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Britannia rules the waves once more

Red, white and blue tickertape rained down on royals and commoners alike today as the Queen officially named P&O Cruises new ship Britannia.

Dressed in a Stewart Parvin peach-and-white tweed wool dress and matching coat, the Queen sent a bottle of Sussex-produced sparkling wine smashing against the side of the towering 141,000-ton vessel at Southampton.

Accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen then looked up as the tickertape descended and bandsman struck up Rule Britannia.

It was a poignant moment for the 88-year-old Queen for whom the name Britannia will always be synonymous with the royal yacht that saw service for more than four decades before its decommissioning in 1997.

In 1953, shortly before her Coronation, the young Queen had launched the royal yacht.

Fifty-two years on, in Southampton today, the Queen was at the birth of a new Britannia in the form of the 1,082ft-long new addition to the P&O Cruises fleet.

Before the royal couple had arrived, hundreds of guests had been entertained by bands, comedian Rob Brydon and a host of dancers including Stricktly Come Dancing's Natalie Lowe and Ian Waite.

After prayers from the Bishop of Southampton, the Right Reverend Jonathan Frost, the Queen, watched by top bosses of P%O Cruises and its parent company Carnival, named the ship in the quayside ceremony which took place in welcome warm sunshine.

On their tour of the Italian-built £473 million vessel, which can carry more than 3,600 passengers and 1,500 crew, the Queen and Philip laughed and joked with some of the celebrity chefs who have prepared meals for the new ship and some of whom will be taking part in on-board cookery classes.

Those present today included James Martin and Marco Pierre White.

On the bridge, the Queen met senior officers of the ship, including the ship's master Captain Paul Brown.

The new vessel has 15 passenger decks, 13 bars and 13 places to eat, a three-tier atrium, a 936-seater theatre, four swimming pools, and a multimillion-pound art collection.

There is also a spa, children's areas, a gym, a library, extensive shops and a sports arena.

Sailing from Southampton during the summer and operating from the Caribbean in the winter, Britannia will visit 57 ports in 31 countries in its first year, sailing more than 90,000 miles (144,841km).

Its maiden cruise, leaving Southampton on March 14, will be a 14-night western Mediterranean sailing - with port stops including Barcelona, Monte Carlo and Rome.

This will be the third P&O ship to be named Britannia. The first entered service in 1835 for P&O's predecessor company, the General Steam Navigation Co.

The second Britannia entered service in 1887 and was built in Greenock in Scotland.

In another link between the name Britannia and the Royal Family, Winston Churchill sailed on P&O's second Britannia in 1888. More than five decades later the great statesman was the first of the Queen's 12 prime ministers.

Unlike the other P&O Cruises vessels which are Bermudan-flagged, the new Britannia has been registered in Southampton and bears the name of the Hampshire city on its structure.

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