Queen launches PR offensive as viewers vote on monarchy

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The Independent Online
On the day that the role of the monarchy came under its most public examination, the Queen yesterday made her own modest attempt to create positive headlines for the Royal Family.

Just hours before last night's unprecedented live television debate on the institution, it was announced that the Queen will take part in a re- creation of John Cabot's voyage of discovery to Newfoundland 500 years ago.

The Queen and Prince Philip will be on board a pounds 1.5m replica of The Matthew, Cabot's flagship, when it starts to re-trace his steps on 2 May.

The Royal couple will be on board for more than a mile as the ship sales through Bristol docks with the Duke at the helm for part of the way. John Cabot is credited with taking the English language to what is now the United States. They will also be flying out to Canada for the end of the seven-week voyage on 24 June to meet the three-masted square-rigger on its arrival.

St John Hartnell, Chairman of the Matthew Project, said yesterday: "This is fantastic news, I could not believe it when the Queen accepted my invitation."

It was also announced that the Queen is to take on the role of patron of the animal charity The Blue Cross which celebrates its 100th anniversary later this year. The previous patron was the Duchess of York before her resignation in 1992.

For the Royal Family the double announcement engendered welcome publicity just as last night's debate, called The Monarchy: The Nation Decides, got underway on ITV.

Up to 2 million viewers were expected to take part in a telephone vote on the future of the Monarchy, the biggest of its kind in British television, after a debate between experts, celebrities and members of the public both for and against the institution. The live audience of 3,000 at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham included 3,000 people brought in from 20 cities around the United Kingdom.

Already a MORI poll commissioned by the programme has found that nearly 50 per cent of people do not expect the Monarchy to survive beyond the year 2050.

However, there was support for the Queen from last night's television anchor man, the newscaster Trevor McDonald.

Speaking during rehearsals he said there was an important distinction between the Monarchy as an institution - which had served the country well - and some members of the Royal Family who had behaved "frightfully badly".

On the Monarch he said: "She stands as a glowing example of what is possible, as a Head of State who is responsible and takes her job seriously."

He also saw no prospect of an end to the institution despite its present problems though accepted the need for a debate. "I do not think the case has been made out for anything else, not with any strength of feeling. It seems to me that the Monarchy will survive."