Warrant Officer “Norrie” Norrell, who has died aged 87, was a yachtsman who gave unstintingly loyal and dedicated service to the Royal family.
His 34 years’ service and 750,000 nautical miles in the Royal Yacht Britannia, from Able Seaman to Warrant Officer, made him the longest serving “yottie” in the ship which the Queen once described as “the only place where I can truly relax”.
“It was the Queen’s home,” Norrell told an interviewer. “Wherever she went in the world, she could come back at night to her own staff. It was somewhere where she could kick her shoes off and relax.”
Among the earliest state visits during Norrell’s service were Princess Margaret’s tour of East Africa and the Duke of Edinburgh’s opening of the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956, the Queen’s visit to Portugal in 1957, and the opening of the St Lawrence Seaway in 1959. But many of Norrell’s memories were much more personal.
He recalled organising treasure hunts for the young Prince Charles and Princess Anne, the children pretending to steer Britannia as though they were driving a car; and teaching the younger princes to fly kites and lay lobster pots. Once he received a note from a royal nanny to say they were learning words they did not understand.
He also recalled a grown-up Charles introducing the first double bed in Britannia, for his honeymoon with the Princess of Wales, and the night when Diana played the piano in the seamen’s recreation space, when Norrell reminded her: “Your Royal Highness, you should not be here, I am quite happy to escort you back to your quarters.”
The next day he was reprimanded by the Flag Officer Royal Yachts, after the Princess complained that he had made her feel like a naughty schoolgirl.
Norrell helped to organise mock garden fetes in the Yacht and, at a sod’s opera, made the Queen laugh at a rendition of We Are The Ovaltineys (the theme to the Ovaltine children’s club) using words which had been specially written for her.
Meanwhile Norrell, who had joined Britannia while she was building, rose from triturator operator (“a rather grand name for the garbage man”) to Chief Petty Officer and Coxswain of the Royal Barge, responsible for training other boats’ crews and for maintenance.
He progressed to Warrant Officer and Coxswain of the Royal Yacht herself, responsible for the good order and discipline of all ratings. The Queen ignored an edict that Royal Yachtsmen should not be referred to by nickname, calling him “Norrie”, and in 1973 he was awarded the Royal Victorian Medal, which is in the personal gift of the Sovereign.
Ellis Victor Norrell was born on December 7 1933 in Portland, Dorset, and educated at Chichester High School for Boys, before joining the Navy at the boys’ training establishment, HMS St Vincent, in Gosport. He served in the battleship Vanguard, the depot ships Montclare and Adamant, the minesweeper Lioness, and in the stone frigate Dryad and in Nelson’s Victory when he qualified as a radar plotter and as a shallow water diver.
His father, who had been a Boy Seaman in the previous Royal Yacht, Victoria and Albert, was pleased when in 1954 young Norrell was interviewed and accepted into the Permanent Royal Yacht Service. During his subsequent service in Britannia, his untiring personal effort set an example of sound seamanship and leadership which was an inspiration to all.
In 1988 Norrell was made a member of the Royal Victorian Order, discharged to pension, and immediately re-employed at Windsor Castle. There he joined the royal household, where he spent the next eight years responsible for the security of Royal heirlooms during refurbishment of parts of the Castle, particularly after the fire in 1992.
Ellis Norrell married, in 1957, Grace Michie, who died in 2005; he is survived by their three daughters.
Warrant Officer E V Norrell, born December 7 1933, died October 9 2021