Working Wonders: Curator and tour guide brings Dubai's QE2 history back to life

From cataloguing historical artefacts to reuniting old crew mates, no two days are the same on the world-famous vessel

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Our Working Wonders of the UAE series takes you to some of the country's most recognisable destinations to uncover the daily duties of the talented employees working there

As history and heritage curator at Dubai's QE2, Brendan Clarke spends his days bringing relics of the ship’s past back to life for visitors.

Mr Clarke, 35, from Mumbai, previously spent nine years working for the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism on projects including the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi before jumping ship three months ago.

Today, he spends his days curating exhibitions and leading tours around the now floating hotel permanently docked in Port Rashid, Dubai.

He invited The National on board to take a look around the famous ship and see why it’s his perfect workplace.

What does your job involve?

My role involves assembling, cataloguing and exhibiting all of the historic artefacts that belong on board the QE2, as well as bringing its past to life through guided tours.

There are more than 100 interesting items in the QE2 collection in the grand lobby. My favourite is a fully equipped Samurai suit of armour that was given to the ship by the Governor of Kagoshima in Japan during its 1979 world cruise.

We also have artworks from 1925 and a builder’s reference model of the Mauretania ship, which was used to manufacture the vessel itself in 1907. They’re very valuable and a big part of my job is making sure they don’t get broken.

Being able to get up close and personal with these artefacts that hold so much sentiment is a privilege. I get so engulfed in the emotion of it all that it’s often hard to pull myself away.

What might surprise people about your role?

When I’m not in the grand lobby, I give guided tours, which are also something I love. Not a day has gone by that I haven’t met an interesting person from the QE2’s past.

I’ve met former crew members, passengers and engineers who worked on the ship in its heyday and have returned for a tour. It’s an honour to be part of the nostalgia and connection that they have to the ship, which often represents the golden years of their lives.

It’s transported me back to a time before mine and I feel like I can relive their experience first hand. It’s surreal.

I would have expected it in the UK, but I was absolutely blown away by the number of people who come to visit the QE2 in Dubai.

What was your most memorable day on the QE2?

For me, May 19, 2023 is a day I’ll never forget. The ship’s former chief engineer, Mr John Chillingworth, who worked on the QE2 from 1971 to 1989, stopped by unexpectedly, as did his former colleague and the ship’s old cruise director Mr Lawson Connell.

On the same day, husband and wife Mary and David Lloyd returned to the QE2 to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, in the place where they met 52 years earlier in 1971.

To see them standing on that exact spot – a former dancefloor – and looking into each other’s eyes after all these years was priceless.

All five of us went on a tour of the boat and I never said a word the entire time. I just listened to their stories and watched their memories come to life.

Mr Chillingworth, in particular, is a chief visitor to the QE2 and it was a pleasure to meet him. The amount of information that he has provided over the years has been incredible.

It was so fascinating and intense to be part of it and the whole thing was pure coincidence. None of them knew that the others would be there and I was able to witness the reunion first hand.

If you weren’t a tour guide, what would you be doing?

As you might have gathered, I enjoy meeting people and I also love food. For that reason, I’d love to be a chef in my own restaurant.

For me, cooking is the only artistic expression that you can consume and I love watching people eat something that I’ve made.

That moment of bliss is something I’d love to witness every day and I think those emotions and expressions are a celebration of what it means to be human.

Updated: November 10, 2023, 12:00 PM