Britannia gets ready to party

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 March, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 March, 1997, 12:00am

When the Royal Yacht Britannia sails from the harbour on its last mission on July 1 with Prince Charles and the Governor aboard, it may be heading for a new life under Virgin boss Richard Branson. As a result, if you feel like spending the money, you may soon be able to throw a party in the very spot where the heir to the throne waved farewell to Britain's last major colony.

Mr Branson is understood to be backing a consortium bidding to buy or lease the yacht and moor it on the Thames as a tourist attraction. The state rooms used by the royal family would be open to members of the public for the first time, and it could also be used for weddings and functions.

By then, of course, Britain is likely to have a new prime minister. As he celebrated his birthday this weekend, British astrologers were consulting their charts to to see if John Major could seek any solace in the stars as he turned 54.

The answer was a brutal no. It's going to be 'a wonderful year for meeting new people and saying 'goodbye' to old friends', the astrologers predicted. Presumably including his Cabinet.

'Since the announcement of the new arrangements, we have tried our best efforts to dispel the uncertainty of the British community.' That was what the Immigration Department said in a letter to this newspaper on the subject of British citizens being told about their future visa needs.

Well, some Immigration Department spokesmen might have done so. But others seem to add to the confusion, by failing to give straight answers to straight questions, not knowing that thousands of Britons here have no other documentation than the entry stamp on their passports, and not grasping how worried they are by lack of information.

Not, we add, the gentleman mentioned in the letter, who said he had been misrepresented by a reporters whom he blamed for worrying the British community.

But some of his underlings, yes. So often did a member of his staff sound uncertain that the reporter concerned now asks him to put his answers in writing, which can take days.

Strangely enough, a straight answer still cannot be guaranteed to straight questions such as: 'Is the following wrong? If so why?' Is it any wonder the international community - not only the British - are worried and confused? Just don't blame the messenger, please. Readers of newspapers which take columns from The New York Times are in for a right royal treat - the Duchess of York all the way from the British court via various American television advertisements.

'The Duchess,' gushes the sales blurb, 'will comment on events and social issues great and small. Apparently, she's quick with a joke, and has a provocative viewpoint and a talent for touching the heart.

And that's not all: the former Sarah Ferguson will also occasionally answer questions from readers.

'Dear Fergie,' we plan to write, 'please tell us how to lose a spouse, a fortune, the respect of the British public - and still land a job with a big American newspaper'.