Elizabeth Hill, Godmother of the Independence of the Seas toasting the ship
Aside from christening a ship godmothers are believed to bring good luck to a vessel, its crew and those who sail on her.
Even when Elizabeth isn’t on board a framed photograph of her attracts much attention from many of the 4,375 passengers and 1,360 crew.
“I’d never been on a cruise in my life until I became godmother and it is the most wonderful privilege,” says mother-of-two Elizabeth, 66, a retired teacher who lives in Buxton, Derbyshire, and is married to retired farmer Edward, 68.
“Last time I was on the ship I bumped into a crew member who told me, ‘I say good morning to your picture every day and it brings me good luck. One morning I forgot and I had big trouble that day!’”
As far back as ancient Egypt ships were ceremoniously blessed with everything from water to wine and sacrificial blood before making their maiden voyage. The Greeks and Romans did it too.
But the tradition of ship godmothers first emerged from the Royal Navy during the last century, superseding the days when only male royals or senior naval officers were allowed to sponsor ships.
Now a tradition that has also been adopted by the big cruise ship operators, Elizabeth is certainly in good company. The most famous godmother is the Queen, who christened Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 in January 2004.
Then there is Sophia Loren who is godmother to eight ships and Oscar-winning actress Dame Helen Mirren, who was named godmother of P&O’s Ventura in April 2008.
Dame Helen Mirren breaking champagne against Ventura before its maiden voyage
Meanwhile it famously took Dame Judi Dench three attempts to smash a bottle of champagne against Carnival Cruise Lines’ Carnival Legend in August 2002.
After soaking herself in the process she was affectionately dubbed “Dame Judi Drench”.
It is all thanks to Elizabeth’s daughter being off school poorly one day 10 years ago that she joined this godmother elite.
Then aged 12, Alicia, who is now studying music at university, was lying on the sofa in the living room when she saw a competition on daytime TV for someone to be a ship’s godmother.
“My office was in the barn next door so I kept popping in and out to check on her but had no idea that she had entered this competition,” recalls Elizabeth.
“Sir Steve Redgrave had teamed up with Royal Caribbean and rather than look for a celeb to launch their new ship they thought that they would find someone who had done something extraordinary for their community instead.”
Elizabeth adds: “Unbeknown to me Alicia immediately went to the computer, wrote a little essay about me and sent it off. The first I knew was when I got a call from Royal Caribbean to say that I had been shortlisted. I almost put the phone down because it sounded like a hoax. Then the caller asked if I’d got a daughter called Alicia.”
Out of 1,700 entries Elizabeth caught the judges’ eyes thanks to a charity she set up on the family farm in the late 1990s for young people with learning disabilities or who had been excluded from school.
Within a couple of days of that call from Royal Caribbean I was boarding a private jet at Stansted airport with five other finalists and we were flown to Finland to see the ship being finished
“We offered vocational training and fun for young people who were struggling, giving them skills for employment,” explains Elizabeth. “At our peak I had 20 staff running the charity with me.
“We didn’t just have them looking after animals and plants but there were workshops to teach them different skills such as woodwork, metalwork and mechanics.”
Although Elizabeth had reluctantly to disband the charity in 2013 because Edward was suffering with Parkinson’s disease she now runs an Age UK group that helps older people to combat loneliness and she also volunteers for another charity which helps young families in need.
She also heads up her local Women’s Institute. “Within a couple of days of that call from Royal Caribbean I was boarding a private jet at Stansted airport with five other finalists and we were flown to Finland to see the ship being finished,”
Elizabeth Hill was named Godmother of Independence of the Seas after nomination from daughter Alicia
Elizabeth adds. “It was a whirlwind. I just couldn’t believe how magnificent the ship was.” After being announced as the ship’s godmother days later Elizabeth’s first duty was of course to christen the ship, which took place rather fittingly on Alicia’s 13th birthday in April 2008.
“I took about 16 family members to the ship’s launch in Southampton and Edward and I were put in the very grand presidential suite,” Elizabeth reminisces. “They had a big party in there while I was busy rehearsing for the ship’s naming ceremony.
“These days you don’t have to launch the bottle of champagne by hand as it’s all done electronically at the push of a button.
“There were various famous foot- ballers and celebrities on board including the BBC’s royal correspondent Jennie Bond. It was quite funny because lots of guests were asking me for my auto- graph while my family were going around getting autographs from other people.”
SHE continues: “I remember walking into one of the on-board lectures and the presenter stopped and said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, our godmother has just walked in so if you have any souvenirs from this trip I’d suggest you get her to sign them because they might be worth a bob or two in the future.’
Indeed Elizabeth will remain godmother of the ship for its life- time and will be back on board in May to sprinkle it with good luck ahead of its relaunch following a multi-million pound refit.
Although her role doesn’t have contractual obligations it does have perks aplenty, including a regular invitation for dinner at the captain’s table, glamorous parties on board and a free 10-day cruise every year.
“We’ve been to the Mediterranean, the Canaries and also Scandinavia but until we retired from farming five years ago we weren’t able to go every year because we couldn’t just leave our sheep and cattle,” explains Elizabeth, who has a blog charting her experiences called Cruise Like A Godmother.
Judi Dench Launches Cruise ship Carnival Legend
“I take it upon myself to be an ambassador for the ship. It is such a privilege and I’m treated like royalty with a wonderful cabin and a fabulous table for dinner every night. I’ve invited passengers back to my suite for afternoon tea and I give talks at the WI and other groups about my experience of being a ship’s godmother.
“The last time I was on board I was asked to go to a cocktail party to honour passengers who had done several cruises with Royal Caribbean, including a British lady who had been on an incredible 300 of them.”
To mark her 10th anniversary as godmother Elizabeth has her sights set on another cruise this summer and although the actual destination is yet to be decided, her travel- ling companion is set in stone.
“Alicia has already bagged her place with me,” laughs Elizabeth. “After all, as she likes to remind me, I wouldn’t be the ship’s godmother but for her.”