When I was knee-high to a grasshopper I went on aboard the Royal Navy aircraft carrier Ark Royal as she paid her last visit to Palma in the late 1970s. The Ark Royal was a famous ship in the Royal Navy; she had featured in the hit BBC series Sailor and at the time it was believed that she was Britain's last "big carrier." She was a truly impressive ship and at the time it was heralded as the end of an era. Many doubted that Britain would ever build a ship of this size and characteristic ever again. At a time when plenty is said about the decline of Britain's industrial base, it is interesting to note that Britain has produced and built a ship which is even bigger than the old Ark Royal, the new aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth which this week sailed for the United States to start flying operations with the new F35 super fighter. I am told that the Queen Elizabeth is so big that she will not be able to moor up at Palma docks and she will have to be anchored in the bay.
The jury is still out on whether Britain needs such an expensive vessel of war. The Queen Elizabeth has cost more than three billion pounds, which could have been spent on education or the NHS. I am not going to get involved in this debate but I will say that the new super-carrier clearly shows that Britain is capable of building ships of this size. The Queen Elizabeth is the biggest ship ever built for the Royal Navy and perhaps she does represent a long forgotten hope that British shipbuilding can prosper again. I will always remember my visit to the Ark Royal and I am pleased to say that she did not represent an end of an era.