Dame Irene godmother Iona
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Dame Irene named as godmother to P&O’s Iona

Dame Irene Hays, chair of the Hays Travel Group, has been named as godmother to P&O Cruises’ new ship Iona.

Iona’s naming ceremony will be broadcasted from Southampton on 16 May, with a short performance from singer-songwriter Gary Barlow, music director of P&O’s onboard 710 Club.

Dame Irene’s husband John, who died suddenly last November, founded Hays Travel in 1980 and it has grown to become the UK’s largest independent travel agency chain.

John and Dame Irene shot to fame in 2019 when they were hailed as the saviours of Thomas Cook, buying its travel agency chain after the company went bust and saving hundreds of jobs. Irene was made a Dame in the 2021 New Year’s Honours for her services to training, education and young people.

“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,” said P&O Cruises’ President Paul Ludow.

Dame Irene, who was previously CEO of both Sunderland City Council and South Tyneside Council and Director General of Local Government and Regeneration in Whitehall, described the Iona launch as ‘a real sign of optimism’

“As always at Hays, we are realistically positive about the future,” she told travel trade publication Travel Gossip.

“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 – P&O Cruises president Paul Ludlow

“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,” added Mr Ludlow.

P&O Cruises will also support the Hays Travel Charitable Foundation, which has so far raised £1.5 million to encourage young people to be the very best they can be across education, sport and the arts.

Iona’s seven-night maiden voyage will be around the Scottish isles on 7 August and costs from £1,049.


Linsey McNeill

A journalist and travel writer of 35 years' standing, a once-a-week yogi, terrible skier and out-of-order mum to 2 teens. Previously Editor of TravelMole.com, bylines also include The Telegraph, The Times, The Observer, the London Evening Standard, Which? and The South China Morning Post.

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