15 April 2013
Last updated at 16:50
The Royal Yacht Britannia was launched on 16 April 1953. Thousands gathered at the John Brown & Co shipyard on the River Clyde to watch the launch of the ship designed to be the Queen’s floating residence. The Queen launched it with the words: “I name this ship Britannia. I wish success to her and all who sail in her”. Instead of the traditional champagne a bottle of Empire wine was smashed against the hull, as a symbol of austerity in post-war Britain.
Britannia arrives in London after completing her first royal voyage in May 1954. The Royal Yacht met the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh at Tobruk in Libya to bring them home after their six-month tour of the Commonwealth. Prime Minister Winston Churchill was also on board after joining the ship a day earlier on the Isle of Wight.
The Queen described the Royal Yacht as a place she could “truly relax”. During a trip to Norway in 1969, this family portrait was taken which The Queen used for her personal Christmas card that year. As children, the young royals were often given ship chores to do, including cleaning Britannia’s life rafts.
Crew enjoy a drink in the petty officers' mess in August 1973. Each of Britannia’s 20 officers and 220 yachstmen, known as 'Yotties', were personally selected by the Commanding Officer to serve on the vessel. They wore soft-soled shoes to reduce noise and were given orders by hand signal to avoid disturbing The Queen. Duties included ensuring the slope of the royal gangway was never steeper than 12 degrees.
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are entertained by traditional folk dancers on deck during a trip to Fiji in February 1977. Calling at more than 600 ports in 135 countries during its 44-year service, Britannia travelled more than one million miles around the world on 968 State visits.
The Prince and Princess of Wales appear on deck in August 1981 during their honeymoon in the Mediterranean. Britannia was the perfect venue for Royal couples. Charles and Diana were able to enjoyed private picnics on Greek Islands. Britannia played host to theirs and three other Royal honeymoons: Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones in 1960, Princess Anne and Mark Phillips in 1973 and Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson in 1986.
A banquet was held on Britannia during a US tour in February 1983 to celebrate the wedding anniversary of President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy. The ship hosted functions with the same formality of any Royal palace. Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton have also been welcomed onboard. There were apartments for 250 guests. About 45 members of the Royal Household would accompany the Queen on State visits, along with five tonnes of luggage.
Each year the Royal Family would sail to the Western Isles during the summer for a private holiday. The usual strict protocols on board were relaxed during the summer voyage. The crew would host beach barbecues and hold amateur performances to entertain the Royals.
The Princess of Wales has a big hug for young Prince William and Prince Harry on deck in Toronto in October 1991. The trip to Canada was their first official foreign visit with their parents. But the ship's role was nearing its end. Britannia would be the last of 83 Royal Yachts dating back to 1660.
In 1994, the government announced there could be no refit for Britannia as the costs were too high. The Royal Yacht's last foreign duty was to convey Governor Chris Patten and the Prince of Wales away from Hong Kong after the handover to China in 1997. At the decommissioning ceremony in Portsmouth the Queen wiped a tear from her eye. The clocks on board were stopped at 15:01, when the Queen was piped ashore for the last time.
In 1998, following a farewell tour of the UK, Leith docks near Edinburgh became Britannia's home. After maintenance in dry dock in 2012, it returned to Leith. Britannia is now run by a charitable trust and has become a major tourist attraction, welcoming thousands of visitors every year.