Queen (photographed on board in 1971) once described a trip at the Royal Yacht Britannia from Portsmouth to Aberdeen as her "only party of the year"
For the person who undoubtedly had the most abnormal position in British national life, the yacht offered the only thing the queen longed for: a point of normalcy. Britannia would be a place for fun, mischief and, in a world governed by ritual and tradition, by the momentum of the moment.
Diplomat Sir Roger du Boulay and his wife joined the yacht for a week in 1974 during his years as Resident Commissioner of the New Hebrides. They were surprised one night when the dinner was followed by the entertainment of the ship, "an elaborate pantomime", in front of the royal family and the crew, with the queen acting as costume assistant.
"It implied that the squire took the part of a Polynesian beauty," says du Boulay. "I remember him sitting on the floor and I remember seeing the Queen kneeling on the floor, naked to the waist and she was putting on a bra, it was an extraordinary sight!
ON BOARD, informality would go a long way, but it had its limits. John Gorton, former Prime Minister of Australia, later recalled a barbecue on the beach with the family during a tour of Australia in 1970, when the royal holiday decided it was time to swim.
"Princess Anne was thrown and then Prince Philip," he said. "I was sitting next to Her Majesty and I was about to throw her out but I looked at her and something about the way she looked at me told me maybe I should not." In the end, the Queen was the only one who went dry.
As a ship and a royal residence, Britannia was unique. There was no other palace in which the royal family sat their guests in cheap wicker chairs (bought by Prince Philip during a stopover in Hong Kong in 1959), just as there was no other Royal Navy ship whose orders were They will deliver in complete silence. by hand.
The yacht was certainly not a new idea, it would not even be a new design. To save time, the Admiralty copied the existing designs for a pair of North Seaferries, while adding a more majestic bow and stern. Fundamentally, the draft (the depth below the waterline) was reduced to allow entry to the remote ports of the Commonwealth.
Undoubtedly the favorite travel method for the Queen and her family, Britannia was the last in a line of royal yachts dating from the reign of King Charles II and would still show the world how to make an entry and exit at the height of the threshold of the 21st century.
On April 8, 1953, two months before her Coronation, the Queen was in Scotland for the launch. The name would remain a secret kept until the moment the Queen announced it.
How he masked a galloping fury
During a royal cruise back from Finland in May 1976, when Britannia passed from the Baltic through the Kiel Canal, the crew was asked to alert the Queen when the yacht passed by a well-known stallion.
The request went astray and the Queen missed her horses. His silent fury was obvious the moment she prepared for dinner. A cold silence prevailed when the present officers took their seats nervously, after which they were treated with a fascinating display of real anger management.
The Queen suddenly put her napkin over her face. Then he combed it slowly to reveal a transformed monarch, smiling warmly and changing the subject. "It was like a magic trick," says one of the guests. "Suddenly, here was this new smiling Queen, it was quite extraordinary, and Prince Philip did the same.
It was not simply a revealing illustration of the self-control of iron, but it also provides an idea of how the Queen feels that life is an endless performance, even in the territory of a close confidant. Although pardoned, the crew of Britannia would never make that mistake again.
A crowd of 30,000 – including 7,000 children and 300 striking steel plaintiffs, who had voted to abandon their three-week strike for an hour to see the Queen launch their work – had gathered inside the John Brown shipyard. Dressed in black, since the court was still in mourning for the recent death of Queen Mary, the Queen departed from the usual script of launching boats. & # 39; Name this Britannia boat. I wish success to her and to all who navigate in her.
No one is completely sure why he did not invoke the Almighty with the usual words: "May God bless all who sail in it." Perhaps the Queen felt it was inappropriate to exhort God to bless herself.
Although the Admiralty was not enthusiastic about a name that, in his opinion, was too Anglocentric and not sufficiently mundane, Britannia was the preferred choice of the Queen and the Duke. It was also very popular with the public.
However, despite being released, Britannia was not ready for the start of the great Coronation post tour in which the royal couple circumnavigated the world through the South Seas, New Zealand and Australia.
Most of that tour was spent on board a rented cargo ship, the Gothic. Then, in April 1954, Britannia arrived at the Libyan port of Tobruk, where the Queen and Prince Philip were boarded for the first time, joining the five-year-old Prince Charles and the three-year-old Princess Anne who had sailed from Portsmouth to accompany his parents in the last stages of the tour.
Such was the formality of international diplomacy that the Queen and the Duke were expected to have tea with King Idris of Libya before meeting the children they had not seen in months. It's not that the young passengers were overly concerned.
