QE2's chief petty officer revisits historic ship in Dubai for his 60th birthday

Nearly four decades since marking his 21st on board, Briton returns to floating hotel in the emirate

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From breaking down in the Indian Ocean to meeting Hollywood celebrities, life on the QE2 was rarely dull for chief petty officer Simon Doswell.

Now, nearly 40 years after retiring, he is revisiting the historic vessel to mark another milestone.

Mr Doswell turned 21 on March 13, 1985 on board the luxury ocean liner, which now sits in Port Rashid after being retired and refurbished as a 13-deck floating hotel – and he will soon board the ship again to celebrate his 60th birthday.

The trained electrician runs a sports bar in West Yorkshire, England, and is visiting Dubai to spend three nights on the QE2 with his wife and two daughters.

Back on board

After spending almost three years working on board the historic ship, Mr Doswell is set to fulfil a long-held ambition of returning to his old floating office to see how it has aged.

“I did my apprenticeship in 1980 in Portsmouth Dockyard and then followed my cousin into a career at sea,” said Mr Doswell.

“He worked on the QE2 for five years, including a visit to the Falkland Islands during the war when she was used to carry troops.

“My apprenticeship wasn't due to finish until September 1984 but because of the dockyard cutbacks in the UK under [then UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher], I knew I was going to need a new job very soon.”

As a trained electrician, Mr Doswell’s skills were in demand. Although he had not left Portsmouth before, a new life at sea held an allure too tempting to pass up.

“On my first day I didn't have a clue about what it would be like, but it felt quite prestigious and glamorous,” he said.

“It was pretty daunting as a 20 year old, going away from my parents to be at sea for three months.

“From a dockyard lifestyle to New York and seeing all these other incredible places was quite a big step-up.

“It was an exciting time and I remember the first trip really clearly. We went down to La Coruna [northern Spain] and had to go through the Bay of Biscay [off western France]. I'd just had some breakfast and it was choppy so I felt quite sick.

“That was my first experience of seasickness but I never had it again.”

Three-month rotation

Typically, crew would work on a three-month rotation on board, then a month onshore before returning to work on the QE2.

Mr Doswell was given an early taste of the famous QE2 glamour with an initial stop-off in New York, the first time he had left the UK.

“I used to have to walk down the alleyways every morning to make sure all the lights were on, then check all the restaurants and bars,” he said.

“That took me a few hours every day. But it was enjoyable because you got to meet passengers and know the ship really quickly.

“It was five days across to New York, to allow people to adjust to the time difference.

“Sailing into New York was pretty special. It was about 5am and daylight because it was early summer.

“I remember seeing this Statue of Liberty in the distance and all these massive skyscrapers on Manhattan Island. It was magnificent – a bit different to Portsmouth.”

The QE2 was designed for transatlantic service and became the flagship of cruise line operator Cunard when it was launched in 1969.

In almost 40 years of service, the ship completed annual crossings from Southampton to New York until she was retired in 2008.

After being bought by DP World, the QE2 sailed into Dubai where it has since remained, opening as a floating hotel in April 2018.

Film stars

After a transatlantic crossing and arriving in New York, the QE2 would often cruise north to Boston or south to the Caribbean.

Then it would return to Southampton and sail on for a cruise up the Norwegian fjords or the Mediterranean before heading back to New York.

“There were always celebrity stars staying on the QE2, most of them in the penthouse suites,” said Mr Doswell, who is visiting Dubai with his wife Sue and daughters Elle, 21, and Amy, 16.

Star Wars was quite big at the time, so we had Darth Vader [actor David Prowse] on there a few times doing seminars and showing films.

“Once I got called out to change his faulty shaver socket. As I was working, he walked into the bathroom and literally covered the whole of the door.

“Then this big voice boomed out and said: 'Thank you so much for doing this.'”

Other celebrities known to have stayed on the QE2 include Queen Elizabeth II, Buzz Aldrin and Nelson Mandela.

Mr Doswell, who will be spending his 60th birthday as a hotel guest on the QE2, is hoping for a better experience than when he celebrated his 21st birthday on board.

“I got a telegram from my parents that was delivered to my cabin, wishing me a happy birthday,” said Mr Doswell.

“We had just left Bombay and were going over to the Seychelles.

“Then at about 5pm the ship broke down. I can't remember why or how, but we lost power in the Indian Ocean.

“We were stuck at sea and in an emergency situation so I had to go back to work.

“My birthday party was cancelled and I ended up working for about 36 hours trying to get the ship back on track.”

Updated: March 06, 2024, 6:49 AM