We take a look at what goes on behind the scenes aboard Britannia to keep the royal favourite ship shape.
The Royal Yacht Britannia hasn’t sailed the open seas since it docked for the final time at Leith in 1997 but if the Queen were to visit today, the staff would be ready to welcome her aboard. Now a five-star attraction, the teams behind the scenes work hard not just to keep visitors happy but to ensure that the yacht is up to the same high standard as when it launched on 16 April, 1953.
“We need to make sure that if the Queen were to step on board it would be to a standard expected by the Royal Family,” says Bruce MacBride, food and beverage service manager on Britannia.
His CV shows a progression through the ranks of top quality hospitality, including a spell at Gleneagles Hotel and managing a Michelin-starred restaurant.
“I then worked on the Orient Express. I was train manager on the Northern Belle,” MacBride explains.
“That was an unusual experience because I was moving away from hotels and restaurants and it was logistically a challenge to do hospitality on the move.
It’s 63 years old now and we work 363 days a year maintaining herTony Smith
“You had to make sure everything was on the train. It was a big learning curve.
“All these places set me up for working at a five-star standard level and moving to Britannia was a natural progression.
“What’s different at Britannia is that we always have the Queen in mind. We make sure the service is what the Queen would expect down to how the silver is polished and how the tables are set.”
Everything considered, MacBride can probably be forgiven for his meticulous approach to table setting, which elsewhere might seem over the top.
“I have a yellow stick to measure each individual place setting to make sure it’s the same distance from the other place settings and to make sure everything is uniform,” he says.
“It has a spirit level on it which you need to make sure everything is level before you measure it. Sometimes the whole ship is at a slight camber if the water is low.
“There’s a lot of thought that has gone on behind how these tables are presented.”
After a formal dinner, the food and beverage team clean and reset the room ahead of tours the next morning. Nothing can be seen to be anything less than perfect.
During the day, MacBride oversees the 500 or so visitors who stop off at the on-board tea room for refreshments.
At night, the yacht is available for private functions, one of the most high-profile of which was Zara Phillips’ pre-wedding reception in 2011.
“It was lovely to have the younger royals here,” says MacBride.
“Peter Phillips was the first person on board for the reception and he was just running around it like a kid because last time he was on Britannia he was a kid.”
Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie apparently took the opportunity to look at their old bedrooms on the yacht which are now the offices of Britannia’s marketing team.
More recently it was the Queen’s 90th birthday in June that had the team busy planning special celebrations to mark the occasion.
“I was coming up with a cocktail that might suit the Queen,” says MacBride. “It had edible diamonds in it and a nice pink sugar crust.”
Before visitors reach the tea room, it’s Andrea Bradbury’s job to welcome them aboard and ensure they have a day out to remember. “We are normally in about an hour before opening,” explains the visitor experience manager.
“The advertised opening time at the moment is 10am but we open ten minutes before that because it’s all part of the service.
“I usually start the day by going round the tour route checking for hazards and cleanliness.
“When I am happy that everything is safe and clean, I go up and open the shutters.”
On busy days, Bradbury spends more time supporting her front of house team. “I love the fact that I don’t have to sit at my desk,” she says. “I can get up and talk to visitors.
“I ensure that everybody when they are facing customers is in the right place, doing the right thing at the right time. It’s like being the conductor of an orchestra and you need to make sure everyone is playing the right tune.
“There’s a real satisfaction that you have given the visitors a good day out.”
While Bradbury and MacBride are interacting with visitors, the housekeeping and maintenance teams are working hard behind the scenes to keep the yacht ship shape.
Head housekeeper Linda Ray has been proudly tending to every vase of flowers, brass handle and silver spoon on Britannia for 17 years.
“For events we do the grand staircase, the carpets, the brass bits on the doors,” Ray says, and that’s just the start of her long list of responsibilities.
“We do a lot of brass work on the decks and there’s the bell and the railings.
“We have to prepare the red carpet and make sure everything is spic and span.”
Ray’s working day starts at 6am, well ahead of the first visitors of the morning.
“I make sure all the flowers are alright on the tables so there are none that are withered and I make sure the water is topped up,” she says.
“We clean the engine room three times a year – people like to see that gleaming.
“Some people think it’s just a case of coming in and hoovering but it’s not. There’s always something different to do – different cabins, different silvers.
“The whole thing needs to be maintained to a five-star standard.”
Down on the Bloodhound – Britannia’s classic 1930s racing yacht – maintenance manager Tony Smith is preparing the boat for a voyage to Oban, where in the summer months it can be chartered for a day’s sailing around the Western Isles.
“Jack of all trades” seems like the best way to describe Smith, who along with his 14-strong team can be doing anything from oiling the decks to helping a group of art students paint the impressive dazzle ship which has been brightening up the port of Leith since playing its part in the International Art Festival.
“We do everything from picking up litter, the plumbing, the electrics, the cleaning on the upper decks.
I officially start at 8am but I’m always in at half six to do the paperwork,” says Smith.
“The first hour is spent lifting and shifting boxes around the ship.
“After that we do cleaning and washing down. We choose a different deck every day and go over it with soap and water.
“Then it’s on to whatever job has been flagged up for us. It might be oiling the deck before the visitors come on.
“It doesn’t sound like an important job but if you don’t get the oil down within two days of cleaning the deck, you have to clean it again.”
Painting the ship’s sides is a two-month job, which, it is a relief to hear, isn’t done by hanging from the deck on ropes.
Instead it is executed from a “paint cat”, a special platform which sits alongside the yacht.
“It’s 63 years old now and we work 363 days a year maintaining her,” says Smith.
“If the weather is bad, we go between the decks because there’s a lot of work that needs doing down there as well.
“If you don’t maintain her from the inside out, she becomes a big rust bucket – we are always painting somewhere.”
The Royal Yacht Britannia was home to the Queen and the Royal Family for over 40 years, sailing over 1,000,000 miles around the world.
Now berthed in Edinburgh, you can follow in the footsteps of royalty to discover the heart and soul of this most special of royal residences.
It is open seven days a week from from 10am to 3.30pm (9.30am-4.30pm April-September; 9.30-4pm in October). More information at www.royalyachtbritannia.co.uk
This article appears in the winter issue of EH50, the Edinburgh Evening News magazine for the over 50s in the Capital. Read the full e-mag here.