Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Monday 12 March 2012

High life

Not often one gets the chance to hobnob, however vicariously, with the likes of Churchill, Callas and Garbo, but since the yacht that once belonged to Aristotle Onassis is currently at Canary Wharf and open to visitors - well, why not?

One good reason might be the admission charge (almost as much as for the Tower of London and rather more than for the royal yacht Britannia), and another, the fact that it isn't that spectacular in itself, nor is the story it tells that unfamiliar. But I donned the compulsory plastic overshoes and wandered through its main state-rooms.

For a yacht, it's big (converted at huge expense from a wartime convoy escort ship), but the interior is not screaming ostentatious bling. True, there are a couple of soppy Renoirs and some paintings by Lavery, the fussy light fittings on the walls are of Baccarat crystal, there is quite a bit of marble, some onyx and lapis lazuli fittings; and some might consider having three grand pianos on board rather, so to speak, pushing the boat out. But the overall effect is of an upmarket and very, very discreet hotel - which, more or less, is what it now is (I'm guessing much of the moveable furniture and soft furnishings have been hotel-designed accordingly).

Nor do the various photos and mementoes of the people involved in Onassis's life suggest there was much enjoyment to hand, since they focus on the fairly disastrous love-lives that were all over the gossip columns of their day (and on Churchill whiling away his long retirement and decline).

We had as much excitement on the rather ramshackle converted lifeboat that served my parents as a cabin cruiser on the Thames for a year or two. The sight and sound of celebrities clashing egos on whale-foreskin-covered bar-stools would have been as nothing compared to the tale of the Day Dad Dropped The Elsan.

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