Billy cruises away on the trip of a lifetime

A FORMER shop fitter from Gildersome had to wait 40 years to be able to afford a cruise on one of the ocean liners he equipped.

But for Billy and Vivienne Austerfield the wait was well worthwhile and its end came not a moment too soon as they boarded the Queen Elizabeth 2 for its final voyage.

The legendary liner, having sailed more than 5.3million miles over the course of 1,250 voyages, is now heading for Dubai where it will be refitted as a luxury hotel.

The QE2 started life on the Clyde where it was launched by the Queen in 1967.

Billy Austerfield was among the thousands of men who helped make the vessel what it was. He worked for William Mason and Sons at the time, a firm of shopfitters that was based on Gelderd Road and sent its employees across the country on commissions such as this one.

Mr Austerfield worked on the QE2 in 1968 and 69, fitting out the first and second-class shops, the cinema, theatre and observation lounge, none of which remain in their original state today.

But Billy, 66, and Vivienne, 56, were able to see photographs of the boat in days gone by and of its many famous passengers during a "wonderful" trip around France and Spain to Italy.

Billy had been on the QE2's first sea trials but had turned down an opportunity to go on its first dummy voyage to the Canary Islands, a decision he has regretted for years.

"That was the reason I wanted to go on it, but it has taken all this time to save up," he said.

Now retired following 20 years as a self-employed shopfitter, Billie decided to celebrate his birthday on board.

But the couple, of Birchfield Avenue, also had an unexpected bonus.

There were several couples celebrating wedding anniversaries and one had brought along a vicar who offered to renew the vows and bless any other couples who wanted it.

As Billy and Vivienne have been married 10 years they renewed their vows and were treated to champagne and wedding cake.