Honeymoon suite eludes royal voyeurs

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The Independent Online
SEE THE honeymoon beds of four royal marriages (all disasters). Marvel at the Queen's taste in Sixties plastic-weave basket chairs. Walk the same decks as the Clintons, Mandela, Yeltsin, Eisenhower, various sheiks, potentates and the Swedish Royal Family.

The former royal yacht Britannia opens to the public on Monday, offering a voyeuristic experience expected to draw 200,000 visitors a year to the vessel's bleak berth at Leith docks on the Forth, Scotland.

Entry, at pounds 6.50 for an adult, costs the same as Edinburgh Zoo. The big difference, as you peer through the panels at the suites, is the inhabitants have vanished. As Commodore Anthony Morrow put it: "The soul of the ship has gone."

Commodore Morrow was Britannia's last commander and now, having retired from the Royal Navy, is advising the new owners on recreating the 44-year- old yacht in her full splendour after a pounds 2.5m make-over. Yesterday he sounded as if he might have preferred her scrapped, as were previous royal yachts, and spared the indignity of press launches and a curious public. "It's (a piece of) history now," he said when asked about the yacht's fate.

The Royal Family reportedly wanted the vessel scuttled at sea rather than have their beds gawped at by people wondering who did what and where. There were four royal honeymoons on Britannia: those of Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong Jones, Princess Anne and Cpt Mark Phillips, the Prince of Wales and Diana and the Duke and Duchess of York. Happy days are depicted in a wealthy of family photographs, but the rocks lay ahead.

Royal fears about the prurient gaze were justified as journalists homed in on the "honeymoon suite". Which was it? General manager Bob Downie said it was the guest suite in the royal apartments - a three-quarter bed in a pokey room straight out of a genteel country hotel - but others said the only double bed had been in Cabin 14.

Britannia's interior is not ostentatious. Forget the fact it is a ship and has a vast dining room, and it could be the home of a comfortably- off family in the Fifties, with the chintzy sofas, gramophone and fold- away cocktail cabinet in the sun lounge.

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh's connected bedrooms are viewed through large panels. The monarch's bed is a small single.

The Britannia project is expected to inject pounds 5m into the Scottish economy. Half the vessel's income will be from ticket sales, and half from corporate entertainment.