IN THE shadow of HMS Victory, the Queen presided yesterday over the commissioning of a flagship for a new generation of peace and war.
The £3.1bn aircraft carrier that bears her name is the biggest and most powerful ever built for the Royal Navy and represented, she said, “the best of British”.
Some 3,700 people joined her in the ship’s giant hall for the ceremony that will launch it on an expected active life of half a century.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is 280m long and weighs 65,000 tonnes yet is “enormously flexible”, the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Philip Jones, said of the “big grey ship” at Portsmouth Naval Base.
The Queen, who was brought aboard on a lift specially installed for the occasion, did not need to be reminded of the symbolism of the location.
HMS Victory, she said, was a “flagship of our seafaring past and a reminder of the debt we owe to the Royal Navy, which for more than 500 years has protected the people of this country and our interests around the world”.
The ceremony had been organised to commission the vessel into the fleet and to hand it formally to the Ministry of Defence.
The Defence Minister, Gavin Williamson, who was on board, called it “the epitome of British design and dexterity, at the core of our efforts to build an Armed Forces fit for the future”.
He said of the vessel and its sister ship HMS Prince of Wales, which is under construction: “For the next half a century both carriers will advance our interests around the globe, providing the most visible symbol of intent and commitment to protect the UK from intensifying threats, wherever they may come.”
It was a sentiment endorsed by the Queen, who called Queen Elizabeth “a true flagship for the 21st century”.
She said: “The most powerful and capable ship ever to raise the White Ensign, she will in the years and decades ahead represent the country’s resolve on the global stage.”
She praised the service personnel who will crew the carrier and added: “As the daughter, wife and mother of naval officers, I recognise the unique demands our nation asks of you and I will always value my special link with HMS Queen Elizabeth, her ship’s company and their families.”
The Commanding Officer, Captain Jerry Kyd said it had been an historic day that marked the “culmination of over a decade of work”. He paid tribute to the thousands involved in the creation of the aircraft carrier, which he said reflected the “truly national nature of this endeavour”.
The ceremony had begun with the national anthem, as the Queen, with the Princess Royal at her side, inspected a guard on parade. The Queen then received the royal salute as the ensign was raised for the first time on the flight deck, broadcast into the hangar on large screens.
An audible sigh of relief could be heard from the ship’s company as the ensign, initially slightly entangled, opened out fully and flew in the breeze.
The Queen was invited to view a model of herself in marzipan, placed atop a carrier-shaped cake created for the occasion. A label that read simply “me” distinguished the monarch from the other models, including one of a sailor who had fainted and fallen on his face.
The cake was cut by the youngest member of the ship’s company Steward Callum Hui, 17, from Lynton, Devon.