UK Politics

Prince Philip reflects on revival of SS Great Britain

Prince Philip
Image caption Prince Philip is "delighted" with the restoration of the SS Great Britain

It is 40 years since the SS Great Britain was brought back from the Falklands to Bristol in the hope of restoring her to her former glory.

Lending a great deal of help, encouragement and support to her return was His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh.

"I couldn't think how they'd get her back, she was obviously not seaworthy," said Prince Philip.

"The idea of towing a ship on a platform up the Atlantic seemed to be me to be absolutely bloody lunacy. But there it is - it obviously worked."

The Duke of Edinburgh was on board as she was moved into the dry dock, watched by thousands of people.

After the ship's return Prince Philip visited the ship on numerous occasions. He remembered how difficult it was to raise the money to pay for the restoration.

"As long as I've been alive, there's never been a good moment to raise money," he said.

"Mind you, the sums back then looked smaller, because no one seems to know anything about inflation, least of all the Treasury."

'Falling to bits'

"People had got it into their heads that we are looking after historic buildings, but it was a completely new concept that we should look after historic ships. The National Trust was there for old buildings, but there was no one there for old ships.

"We've still got a hideous problem with the City of Adelaide (the world's oldest surviving clipper ship) which belongs to the Scottish Maritime Museum but it's caught in a trap.

Image caption Prince Philip couldn't imagine how the ship could be returned to the UK

Because it was falling to bits they pulled her out of the water and it's now become a listed building. But they can't raise the money to do anything about it. You can't seem to concentrate the interest. It's a great pity."

The Duke said he was delighted with the success of the restoration project, and pleased that more than five million people have since been to visit the ship.

"There's never been anything like her. She's absolutely unique. She really is a jewel. There's nothing left of Brunel's other ships. They've completely disappeared," he said.

"Brunel was a remarkable man. He had the vision. You could buy a ticket in London, get on a train at Paddington, and the ticket would take you to New York. By train to Bristol and by sea to New York, all on the same ticket. It was an interesting concept.

"It's quite difficult to be a visionary these days - the bureaucracy is such that they get turned off."

Prince Philip was speaking to Andrew Bomford

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