Page last updated at 10:14 GMT, Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Waiting on the most famous liner

By Eleanor Williams
BBC News, Southampton

Martin Pucci is fourth from the right wearing a sign

As a 16-year-old boy Martin Pucci felt he had landed one of the most glamorous jobs in the world when he joined the crew of the newly-built QE2.

Over the next six years he would travel the world, meet celebrities and sample some of the finest food available.

He had started his career six months previously on board Cunard's old Queen Elizabeth and, when the new ship took over, he was one of 16 commis-waiters to be given a job on the new queen.

As a "boy rating" Mr Pucci earned 24-a-month when the QE2 set off on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on 2 May 1969.

In comparison, the price of a 15-day cruise in first class started at 500.

His salary went up when he turned 18 and rose to the rank of waiter, but the staff still made most of their money from tips - for a translatlantic crossing a waiter would make about $100 each way.

Martin Pucci with the menu signed by Ringo Starr
Martin Pucci was not allowed to ask for autographs but still got Ringo Starr's

"We pooled our tips," Mr Pucci says.

"We used to make the most angelic-looking, blonde, blue-eyed boy be the doorman and all the old American ladies would pat him on the head and slip him a dollar. He'd make 50% of our tips.

"I remember when I got back to Basingstoke and compared to my friends, I was just very rich. I had more money than sense."

One particular memory he has was waiting on a table of three nuns while in Cork, Ireland - quite a change from the usual mega-rich clientele.

"At the end they gave me an envelope with a Mars bar in it," he says with a smile.

"Everyone else was opening their envelopes with dollars in them but I thought that [the Mars bar gesture] was quite nice."

Apart from old American ladies and nuns, Mr Pucci met a long list of celebrities during his QE2 days.

"People say 'you must have an amazing autograph book' but, of course, we weren't allowed to ask."

Despite that, he has a menu signed by Ringo Starr, who was travelling with Peter Sellers at the time, and Mr Pucci remembers meeting many others.

"Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Paul Newman, Twiggy (who was lovely), George Harrison, Gracie Fields, there were lots.

Cigarette box from the maiden voyage
Mr Pucci kept a cigarette box from the maiden voyage

"Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton never left their cabin. They had all their own staff too but I took a telegram to her once and she looked absolutely stunning."

The working life on board was very separate from the passengers' and staff were not allowed to mix with them. But that did not stop them from sharing their privileges.

"We ate whatever the passengers ate. I was living my life on fillet steak and caviar. We ate what we wanted.

"We were told it was a privilege to work on the QE2 and I guess it was. It was a glamorous life but it was hard work. And it was such fun."

Mr Pucci said they got through the gruelling, seven-day a week, work schedule with "a lot of alcohol and parties every night".

Secret morgue

He still has Cunard's magazine brochure which was printed for the maiden voyage.

It boasts about the wealth of modern equipment on board, including the first merchant ship computer and a hospital complete with an x-ray room and operating theatre.

One thing Cunard did not advertise was the ship's own morgue.

"Most of the Americans on board were wealthy and retired people and, of course, there were quite a few deaths," Mr Pucci says.

"I know there was a morgue because one of the waiters committed suicide by jumping from the ship and they fished him out and put him in there."

Mr Pucci says he will be very sad to see the QE2 leave Southampton.

"I think it's such a shame," he says.

"We should have kept her in Southampton as a conference centre. It has so much history here.

"I was there on board when she came up Southampton Water for the very first time. I will have to be there when she leaves for the last time."


On board the QE2 cruise liner

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