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QE2 sails back to the Sixties

TWENTY-FIVE years after the QE2 first set sail - since then it has narrowly escaped being blown up by the Libyans, and acted as a troop ship during the Falklands war - the Cunard ocean liner is to be given a pounds 30m facelift. Two British design companies, MET Studio and John McNeece, will work with James Gardner, who designed the original interior, to create 'a freshened approach' and a 'brand new lifestyle' on board.

The refit, which is expected to take 25 days, will take place in November and December while the boat is in dry dock. Although final plans have not yet been made, I am told the designers have been briefed to change everything - cabins, bars, restaurants, ballroom and theatre. Furthermore, traditionalists will be pleased to know that Cunard is also anxious that many of the ship's original Sixties features, stripped out in previous refits, should be restored.

Passengers around the world will be delighted by the news, although omens for the redesign are inauspicious. The last major refit (costing pounds 110m) in West Germany went disastrously wrong - on the first voyage afterwards, passengers complained of flooded cabins, burst pipes, and closed Jacuzzis.

I trust there will be no repeat of an incident some years ago when a man's 'widow' asked the captain to bury her husband at sea. He happily obliged, only to find the real widow waiting on the jetty at Southampton.

A SURE sign of having arrived: Michael Portillo now has an official double. The look-alike is Andrew Graham, a south-east London man who, I am told, stood at the last election as a right-wing independent candidate. Graham has been snapped up by Derrick's Doubles, a London casting agency, and is already making his first film - called Double Trouble.

A betting man

THE latest postponement of the opening of the Channel tunnel - it's going to be September now, apparently - has caused some tension in the offices of Sir Alastair Morton, chairman of Eurotunnel, who has money riding on the date. Several years ago he waged pounds 50 and unlimited quantities of champagne that the tunnel would open before the completion of Sizewell B, the Suffolk power station. The man on the other side of the wager was John Collier, chairman of Nuclear Electric, the company building the power station - who, at the time, seemed destined to lose the bet, given Sizewell's projected completion date of February 1995. Morton is now sweating, however. Nuclear people are confident that Sizewell will be up and running this summer, and my money is banked on Collier coming home with the pounds 50 and champagne.

BBC Network Radio's managing director, Liz Forgan, tomorrow throws a closing-down champagne party for Radio 5 as the station, much loved by sports fans and children, prepares for its final day of broadcasting on Sunday. Forgan shouldn't over-cater, I'm advised, because a number of her staff are RSVP-ing in the negative.

Informed debate

A TYPICAL evening in the House of Commons chamber. Geoffrey Dickens, Conservative: 'You are a bully.' Dennis Skinner, Labour: 'What's up, fatso?' Deputy Speaker: 'Order. That is enough of such talk from both sides of the House.' Dickens, now well into his stride, is later accused by Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat, of speaking during a debate on coal without having attended for most of the other speeches. Dickens: 'To say that I have not been here during the debate is a falsehood. I have been to have a meal and I have returned.' Tristan Garel-Jones, Conservative: ' Was it a good meal?' Dickens: 'It was a good meal, but the debate is no better than it was when I left.' Robert Litherland, Labour: 'On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Honourable Gentleman has not just returned from having a meal; I saw him asleep in the library.'


24 March 1603 John Manningham writes about the death of Elizabeth I: 'This morning about three at clocke hir Majestie departed this lyfe, mildly like a lamb, easily like a ripe apple from the tree . . . Dr Parry told me that he was present and sent his prayers before hir soule, and I doubt not but shee is amongst the royall saints in Heavan in eternal joyes. About ten at clocke the Counsel and diverse noblemen having bin a while in consultation, proclaymed James the 6, King of Scots, the King of England, Fraunce and Irland . . . the proclamacion was heard with greate expectacion and silent joye, noe great shouting. I think the sorrowe for hir Majesties departure was soe deep in many hearts they could not soe suddenly show anie great joy, though it could not be lesse then exceeding greate for the succession of soe worthy a king.