I have a confession to make. Well, really, two. I have never been on a cruise. I have never been on a cruise ship.
The truth is that I often travel on Cunard’s majestic Queen Mary 2, which is not a cruise ship but a liner – the last one left, at that. And I have only ever sailed transatlantic, point to point, Southampton to New York, which is a crossing rather than a cruise.
One time, en route, the ship did pull in at Le Havre for the day to pick up French passengers and I could have gone on an excursion, but I was so scared I’d miss the ‘boat’ that I didn’t dare. Instead, I nipped off QM2 first thing in the morning, and, while constantly referring to my watch, I whipped round Le Havre Art Gallery (which is wonderful by the way), bought a few postcards and came straight back to the ship. It was not a relaxing day at all.
I’m not a great one for traditional relaxation, so the fact that I work on board is wonderful. I don’t go on holiday. Doing nothing bores me. People say to me “I’d go, if only I had the time” as though the journey is going to nip seven days off your life. I get quite a lot of work done on board, learning lines, writing, because the life is so easy: all your food beautifully prepared, swimming pools all over the place if you want a bit of exercise, no phone calls, no temptation to be checking social media all day, someone even makes your bed. So it’s seven days being looked after while you can get on with things. And in the evening, after a dance and a few drinks, you don’t have that problem of finding a taxi to get you to bed – it’s just along the corridor.
I am mesmerised by the waves on deck 2 and love how even in the roughest of weather (I was on board once during a hurricane) the Queen Mary 2 takes it all in her stride like a great racehorse jumping the Aintree fences. I’m lucky because I have sealegs. I have done some pretty fun shows on board, with my music stand skittering around the stage while the red curtains sway behind me.
Then there was the movie introduction, which started 15 minutes late as someone had thrown up in the middle of the auditorium. I said “I gave up my lunch for this but it looks like someone just lost theirs!”
As I love the ship it’s only natural that I set my novel Sail Away on board. The traditional mystery unfolds in a snowed in country mansion. But who, these days, ever gets invited to a country mansion? A ship, however, offers the same constraints – you can’t escape!
I love the formality on Cunard ships. It seems mad, but dressing for the evening to visit the bars, restaurants and ballroom, is really marvellous and makes it all feel special. It annoys me when people think they’re being clever by not joining in.
Many actors or other celebrities on board hide in their cabins, but I like the life, so I can’t bear to miss going to other people’s talks, listening to the musicians (there is live music everywhere), watching the talent show and loading up my breakfast plate in the Kings Court. I tend to go to most of the balls, where I dance with the Gentleman Hosts, Cunard’s very own gigolos, (known by the entertainment team as the Ghosts).
The quizzes are fun too – I’ve made many great friends on ad hoc teams in the Golden Lion Pub. I love watching the dance shows, and I’ve also been to classes on line-dancing, ballroom, fencing and napkin folding.
Being out and about means that I do have closer contact with the audience than I would in a London theatre. I enjoyed the young man who asked for my autograph, saying “I’m so excited. You’re my second favourite actress.” The first being Pamela Anderson.
Then there was the lady who grabbed my arm as I passed.
“Aren’t you going to say hello, then?”
Me: “Erm… Hello.”
Woman: “You don’t remember me, do you? We’ve met before.”
Me: “It might be that you’ve seen me on TV sometimes?”
Woman: “Don’t be ridiculous. You’re a nurse in the hospital in Sheffield.”
What can you say? Just sail away!
Transatlantic sailings from New York to Southampton in the Queen Mary 2 start at £949 per person. See cunard.com.