Two Royal Yachtsmen received additional duties as lifeguards, a role known in all the Britannia years as "Sea Daddy". or & # 39; Be Nanny & # 39; The young passengers were having the best time of their lives.
"They kept us very busy," recalls Princess Anne. "There were many things to do, all kinds of places to go and things to keep clean, scrubbing and polishing."
You may remember having enjoyed a pedal car with the shape of the yacht and a rubber pool, while, even now, the Prince of Wales can still remember the smell when the rum ration was issued. He was also mesmerized when he saw all the rusted remains of the war that still littered the port of Tobruk, after some of the worst fighting in the North African campaign. The war was still fresh in so many minds.
The day after the Queen boarded that first trip, a service was held on Sunday morning at the Royal Dining Room, led by the ship's captain, Vice Admiral Conolly Abel Smith.
He recited the traditional prayer for the Queen, the Queen Mother, the Duke, Prince Charles and "the whole royal family", at the end of which a small voice broke the silence.
"He has not prayed for me, Mom," said Princess Anne, and the whole congregation laughed. Here was a moment that would set the tone for the next million miles of Britannia.
At the end of that tour, Britannia returned to Portsmouth to make initial modifications. Throughout the yacht's years at sea, it would serve as a secure palace platform, cum-embassy-cum-trade. Purely in commercial terms, it would pay its costs many times. But beyond that, Britannia was the closest the Queen had had to her "own" house. All other palaces and castles were inherited. All had been furnished and equipped by their predecessors for more than 40 reigns.
However, with Britannia, the Queen and the Duke could experiment with their own ideas and choose everything from the luminaries to the carpet with the help of the architect and interior designer, Sir Hugh Casson.
& # 39; The Queen is a meticulous observer with very strong points of view; it was not about showing her a room and she said: "Okay, that will do," he wrote later.
"He had definite views on everything, from the handles on the doors to the shape of the lampshades."
The queen in the engine room of the Royal Yacht Britannia in 1994, guarded by the Duke of Edinburgh and Admiral Bob Woodward, to mark the millionth mile of the ship in the same engine.
While the Queen asked for a light and cozy atmosphere in her living room, the Duke wanted it to be more of a studio, with dark wood, a desk with a leather cover, plenty of room for books and a showcase with a model of his first command, HMS Magpie.
They would also choose different designs for their connecting rooms in the Shelter Deck above. The Queen preferred a bright floral decoration and embroidered bedding, while the Duke had chosen a darker finish.
He had also given specific instructions about his own clothes. There should not be lace edges on anything. The following year, the yacht embarked on a summer cruise to Scotland across the west coast.
Along the way, there would be picnics in the dunes of Wales where a local harbor captain, who helped take the children ashore, froze when he learned that he was taking the future Prince of Wales to Welsh soil for the first time.
However, the Prince could test the patience of some of the crew members. On the way to the Isle of Man, he kicked his soccer ball off to the side and asked his "Night Dad" & # 39; if I could get it back
The request was passed to Vice Admiral Abel Smith, who agreed that it could be a useful navigation exercise to lower a boat to retrieve it. The Prince considered it a great diversion and, shortly after, blatantly kicked his ball on his side once more. He never saw him again.
It was a challenge for anyone outside to fall into this well-oiled machine, with all its quirks and unusual rules, no matter how high you are. Sir Robert Woodard remembers taking command in 1990. By then, he had flown planes and helicopters from aircraft carriers, commanded a frigate and a destroyer and had taught both the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York on the way.
He directed the submarine base of the Royal Navy in Faslane when he received a call about the work of Britannia (he was dressed as Santa at that time). But even he had to adapt. "When you are in command of a warship, you fall into the company of the ship and say," This is the way this ship is going to be executed. "If you boarded the Royal Yacht, it really was your home. its roads pretty fast.
The officers were also not averse to some jokes. Sir Robert's predecessor had left him strict instructions that the Queen insisted that her Flag Officer wear her best uniform at all times on family cruises. "Complete garbage," Sir Robert laughs. They were Hawaiian shirts and sandals!
The Queen had a lot of fun the first time that Woodard appeared in full uniform. & # 39; Wool? . . . "She scoffed at Sir Robert." Over the eyes? … Being dragged?
Entertainment was a key part of life on the yacht, especially when the royal family was on board. There may be deck tennis or "horse racing", which includes model horses that advance through the deck according to the giant dice die.
A bat in the royal bedroom
The official story of Britannia records the night during a 1959 tour when one of the officers on duty, Captain North Dalrymple-Hamilton, received an agitated call from the dressing room of the Queen, Margaret & # 39; Bobo & # 39; MacDonald.
