Homecoming for new, Â£3bn symbol of our island nation
As spectators in their tens of thousands lined the harbour and two separate flypasts went overhead, HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Navy’s new £3bn aircraft carrier, berthed for the first time at her home port.
A flotilla of craft followed her into the Solent as the voice of the commander, Darren Houston, came over the Tannoy: “Good morning, Portsmouth.”
On the flight deck, the ship’s company stood on parade, boots polished and caps aligned. In the Commanding Officer’s suite, there was a Champagne breakfast for “VIPs and VVIPs” from the Ministry of Defence.
The prime minister was among them. Britain, she said, could be proud of the ship and what she represented.
“It sends a clear signal that as Britain forges a new, positive, confident role on the world stage in the years ahead we are determined to remain a fully engaged global power, working closely with our friends and allies around the world,” Mrs May added.
More than 10,000 people had helped to construct the 919ft, vessel. She had spent the summer undergoing training and tests at sea after setting out from Scotland’s Rosyth dockyard.
She was, said the head of the Navy, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones, “the embodiment of Britain in steel and spirit”.
“In the golden years of the second Elizabethan age, a new era of British maritime power is beginning,” he said.
“In 50 years’ time, people in Portsmouth will still talk about the day they saw this 65,000-tonne giant arrive for the first time.”
Mrs May, referring to HMS Queen Elizabeth and its sister ship, HMS Prince of Wales, which has cost a further £3bn and is being fitted out in the Rosyth dock, said: “Whether the task be high intensity war-fighting, targeted action to fight terrorism, or humanitarian relief to save lives overseas, these ships will transform the UK’s ability to project power around the world.”
The significance of the Queen Elizabeth to Portsmouth, a city with naval heritage in its blood, was lost on not one of the spectators, many of whom had camped out over on the Round Tower, the traditional spot in the old town from which to get the best view of vessels going out and, more importantly, coming home.
Nor was the scale: she cleared the harbour with less than 66ft on each side.
Her ship’s company numbers some 700, plus around 300 contractors, and it had cost more than £11,000 to feed them all since they left Rosyth.
Ambassadors for a post-Brexit Britain they may be, as Sir Philip had said, but their menu was international - Mexican, Greek, French and Mediterranean - with a full English breakfast served only once a week.
The catering bill will only increase. Once the full complement of F-35B jets and Crowsnest helicopters are embarked, the crew will swell to 1,600. Of those currently in the company, around 88 per cent are male.