(12 Noon BST) -- P&O Cruises has named Dame Irene Hays, owner and chair of Hays Travel, as the godmother to its newest ship, Iona.
The 5,200-passenger ship, which was due to be christened last year, will be officially named in a ceremony on May 16 featuring a special one-off performance from ex-Take That frontman Gary Barlow broadcast to a virtual audience.
Gary Barlow will perform a short set as part of the event, which will be broadcast to a VIP audience, in his role as music director of Iona. His involvement includes overseeing the ship’s 710 Club music venue and curating new talent to perform onboard.
Dame Irene’s husband John, who died last November, founded Hays Travel in 1980 and it has grown to become the UK’s largest independent travel agency group. Together they were instrumental in the expansion of the Sunderland-based company 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, taking centre stage alongside Gary Barlow 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 more of an ambassador for the travel industry. As such there is no one more appropriate to name Iona in this prestigious event than Dame Irene as we celebrate her achievements."
P&O Cruises is also a contributor to the Hays Travel Charitable Foundation which encourages young people to be the very best they can be across education, sport and the arts.
Iona's much-anticipated seven-night maiden voyage will depart from Southampton around the coast of the island of Iona and the Scottish Isles on Saturday August 7, 2021. Sister ship Britannia sets sail on June 27, joining what will be by the end of the summer almost 20 ships sailing round the British isles.