IMAGINE sailing round the world aboard a ship, meeting the King of Spain twice, chatting with the Pope and, this tops it all, getting your hands on Brad Pitt. Imagine doing all that when you're only 19. For one lucky British girl this was a reality for the past seven months. Oh yes, I forgot, she is fluent in Spanish and spent all her school life at the Balearics International School in Majorca and is now an officer in the Royal Navy. For those who had children in BIS back in the eighties the name Baggaley might ring a bell, as it did for me.
Personally, to see a girl who was in my class at BIS, who played in my parents paddling pool, and whose father dressed as Santa Claus at our home in Andratx at many Christmas parties, and how she has progressed to this, is astonishing.
Ever since Lara Baggaley was a young girl in Palma her heart was set on sailing.
Her father said that she would see the ships docking and long to go aboard and be a part of the Navy life. Now, spectacularly, she has succeeded. Her latest voyage was her most extensive. Starting in January of this year, Lara found herself part of the crew of the prestigious Spanish training ship the Juan Sebastian El Cano.
Her journey started in Rio de Janiero, where she met the ship. Lara, one of the youngest crew on board, had the task of teaching English to the Spanish sailors. Once leaving Rio they proceeded to round the South American coast, stopping at Buenos Aires, Punta Arenas - the most southern city in the world Cartagena de Indias in Colombia, up the Panama Canal, and calling in ports in Puerto Rico and, in North America, New Orleans, Baltimore and Washington where she visited the White House.
If this was not enough, they then made the arduous journey across to Barcelona, where things really started to get interesting.
Arriving just in time for the impressive Festival of the Sea the El Cano stole the show, according to onlookers, who were wowed by the ship's size and beauty. With four enormous wooden sailing masts the ship certainly dominates the horizon. Recently celebrating its 75th Birthday, the El Cano is a training ship for every Spanish Naval Cadet who wants to make their way to the top. Even the King of Spain and Prince Felipe have had to earn their stripes aboard her.
The next leg of the journey found Lara in Rome where she was blessed with good fortune. She visited Vatican City and was recognised by one of the English clergy. Her father explains: As they were leaving the room where the Pope had just given a speech, an English Bishop stopped her and said he knew who she was and offered his congratulations on her achievement. Lara was overwhelmed, she said it was unreal.
The icing on the cake in Rome was meeting her dream man Brad Pitt on the set of his latest movie Oceans 12. Her father said: This is something she will never forget and wishes she could do again tomorrow. So with meeting the Pope and Brad Pitt under her belt it was now on to Sardinia to rub shoulders with royalty. It was less than three weeks that the El Cano docked in Sardinia to take part in the national sailing regata there.
Being the premier Spanish training ship in port, it was only right that the Spanish Monarch came aboard. So it was that she met the King of Spain on the very same ship that he had trained on over 30 years ago.
It's worth mentioning that while aboard the El Cano, Lara successfully taught hundreds of Spanish Midshipmen English, which is now a basic requirement for their Naval training. She was also called on many an occasion to be on watch duty, which considering the significance of the El Cano is quite a responsibility for a 19 year-old-midshipman. Her living quarters were shared by two female nurses which, her father said, gave her some comfort in a ship full of men.
Making their way up the Iberian Peninsula, the next stop at the beginning of July was in Lisbon, but unfortunately the crew were two days late for the Euro 2004 Cup Final.
The final port of call was a Northern Spanish town called Mareen on the 13th of July. This is where Lara's world tour aboard the El Cano ended, but there was one more surprise to come. To mark the culmination of seven months training the Spanish Navy hold a Passing Out ceremony for the crew, much like a graduation day. Guest at the ceremony was the Spanish King, Juan Carlos. Lara's father said she was delighted to meet him again: What was amazing was that he recognised her, and spoke to her in English. Now on a well deserved break from service, Lara is recuperating back in the UK at the Dartmouth Royal Naval Colege. Now engaged to her fiance Nick Almond, whom she met at the college two years ago, the couple have bought a house in Dartmouth. Even before her round the world journey on the El Cano, Lara, who will be 20 in August, was serving with the Royal Navy flagship HMS Invincible.
From September last year until Christmas she was a crew member on the ship, which patrolled the North Sea for several weeks then headed down to the Canary Islands. Whilst on the Invincible she spoke to the Captain who realised how proficient her Spanish was and asked her to be his official translator when they docked in Tenerife. This she did, but news quickly spread of her talent and she next found herself on television translating for the Captain as he was interviewed by a local station. Her father said her time aboard the Invincible prepared her well for the next seven months with the El Cano.
Although her parents are British, Lara's links with Spain are rooted here in Majorca. Born in Palma, she spent her entire schooling life at the Balearics International School. It was only in September 2002 that she decided to join the Royal Navy, but had to apply for a Special Dispensation to do so. Since then she has never looked back. Lara's rank is currently Midshipman, but her ambition is to make it as a Warfare Officer, which will eventually give her the authority to captain her own vessel, and become one of a select few female officers to achieve the prestigious ranking.
Her next posting is aboard the HMS Mersey, the newest and most advanced ship in the British fleet today. Starting in September, by which time she will be promoted to Sub Lieutenant, Lara will join the crew of the ship as it patrols the coast of Britain.