x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

All aboard the QE2 for New Year's Eve

The bash of the year will be aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 in Port Rashid. We take a look at the preparations underway.

Fireworks light up the Queen Elizabeth 2 at Dubai’s Port Rashid in 2008. This year’s festivities promise not only a celebration for the new year, but also the UAE’s 40th anniversary.
Fireworks light up the Queen Elizabeth 2 at Dubai’s Port Rashid in 2008. This year’s festivities promise not only a celebration for the new year, but also the UAE’s 40th anniversary.

"My grandmother went on a QE2 cruise in the 1980s," says Dubai resident Jason Hellowell. "Sadly, she's not around for me to tell her I'll be on it this New Year's Eve."

Come the stroke of midnight on December 31, the 44-year-old entrepreneur and seven of his friends will welcome in 2012 aboard the legendary ocean liner Queen Elizabeth 2, currently moored at Port Rashid in Dubai.

"I had no real plans and heard about the party through word of mouth," he says. "I bought eight tickets for Dh3,000 each [Dh24,000 total] after we decided it would be a nice change from going to a hotel or restaurant."

Launched by its namesake Queen Elizabeth in 1967 and having completed more than 800 Atlantic crossings carrying almost 2.5 million passengers, the QE2 was sold to Dubai World's investment arm Istithmar for $100m (Dh367m) in 2007.

Dubbed the "bash of the year", this month's festivities mark the first lavish event hosted by the vessel in its new home since it left Southampton, England, for the last time in 2008. Adding further sparkle to the occasion, the night is also dedicated to celebrating the UAE's 40th anniversary.

Around 800 distinguished guests are expected to walk the liner's gangplank this New Year's Eve and the exclusive guest list is being kept a closely guarded secret by organisers Global Event Management.

"I can't confirm names, but I can tell you very high-level people, dignitaries and ambassadors will be there," says co-founder James Magee. "We're expecting members of the Abu Dhabi and Dubai royal families and there are also requests from the royal family of Qatar."

"Invites, too, have been sent to some tennis players [Roger Federer, Novak Djokavic and Rafael Nadal] competing at Mubadala's World Championship tournament in Abu Dhabi [December 29 to 31] - and I know other names like Pamela Anderson and Kate Moss have also been mentioned."

The Mean Girls actress Lindsay Lohan; Hollywood actor Liam Cunningham, soon to be seen in Steven Spielberg's latest release War Horse; US sitcom and film star Lamman Rucker; former England cricketer Allan Lamb; and English model, socialite and aristocrat Victoria Hervey are just some of the confirmed names on the VIP guest list so far.

With tickets for the event having gone on sale just one week before Christmas, Magee and his team have been working around the clock to cope with the deluge of inquiries.

"The phones have gone crazy," he says. "Requests are coming in from all over the world - from Broadway stars and West End actors to Hollywood movie stars and musical artists. Of course, it isn't cheap, but as a gala evening it's up there with the top events taking place around the world on New Year's Eve."

Befitting of the price tag, the evening's line-up is five-star all the way. Upon arrival at 8pm, black-tie attired A-listers and members of the public will sashay their way up the red carpet to the strains of familiar swing tunes such as I Left My Heart in San Francisco and New York, New York, in keeping with how the ship traditionally departed from US ports.

An hour or so later, guests will gather for a welcome reception where a high-tech light and sound show charting the liner's most memorable voyages through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s will be projected on the side of the 963-foot cruise ship.

"The theme overall is timeless elegance - a walk through the history of the QE2 - the past, the present and looking to the future," says Magee.

After that, sustenance will be provided in the form of a gourmet buffet on the 70,000-ton liner's deck, before the evening's entertainment gets underway.

"It's going to be pretty spectacular," says Magee "The Bootleg Beetles have been chosen for a reason - as it was in May of 1969 that the QE2 first sailed to New York, at the height of The Beatles' fame."

Catering to all tastes, the Gypsy Kings are also being flown in for the evening and the big countdown to midnight will be marked in suitably spectacular fashion with a 10-minute firework display. Then, it's up to DJ Ben Gibson to spin the decks and keep the dance floor crowded until carriages arrive at 2am. That is, of course, for those who don't have their own means of transport.

"We're expecting most people to come [and leave] by car or limousine," says Magee. "And yes, of course, there are helipads at the port, which we've had a number of requests about."

The former jewel in Cunard's crown, the QE2 was the first British liner to offer passengers incomparable onboard luxury and en suite facilities in every cabin. Although there were originally plans for it to be renovated and converted into a 200-room luxury floating hotel stationed off Palm Jumeirah, no guests will be sleeping on board come New Year's Eve, says Leili Gerami, project developer of the QE2.

"Neither the public nor VIPs will be staying the night or be able to tour the QE2," she says, "and I can't say anything about the official opening yet, but we will be making an announcement soon. We also have a line-up of several high-calibre events scheduled to take place on the QE2 in the next few months."

With the liner's future shrouded in mystery, it's probably no surprise that many details regarding its maiden Middle East party are also being kept under wraps. For a cruise ship that was said to have served 19 tons of lobster and one ton of caviar a year in its heyday, there's no confirmation whether the same fine fare will be on offer come the big night. This is of little concern to Hellowell, who says his focus is very much on the venue, not the menu.

"Yes, the food is important, but it's the setting and environment that attracted us rather than whether salmon or roast beef would be served," he says. "We are going along to enjoy a good night with friends - that's what New Year's is all about. We thought it would be a great experience and the QE2 is a piece of history."

Indeed, it is the ship's legacy and ability to cause a stir wherever she goes that has captured everyone's imagination, from the guests to the audio-visual designers and one party planner in particular.

"I went on the QE2 for a school trip when I was 12 years old," says Magee. "So I'm very excited at the age of 50 to be organising a New Year's celebration on it."

"I've been in the UAE for 26 years and I've done some pretty major events - from horse racing and the Grand Prix to most of the major tournaments. But this is truly one of the most prestigious events I've ever handled. It's nostalgic and iconic - just wonderful."

For ticket information, visit Time Out Dubai or call 8004669 within the UAE and +971 4 4443459 from outside the UAE

rduane@thenational.ae