The Winter Talk series is now in full swing, with fantastic attendance and the new venue proving a great success.

Our second talk of the series was Dr Stephen Payne – the naval architect responsible for designing the Carnival Corporation’s ocean liner, Queen Mary 2. Stephen’s talk took us through his interest in ships beginning from age 5, when he watched a tour of Queen Elizabeth on Blue Peter. The BBC show played a further role a few years later when it suggested in the Blue Peter Annual that the Queen Elizabeth 2 would be the ‘last great ocean liner’. Stephen was so incensed by this statement that he wrote to the show to argue that they were wrong. He told them that another ship to rival the QE2 would be built, and that he would design it himself. His ambition was applauded, but he was cautioned not to be too discouraged if it didn’t happened, and awarded the ‘entry level’ blue badge for his efforts.

Careers advice that saw no opportunites for a naval architect resulted in Stephen beginning a degree in chemistry, but fortunately his college physics tutor (Justin Johnson) persuaded him to make a switch after a year. After graduating, Stephen began work for the Carnival Corporation, and in 1998 was finally given the opportunity he’d been waiting for – designing their new ocean liner Queen Mary 2.

We learned about the crucial differences between an ocean liner and a cruise ship, the logic behind some of the specific design features of Queen Mary 2, and the fact that even a billion dollar budget posed plenty of challenges to make the liner financially viable. However, in 2002 the Queen Mary 2 was delivered to Carnival, on time and under budget.

Sadly, Justin Johnson, the former physics tutor who had played such a critical role in Stephen’s life had died just a couple of months prior to the completion of the liner. In a touching tribute, Stephen has hidden an obituary to his former tutor on the ship.

In a final twist on his Blue Peter story, the show interviewed Stephen when the Queen Mary 2 was launched, and he was finally presented with a gold Blue Peter badge.

11th October 2023