Golden moment for QM2’s designer

//Golden moment for QM2’s designer

Genesis of a Queen: It’s a talk that Dr Stephen Payne has delivered countless times since he designed Cunard’s flagship, Queen Mary 2. He must have given it to gatherings of schoolchildren and students, industrialists and Rotarians, around the UK and across the world.
Today, however, was very special. He was addressing 1,000 passengers on board the ship during the 214th Transatlantic crossing which has been chosen to mark its 10th anniversary.
Undeterred by a momentary microphone malfunction, he stood on the stage of the vessel’s magnificent Royal Court Theatre, beaming under the spotlights’ glare. It was, he revealed, the first time he had trod its boards since November 11, 2003, when he addressed a gathering of crew and contractors at the end of the ship’s sea trials.
No-one could have blamed him today if his chest puffed a little with pride at being the centre of attention on board his own creation.
By the end of his presentation, after 65 minutes of fascinating insights, his voice cracked with emotion and a tear welled in the corner of an eye as he paid tribute to “the greatest passenger ship in the world.”
Stephen Payne was just five years old on May 24, 1965, when he was first inspired to make a career of designing passenger ships. Coming home from primary school in Lewisham, south London, he watched Blue Peter presenter Valerie Singleton broadcasting from the RMS Queen Elizabeth in the English Channel.
Four years later, on a family holiday to the south coast, he saw the month-old QE2 berthed in Southampton. The excitement of touring its public rooms was matched only by the arrival of the SS United States on one of her last crossings.
Fast-forward to January 1972 and another Blue Peter show. This time Singleton introduced live coverage of the Queen Elizabeth, ablaze from stem to stern, sinking in Hong Kong harbour.
The following Christmas he received a Blue Peter annual with a four-page feature on the doomed ship, which concluded by saying the fire was “a sad moment for everybody that loves great ships. The Queen Elizabeth was the last of a great age – a superliner, and nothing like her will ever be built again.”
The young Payne was outraged, and wrote to Blue Peter to explain that he had set his sights on building a new superliner that would be bigger and better than Queen Elizabeth.
In due course, he received a reply from the editor, Biddy Baxter, thanking him for his letter, but gently advising him not to be too disappointed if his ideas did not come to fruition.
There was further disappointment for Stephen when the coveted Blue Peter badge that accompanied the letter was a humble blue one instead of the more noble gold.
Eventually, after leaving university with a degree in engineering and ship science, Payne got a job with Carnival Corporation. The American company which had bought Cunard handed him the task of working on plans for Project Queen Mary.
Chief Executive Micky Arison – inspired into taking on the project after seeing the excitement generated by the discovery of the wreck of Titanic and the subsequent film – warned him: “You’ll only get one chance, so you’d better get it right first time.”
After following the project from the very first sketches of $1 billion ship, through its construction at the Chantiers de l’Atlantique yard in France, to the moment Queen Mary 2 embarked on her maiden voyage, there was one more proud moment waiting for Payne.
Almost inevitably, there was a Blue Peter production crew on the ship in Southampton on January 12, 2004. Presenter Konnie Huq interviewed him about the building of the ship, and then presented him with the GOLD Blue Peter Badge he had first hoped to receive more than 30 years earlier.

By | 2017-06-15T15:59:27+00:00 14 May 2014|Cruise Ships|0 Comments

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John Honeywell is a travel writer specialising in cruise ships and cruise travel. Winner of CLIA UK's Contribution to Cruise award 2017.

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