Everyone knew that Bobo, a formidable Scotsman, could not cross. So one can only imagine the reaction of the Britannia guard officer when "Miss MacDonald" He got on the phone with the words & # 39; There is a bat in the Queen's bedroom and His Majesty does not like bats. & # 39;
There was not a moment to lose. The Queen was at a dinner on land, but soon she would return.
With an official partner and a pair of tennis racquets, the enterprising Dalrymple-Hamilton managed to "knock down" the unfortunate bat with a few minutes to spare, only to see another flutter in the Royal Hall.
The films were always popular, although a bit stressful for the young officer designated as a ship projectionist. Commodore Anthony Morrow, who had three spells in Britannia and was his last captain, first arrived as a junior officer in 1965.
He has vivid memories of the screening of the first James Bond movie, Dr. No, in front of the queen and the duke, plus a representative sample of the ship's company, made by vote. Fortunately, the selection of films was not his task. That was a job for the Queen & # 39; s Equerry, with the proviso that there should not be "too many twisted sheets".
Each trip would include a concert party like the one Sir Roger du Boulay had seen on the way to Fiji. The different sections of the ship would get into a big problem with their costumes and routines.
"That was naval life at that time on all ships," says Anthony Morrow. "We did not have all modern things like iPads, we had to improvise and provide entertainment to keep the troops happy."
All guests were expected to participate, including real ones. During a visit to New Zealand, a bare-chested Earl Mountbatten from Burma made his own version of the Maori haka.
The veterans of Britannia can even remember an occasion when the Queen was reluctantly persuaded to appear in a sketch like herself, at the request of the medical officer.
As she later commented: "The surgeon's commander made me do that, if he does it again, he will not be a surgeon commander much longer.
One of the most memorable routines during the last years of Britannia was an exhibition of Irish dances, while the non-commissioned officers tried a version of the musical Riverdance, with rubber boots.
Former deputy Frank Judd (now Lord Judd) was surprised to end up as part of the entertainment during his time as foreign minister & # 39; in attendance & # 39; during part of the Queen's tour in 1979 through the Persian Gulf.
"There was a lot of fun," he recalls. "They said," Frank, you are part of the family now and it is customary on the ship to offer entertainment and we prefer that you participate. "I have a prized photograph of me directing the chorus with Prince Philip and the Queen there.
Remember to have guided your group, including the queen's press secretary, in a costume variant of a former number of the Forces, with a choir of "Bum, titty, boom, titty, boom". As far as he can remember, he fell well. & # 39; The message we received was that the queen enjoyed it. & # 39;
The whole royal family has special memories of Britannia. All participated in the last farewell tour of the Yacht by the United Kingdom in 1997.
And everything was there, with a notable exception, for the immaculate but painful ceremony that marked its dismantling in Portsmouth on December 11, 1997. The Queen Mother chose not to participate. This was where the Queen had enjoyed so many family moments, not only with her own family, but with her "family of nations."
In addition, their children had grown up with the Yachtsmen, a band of brothers who had spent more time connected to a single ship than the crew of any other ship of the Royal Navy.
As a naval wife, mother and daughter, it is not surprising that the Queen was upset and became famous as the television cameras moved.
In a world that increasingly appreciates the value of "soft power" -the triumph of influence over coercion-many still find it disconcerting that a leading maritime nation like Britain could have eliminated such a valuable asset as the Royal Yacht.
HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh aboard HMY Britannia in March 1972
But, ultimately, the disappearance of Britannia was due to a bad moment and political incompetence.
A substantial overhaul was required in the mid-1990s. Shortly before the 1997 elections, the Conservative government announced that it would build a new yacht with a budget of £ 60 million.
But it had not followed a political golden rule, that the big companies that involve the Crown require an agreement between the parties.
The New Labor of Tony Blair was not consulted and duly opposed the idea, which thus became an electoral issue. Not in vain, when elected a few months later, the Labor government refused to order a new yacht.
Blair would confess later that it had been a mistake to get rid of Britannia in the first place and that she would have retained it if she had been chosen before.
The Royal Family decidedly avoided involvement in what was clearly a political issue and, therefore, was strictly prohibited. Hence the brevity of the Prince of Wales's sad speech to the company of the ship on the night of Britannia's retreat, the shortest speech after the dinner of his life.
"I just want to arrive blindly, madly drunk," he declared and sat down again, with thunderous applause. His audience knew exactly how he felt.
Adapted from Queen Of The World by Robert Hardman, (Century, £ 25). © Robert Hardman 2018.
To order a copy for £ 20 (offer valid until September 20, 2018, free p & p), visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640.