Wait, did the Queen really demand the public fund a royal yacht refurb like on The Crown?
John Major was quaking
In episode one of The Crown season five, which just dropped on Netflix, Queen Elizabeth makes a request to prime minister John Major for the public to fund a refurb of the HMY Britannia – aka, the Royal Yacht. Well, I say request – on the show it comes across as more of a demand – and the Queen is visibly miffed when John Major doesn’t exactly rush to say yes. But did the Queen actually ask for the public to fund the yacht refurb like we see in The Crown season five?
The Crown makes a point of how Balmoral is the Queen’s second favourite royal residency, with the HMY Britannia being her first. But with the Britannia needing work done to keep it seaworthy at the eye-watering cost of £14.7 million, the Queen doesn’t foot the bill from the Royal pocket but pretty much orders the prime minister to make the British public pay for it. In a global recession, might I add.
Here’s what actually went down – as much as we currently know, anyway.
The yacht ended up decommissioned by 1997
In 1994, John Major’s government announced that the royal yacht would be decommissioned by 1997. It had last had a refurb in 1987, and if the £17 million refurb that was needed to keep the yacht going went ahead in 1996 or 1997 it would only keep it going for another five years before more work was needed to be done.
When 1997 came around, the Tories were desperate to win the election and they decided that they would recommission the Britannia if they were re-elected. The Guardian reported at the time that the Queen was apparently “furious” that the royal family was “dragged into the centre of the election campaign, just as it is fighting to restore its public image.”
However, plot twist: A letter was discovered in 2018 from senior Buckingham Palace official Kenneth Scott addressed to the Cabinet Office saying, essentially, that the Queen would love a new yacht. The letter said:
“I have deliberately taken a back seat in recent correspondence, since the question of whether there should be a replacement yacht is very much one for the Government and since the last thing I would like to see is a newspaper headline saying “Queen Demands New Yacht’.
“At the same time I hope it is clear to all concerned that this reticence on the part of the palace now way implies that Her Majesty is not deeply interested in the subject; on the contrary, the Queen would naturally very much welcome it if a way could be found of making available for the nation in the 21st Century the kind of service which Britannia has provided for the last 43 years.”
Did the Queen actually meet with John Major like in The Crown?
There’s no evidence that that conversation actually took place, with The Crown dramatising the Queen’s request. It was clear she was fond of the yacht though, and was actively interested in a new one from the letter’s not-so-subtle hinting. The HMY Britannia was decommissioned in 1997 and the Queen was captured shedding a tear for it.
It’s now open for the public to visit it. Boris Johnson tried to fund a new royal yacht, but the plans have allegedly since been abandoned.
The Crown season five is available on Netflix now. For all the latest Netflix news, drops, quizzes and memes like The Holy Church of Netflix on Facebook.
Related stories recommended by this writer: