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The serviceman who spent 34 years on the Queen's Britannia

As an unofficial childminder to a young Prince Charles and a constant presence on board the yacht that was the Queen's home away from home, Warrant Officer Ellis Norrell, who has died aged 87, was privy to a side of the Royal Family so few will ever experience. 

Norrell, known by his nickname 'Norrie' by those close to him, including the Queen, served the Royal Family for more than 34 years on board the Royal Yacht Britannia, once described as the Queen as 'the only place where I can truly relax'. 

Working his way up from Able Seaman to Warrant Officer, he was the longest serving member on the vessel and served everyone from the Duke of Edinburgh to Princess Anne and Princess Diana, who once reprimanded him for making her feel like a 'naughty schoolgirl'. 

When he retired in 1988, the Queen gifted him a pair of cufflinks and a signed photograph and he was made a member of the Royal Victorian Order. 

As an unofficial childminder to a young Prince Charles and a constant presence on board the yacht that was the Queen's home away from home, Warrant Officer Ellis Norrell, who has died aged 87, was privy to a side of the Royal Family so few will ever experience. Pictured, the Queen greets Norrie during a walkabout on board the Royal Yacht Britannia in the 1950s 

Working his way up from Able Seaman to Warrant Officer, he was the longest serving member on the vessel and served everyone from the Duke of Edinburgh to Princess Anne and Princess Diana, who once reprimanded him for making her feel like a 'naughty schoolgirl'. Pictured, Prince Charles and Princess Diana with Norrie on their honeymoon on board the yacht 

Norrell, known by his nickname 'Norrie' by those close to him, including the Queen, served the Royal Family for more than 34 years on board the Royal Yacht Britannia, once described as the Queen as 'the only place where I can truly relax'. Pictured, in 2013

His unofficial duties included childminding a young Prince Charles and Princess Anne, who spent much of their childhoods on the vessel and were said to be fascinated by the crew.

He previously recalled teaching the royal siblings to fly kites and lay lobster pots, arranging treasure hunts and letting them pretend to steer the ship. 

Exploring the Greek islands with the Prince of Wales on their honeymoon, Norrell told the princess not to play the piano in the seamen's recreation space - but was later told off by the Royal Yachts flag officer after Princess Diana complained.

'Your Royal Highness, you should not be here, I am quite happy to escort you back to your quarters,' Norrell reminded Diana. 

Norrie was among the 220-strong crew on the ship's maiden voyage in 1954, travelling with the young Prince Charles and Princess Anne, then aged five and three, to meet their parents at Tobruk in Libya. Pictured, Charles and Anne on another Royal Yacht Britannia voyage that year

When he retired in 1988, the Queen gifted him a pair of cufflinks and a signed photograph and he was made a member of the Royal Victorian Order. Pictured, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh thank Norrell for his service ahead of his retirement that year 

The Queen Mother greets Warrant Officer Norrell on board Royal Yacht Britannia. Norrell was trusted with taking care of the Royal Family on board the yacht

Among the earliest state visits during Norrell's time on Britannia were Princess Margaret's tour of East Africa, the Duke of Edinburgh's opening of the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956 and the Queen's trip to Portugal in 1957.

He was among the 220-strong crew on the ship's maiden voyage in 1954, travelling with the young Prince Charles and Princess Anne, then aged five and three, to meet their parents at Tobruk in Libya.

When Britannia ruled the waves: Why the Queen adored her 'country home at sea' 

The Queen once described Britannia as the one place in the world she felt she could truly relax.

She was often seen wandering the decks in an old headscarf and slacks, and the royal apartments were filled with photographs of her family and heirlooms — including an ingenious nautical side-table designed by her great-great-grandfather, Prince Albert.

Britannia was commissioned for the Queen's father King George VI, but he died before the keel could be laid. One of his daughter's first acts on becoming monarch was to reject the designs for its royal apartments as too stuffy and opulent.

She opted instead for white-painted walls, mahogany woodwork and brass metalwork, with homely touches including chintzy sofas and armchairs.

'The overall idea was to give the impression of a country house at sea,' said Sir Hugh Casson, Britannia's architect. 'There was no question of her saying 'That will do'. She had definite views on everything, from door handles to the shape of the lampshades.'  

On April 16, 1953, the Queen launched Britannia from Clydeside with a bottle of Empire wine. At 412ft long, and weighing nearly 6,000 tons, she was then the largest yacht in the world.

Many summers saw her travelling to the Cowes Week regatta off the Isle of Wight, and then on to Scotland for the Royal Family's holiday in Balmoral.

But her main task was to take the royals on the 968 official voyages she completed during more than a million miles and nearly 44 years of service.

'It was the Queen's home,' Norrell said in one interview. 'Wherever she went in the world, she could come back at night to her own staff. It was somewhere where she could kick her shoes off and relax.'

He also remembered the moment a grown-up Prince of Wales brought the first double bed to the ship for his honeymoon with Diana.

In 1973, Norell was awarded the Royal Victorian Medal, which is a personal gift of the Sovereign, for his model seamanship and leadership. 

Britannia was retired in 1997, and the bronze from one of its propellers was reused to create a statue of Norrell in the dress uniform of an able seaman.

The sculpture can now be found alongside the gangway of the decommissioned vessel in Edinburgh.

Norell was discharged to pension but quickly became re-employed at Windsor Castle.

He was part of the royal household for the next eight years, as a custodian of artefacts - which meant he looked after the security of royal heirlooms during the refurbishment of the castle following the fire in 1992.

He said his most prized possession was a painting of himself by the Prince of Wales, which the royal created during his honeymoon, according to The Times.

Norrell, who was born on December 7 1933 in Portland, Dorset, married Grace Michie when serving on Britannia, and they went on to have three daughters Katrina, Sheena and Audrey. His wife died in 2005.

They would enjoy trips together when he wasn't working, holidaying to Hong Kong, Florida and Croatia, and even a remote cottage in Balmoral.

Norrell, who was born on December 7 1933 in Portland, Dorset, married Grace Michie when serving on Britannia in 1957, and they went on to have three daughters Katrina, Sheena and Audrey. 

His wife died in 2005. 

He joined the Navy at the boys' training establishment, HMS St Vincent, in Gosport. In 1954, he was accepted into the Permanent Royal Yacht Service, following the footsteps of his father, who had been a Boy Seaman in the previous Royal Yacht, Victoria and Albert. 

Warrant Officer E V Norrell, born December 7 1933, died October 9 2021. 

Norrell with the signed photograph given to him by the Queen on his retirement in 1988. After leaving the Royal Yacht Britannia, he was re-employed at Windsor Castle