Take That star Gary Barlow is to give a short performance at the christening of P&O Cruises ship Iona in Southampton on May 16, it was announced today.
The musician will go on stage after the naming by the ship’s godmother Dame Irene Hays, the owner and chair of Hays Travel Group, whose husband John died last November.
The ceremony will be broadcast to a virtual audience.
Gary Barlow, the music director of the ship’s 710 Club, was originally due to perform at the naming ceremony on July 4, 2020 – but that, and a week-long ‘Ionafest’ on board, featuring several stars – had to be cancelled because of the Covid pandemic.
Hays Travel, founded in 1980, has grown to become the UK’s largest independent travel agency group. Dame Irene and her husband John were instrumental in the expansion of the Sunderland-based company, particularly the acquisition of Bath Travel in 2013 and Thomas Cook’s retail travel agencies in 2019.
P&O Cruises president Paul Ludlow said: ‘We are absolutely delighted that Dame Irene Hays will be Iona’s godmother in a landmark naming ceremony which will be the first stepping stone on the path to the return of the UK cruise industry.
‘Since the inception of Hays Travel there is no one who has been more supportive of cruising or been more of an ambassador for the travel industry than Dame Irene Hays. As such there is no one more appropriate to take centre stage on May 16 in this prestigious event as we celebrate her achievements and pay tribute to her husband John.
‘The travel industry as a whole has been paused for over a year and has been devastated by the events of the last 13 months. We are so immensely grateful for the support we have received from travel agents across the UK, all of whom have faced commercial challenges none of us could have imagined.
‘With domestic cruising opening up from May 17, and our series of UK coastal cruises proving very popular for this summer, recovery is certainly on the horizon and Iona’s arrival into the UK and naming ceremony will be the ray of hope the cruise sector has needed for such a long time.
‘We also feel honoured that we are able to support the Hays Travel Charitable Foundation which encourages young people to be the very best they can be across education, sport, the arts and health. Being able to play a small part in securing the future of the next generation is indeed a privilege.’
About Dame Irene Hays:
Irene Hays was made a CBE in 2008 and a Dame in the 2021 New Year’s Honours for her services to training, education and young people, which she said was recognition of the commitment that John and the training team at Hays had made to developing young people. Before the Thomas Cook acquisition, more than 40 per cent of Hays Travel managers had started out as apprentices.
She has also been a powerful advocate of Hays Travel community and charitable activities – where Hays Travel colleagues contribute to their local communities. Hays Travel now funds a community partnership in every branch across the country and five years ago John and Irene created the Hays Travel Charitable Foundation which has so far donated more than £1.5million to support young people to be the best they can be in education, sport, the arts and their health.
Brought up in Ashington, Northumberland, Dame Irene worked her way through the ranks in local and national government, becoming CEO of two metropolitan authorities – Sunderland City Council and South Tyneside Council – and Director General of Local Government and Regeneration in Whitehall.
Dame Irene has served on a number of boards and governing bodies, including the boards of Sport England, The Football Foundation and the Academy for Sustainable Communities. She is currently a non-executive director on the Board of the Department of Education and chairs its Education and Skills Funding Agency.
She holds an honorary Doctorate from the University of Sunderland and Lifetime Achievement Award for supporting the growth of businesses in the North East of England.