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Southport Reporter® your news and information from all over Merseyside.

Date:- 10 September 2007

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QE2 at the new Cruise Liner Terminal Opening

WHAT a contrast: Last week the Clipper race began in bright sunshine, yet Friday, 21 September 2007, began with leaden skies and walls of water, when the QE2 arrived for her special visit. She had arrived around 5am and, for this historic visit, she was proudly flying the flag of the White Star Line, commemorating this precursor of Cunard.  It is impossible to quell the excitement that she stirs in the soul. Always welcome in this port, she is such a special ship that she captures the hearts of many, especially those who have sailed on her. Nothing can douse the treasured memories of the exhilaration experienced, when on a previous visit, she entered in sunshine with a retinue of attendant craft, including the fire boat spraying rainbows ahead of her. Pride swelled the hearts of Merseysiders as she took up her position opposite the Three Graces.

In the words of one American visitor, "What a city!  What a welcome!" It was unfortunate that tide and weather denied the passengers this experience on this occasion, but there was still much to anticipate. Let us hope these visitors have gone away with similar feelings about our city.

Cunard and its fleet have played a very significant role in the life of this city so it is fitting that the QE2, on her 40th birthday and in Liverpool’s 800th anniversary year, should be a key figure in this new chapter of our history. She was chosen to be the official vessel when the new cruise liner terminal was formally opened, although both the US liner Voyager of the Seven Seas and Deutschland had used the pontoon in the previous weeks. This new terminal, which has cost £19 million will, once more, allow the great ships access to the shore without the use of tenders, and should prove a big attraction to cruise companies.

During the build up to the ceremony as invited guests, media and some of QE2’s passengers assembled in the new well appointed terminal building, entertainment was provided by a lively and accomplished group, "the Travelling People". Distinguished guests included the Lord Lieutenant of Merseyside, the Lord Mayor, Lord Derby, the Leader of Liverpool City Council, the Deputy Minister for Culture and Tourism and the President and Managing Director of Cunard.  In his address the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Cllr. Paul Clark, reminded us of how appropriate this reopening was in this anniversary year. King John, speaking in 1207, when granting Liverpool her charter, had called this port "a free Borough on the sea". Over the centuries its trade too had ebbed and flowed, but the abiding image of Liverpool in its heyday had been of great liners with the Three Graces in the background. These liners had stopped about 30 years ago but, "Today another proud chapter begins". He described the new terminal as, "the best birthday present of all for the city", enabling us, in our year as Capital Of Culture, to welcome their return.

CLLR. Warren Bradley, Leader of Liverpool City Council described it as a proud and exciting day for the City which is undergoing so many major transformations but nothing so captures the imagination as this cruise liner terminal which is so vital a part of its regeneration. It will be a showcase for all the magnificent work and will bring back the passengers. He said that many cruise operators had indicated that they now wished to come.

All this had come about by people working together and as a result of new funding in particular from The North West Development Agency and European Objectives 1. The participation of Cunard and QE2 made it even more special. It had been decided that the new bridge linking the terminal to existing facilities was to be named Cunard Way and he presented Cunard’s President with a street sign so marked. Carol Martin, on receiving this token spoke of the historic connections between Liverpool and Cunard, which had begun in this city in 1839 and continuing with the Cunard Building when became the centre of the Three Graces in 1910. Now the naming of Cunard Way reinforced that link. She added that the QE2 had given a sigh of relief on entering Liverpool; she had come to her spiritual home. Carol Martin then presented Cunard’s gift to the city, a framed photograph of QE2.

Steven Broomhead, of the NorthWest Development Agency, reiterated what a proud moment it was for Liverpool and indeed for Britain that this important maritime gateway had been restored. He confirmed that 16 booking had already been made.

The Deputy Regional Officer for the Northwest explained that the minister Margaret Hodge was unavoidably detained. He told of the investments that had been made, adding:- “Big ventures were more than impressive statistics.“ He also spoke of stirring in the tourist trade and resurgence in the popularity of cruising. Quoting, ”There is a time in the affairs of men, Which taken at a flood, leads on to fortune.” he hoped this would be true of this city. Partnership is not easy but delivers good results. He was proud not just as a government representative but as a citizen of the city. He was well aware of the challenges and thanked all for their "stickability". What had been achieved had brought with it a "priceless commodity Civic Pride."

The ceremony concluded when HRH the Duke of Kent unveiled the plaque commemorating the event.

Invited guests then made their way on board QE2 for further celebrations. At 4pm a concert was held in the Anglican Cathedral, before an invited audience comprising special guests and most of the passengers. Featuring in this concert were soprano Lesley Garrett, Tenor Nicky Spence, Conductor Anthony Inglis, The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and the Band of the Scots Guards.

 Speakers included Carol Thatcher, Author of the history of the QE2 and Sir Jimmy Saville, a frequent traveller on the liner.

Comments received from returning passengers indicated that all had appreciated this concert. "Splendid" and “Brilliant, but very emotional. There was hardly a dry eye in the place” were typical.  The dire weather had resulted in the rapid return of intrepid passengers who had decided to view the city centre. Let us hope that the journey to the cathedral afforded a better impression

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...continued...  for those from outside our region than the building site around Pier Head.

Many of those we spoke to however hailed from Merseyside and the North West. All were pleased with their experiences on board. Single supplements on successor ships however, did cause indignation. It was hoped that this was something the company might review. Comments about Liverpool, from those from further afield, were favourable. One lady was enthusiastic about the wonderful architecture which she declared was better than that of London.

Another remarked upon how helpful the people of Liverpool had been. It is pleasant to see our city and its citizens seen in such a good light.

Meanwhile, the weather steadily improved and folk were in party mood at the Pier Head. Many sort a glimpse of QE2 from the river and ferries were full to the gunnels. Unfortunately this resulted in one overcrowded ferry being held at the quayside until 100 passengers were harangued or cajoled into getting off. Fortunately good humour prevailed otherwise a nasty situation may have arisen. Everyone hoped that the organisers learn a lesson for future events, as this did not reflect well on the city at all. Despite this, the trip across proved worth while in the end, as the ferry captain took his vessel alongside QE2 and paused to allow photos and a good gawp for all.

Comments included a tinge of sadness that QE2 is going and many indignant remarks that she should have been brought here. "If Dubai could see a future for her as a hotel, why couldn’t we?" People were on the whole hopeful about a return of the great cruisers.

To round of the visit, at 10.45pm there was an impressive firework display from a barge in mid river. Given as a Farewell to QE2 but enjoyed by many on both banks of the Mersey.

Although widely purported to be her final visit several of the passengers had suggested that she lists Liverpool as a port of call on at least one of her final cruises.  We hope to check this out later.

If not, "Farewell QE2, you will be remembered with affection no matter how many liners visit in the future. You were unique!".

Click here to see lots more photographs o the opening and the fireworks.  You can also hear our audio coverage.
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