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Travel: Why the MSC Bellissima launch weekend was my campest experience this year

Size isn’t everything, but this cruise ship is bloody massive

I know it’s reinforcing the stereotype of fey London media folk, but I try to avoid travelling outside London. There. I’ve said it. Actually, I feel faintly uneasy if I have to venture beyond the 0207 dialling area, but that’s because I don’t trust places where people smile at you or worse, try to engage you in conversation. Freaks.

But I made an exception when I received an invitation from MSC Cruises to mince down to Southampton for the launch of the latest addition to their fleet, the MSC Bellissima. A couple of things swung it for me: first, the ship’s interior made Elton John’s boudoir look like an Amish prayer hall and, secondly, the legend that is Sophia Loren was to be guest of honour, registering an impressive eleven out of ten on the Rob Harkavy “scale of campitude”.

I get to meet a few celebs through my work and some of them are even boring and self-absorbed. I know, go figure. But Ms Loren is an icon – a doyenne of the Hollywood and European silver screen of the 50s and 60s. Her movies used to be on the telly all the time when I was growing up in the 70s; for me, she’s up there with Judy, Barbra and Marilyn. I’d sell my own grandmother just to be in the same postcode as her but, in the event, all I had to do was hide the invitation from my travel editor and deny all knowledge until it was too late.

Friday morning, Waterloo Station: four of the London press pack are due to catch the same train. I meet Siobhán Norton, Assistant Editor at the i newspaper – PROPER JOURNALIST ALERT, Danielle Southwood, showbiz writer from Best Magazine, and Aimee Jakes, Digital Editor at Mother & Baby. We’re a strange mix, and the whole Mother & Baby thing amuses me, putting me in mind of the Horse and Hound gag in Britcom smash Notting Hill. I dunno, maybe it’s just me.

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – MARCH 02: Holly Willoughby poses on board the MSC Bellissima at its Naming Ceremony on March 02, 2019 in Southampton, England. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images for MSC Bellissima)

 

We form an eclectic little clique. As an aside and speaking as a curmudgeonly 50-something old git, I do get tired of other old gits slagging off the millennial generation as know-nothing snowflakes. These three young women were intelligent, far more worldly than I was at their age and well on the way to stellar careers in journalism. And let’s face it, they’ve hardly been dealt the best hand by the sweep of history: can’t buy a house, bloody Brexit, and having to pick up the pieces of climate change as a direct result of my generation’s cavalier disregard for the well-being of the planet. I liked them very much. We bonded.

Once on board, the obligatory tour. Seriously, the shopping decks were the size of Brent Cross, and the sweeping staircases were adorned with a gazillion Swarovski crystals.

I told you it was camp.

In a world of grasping, tax-avoiding corporates, MSC Cruises are the good guys. They raise millions for aid projects, have pledged to eliminate single use plastics from their fleet by the end of this month, and are still owned and run by a family whose seafaring heritage goes back more than 300 years. What’s more, they’ve built a quite amazing ship.

The official launch was due to take place in a dockside marquee on Saturday night and, as well as the obligatory corporate welcome, we all enjoyed spectacular performances from Matteo and Andrea Bocelli, and a gravity-defying turn from Cirque du Soleil, who’ll be performing every night for the paying punters in the ship’s state-of-the-art theatre.

As the evening progressed, Storm Freya decided to get in on the act. Ceiling-mounted lighting rigs and loudspeakers began to swing in ever-increasing arcs accompanied by ominous creaking, and a sense of unease began to permeate the crowd. I looked up, trying to work out where the rig closest to me would fall if dislodged by the angry storm. I concluded with no small sense of relief that it would probably land smack bang on the heads of the Daily Mail contingent, mercifully sparing me and Danielle from Best. Happy days!

It’s only SOPHIA LOREN!

Then – MATCH ABANDONED. Evacuate, evacuate, evacuate! This was exciting and appealed to the drama queen inside me (as it were). After a short delay, MSC’s contingency plan kicked in, Ms Loren did her stuff and more Champagne was quaffed, with the London press team proudly leading the way. GO LONDON PRESS TEAM! Holly Willoughby, our MC for the evening, remained slick, calm and completely gorgeous throughout. Impressive.

Cruising isn’t for everyone, but if you’re up for taking to the high seas for your next holiday, do take a look at MSC and, in particular, the MSC Bellissima. I’ve been on a few ships in my time, and the Bellissima knocks spots off the lot of them. You’ll love it.

For more info about MSC Cruises, including the MSC Bellissima, click here.

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