Emotional return to the royal yacht 'Britannia' ahead of the big day

29 JULY 2011

The Queen described it as "the one place I can truly relax".

And Princess Anne once remarked that standing on its decks and sailing on a sunny, breezy day is "the nearest thing to heaven as anyone will ever get on this earth".



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With so many fond memories, little wonder then that Anne's daughter Zara Phillips has chosen to host a pre-wedding party aboard the former royal yacht Britannia.

Walking up the gangplank to the vessel, which was decommissioned in 1997, will be a real trip down memory lane for the royal family.

Back in it's heyday it carried the Queen and her family around the world.

Whatever far-flung exotic port the family were in, stepping aboard the decks was an instant homecoming.

Each room – decorated to the monarch's personal taste –  was filled with precious family pictures and heirlooms and treasured gifts from around the globe.

It was the setting for countless royal banquets and state visits. But aside from the pomp and pageantry, it was much loved by the members of the family.

 

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In fact, when Britannia was decommissioned, the normally reserved sovereign publicly shed a tear.

The 412-ft ship has been an integral part of many royal love stories. It was the setting for the romantic honeymoon cruise of Zara's mother following her wedding to Captain Mark Phillips.

The couple explored the West Indies in 1973.

It also served as a romantic retreat for three other royal newlyweds.

The late Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong-Jones journeyed 6,000 miles on a voyage to the Caribbean following their nuptials in 1960.

Twenty years later Prince Charles and Princess Diana flew to Gibraltar to board Britannia for a sixteen-day honeymoon in the Mediterranean after their wedding.

 

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And in 1985 Prince Andrew and Sarah, Duchess of York spent five days cruising around the Azores on it after exchanging vows.

The former royal yacht, which is moored in Edinburgh, was originally built for King George VI.

But he died in the early stages of construction in 1952, and the Scotland-built ship was handed over to the new Queen Elizabeth. She put her personal stamp on the plans, with help from her husband Prince Philip.

Although the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are not attending the cocktail reception on the Friday evening, they no doubt appreciate the significance of Zara and Mike choosing the venue.

In fact, it seems the couple have chosen Scotland, rather than Gloucestershire where they both live due to the royal family's fondness for the country.

 

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They are to hold their reception in the Palace of Holyroodhouse – the Queen's official residence is Scotland.

This majestic palace stands at the bottom of Edinburgh's Royal Mile, and has served as the home of the Kings and Queens of Scots since the 15th century.

The couple will tie the knot in Canongate Kirk, the palace's official church.

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