The Royal Yacht Britannia is central to both the opening and closing of Season 5 of The Crown. In the first episode, Imelda Staunton’s Queen Elizabeth uses the ship as a metaphor, calling it “a floating, seagoing version of me.
” Therein lies the rub with her imaginary sea creature: It needs expensive maintenance on the order of several million dollars.
She approaches the character of John Major, the British prime minister, played by Jonny Lee Miller, and inquires if the government could possibly help cover the cost.
Given the potential backlash they would face from the public if such an extravagant project was approved, he asks if the royal family might front the money.
Spoilers for the season finale follow, but in it, Tony Blair and Queen Elizabeth finally decide to decommission the yacht after Prince Charles’s trip to Hong Kong.
Many of the events and situations depicted in The Crown are based on true stories. What exactly happened to the Royal Yacht Britannia, and how much of a political stir did it make?
Beginning at the beginning, in 1952, King George VI placed the initial order for the royal yacht that would become the Britannia. Given that the previous official boat had once belonged to Queen Victoria and was rarely used, this was an exciting undertaking.
George decided that the Royal Yacht Britannia should be a luxurious ship that could also serve as a hospital ship in the event of another war.
Since champagne was still considered too extravagant in the postwar era, the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom used a bottle of wine to christen the ship in 1953. Took her maiden voyage in ’54.
What Happened To Britannia?
Britannia, also known as Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia, was launched on April 16, 1953, by Queen Elizabeth II. She was constructed by the Scottish shipbuilding firm John Brown & Company Ltd in Clydebank, Dunbartonshire.
Her maiden voyage began in April 1954 from Portsmouth to Grand Harbour, Malta, with Prince Charles (Dominic West) and Princess Anne (Claudia Harrison) on board.
On May 1, 1954, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip (Jonathan Pryce) made their maiden voyage on the royal yacht Britannia to the Libyan port of Tobruk.
British ocean liner Britannia returned to port on December 11, 1997, after a total of 43 years at sea. She may have sailed more than a million nautical miles overall, making multiple trips to every ocean on the planet.
As of now, Britannia is always docked at Edinburgh, Scotland’s Ocean Terminal, Leith. Both the magnificent yacht and the racing yacht Bloodhound, which belonged to the Queen and Prince Philip, are open to the public for tours.
During Season 5 of The Crown, the monarch and her consort are seen lobbying Conservative Prime Minister John Major to fund a £14.745 million renovation.
Spending public money on the yacht during a global recession, as Major warns the Queen and Philip in the premiere, would not sit well with the general public and have negative consequences for the monarchy and the government.
Historical Milestones For The United Kingdom
When war broke out, Britannia was supposed to serve as a hospital ship, but it never had to. It was also planned that the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh would use Britannia as a safe haven in the event of a nuclear war.
It had a capacity for 250 passengers and was staffed by 21 officers and 250 sailors from the Royal Navy’s Royal Yachtsmen.
After its inaugural voyage, Britannia sailed the Saint Lawrence Seaway en route to Chicago, where she docked. This made Queen Elizabeth II the first British monarch to visit Chicago, Illinois, in the United States.
When Prince Charles and Princess Diana went on their honeymoon in 1981, they sailed around the Mediterranean and the Greek Islands aboard the Brittania. Notable guests at the Britannia have included Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton, among others.
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Over a thousand people were evacuated from Aden, Yemen, on January 17, 1986, with the yacht’s drawing rooms serving as temporary dormitories.
Where Is The Royal Yacht Britannia Now?
According to the News Co Uk website, in 1994 the Conservative Government formally withdrew the yacht, citing costs of over £17 million to merely extend the yacht’s existence for five more years.
The Conservative administration pledged to recommission the boat if it was returned to power in 1997, right before a general election.
Labour won the election, but that didn’t mean the Britannia would be brought back into service. The yacht in Port Leith, Edinburgh, is a reliable tourist attraction, serving as many as 300,000 customers annually.
Leaving on a Somber Note. Due to the high price tag, the government of John Major announced on June 23, 1994, that HMY Britannia would not be receiving a refurbishment.
The final Royal Yacht was announced for decommissioning after a long and successful career spanning 44 years and more than 1 million miles around the globe.
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