It all started to go wrong on the way back from Bergen.
The P&O’s MV Britannia was meant to be a relaxing week-long cruise from Southampton to Norway, with views of the majestic fjords and snow-tipped mountains. Then, as it looped back towards the UK, all hell broke loose on deck.
A Twitter thread posted by Good Morning Britain correspondent Richard Gaisford went viral detailing a supposed massive “late-night brawl” between several passengers and… a clown.
“Part of a group involved in the trouble explained to staff that things kicked off when another passenger appeared dressed as a clown,” Gaisford claimed online. “This upset one of their party because they’d specifically booked a cruise with no fancy dress.”
The clown rumour was quickly debunked by the press, Hampshire Police and P&O. Instead, what actually happened was a massive argument between some passengers and boxing enthusiast and YouTuber Tabatha Young and her partner during an on-deck celebration named the Great Sailaway Party, resulting in a what the Sun described as a "blood-soaked mass brawl". On docking back in the UK on Saturday, the couple was arrested in Southampton.
But the idea of a clown-infested booze cruise from hell had already sailed ship – not least because Gaisford’s thread also included a video of some interesting “patriotic partying” that took place on the deck of the cruise, featuring passengers enthusiastically waving the British flag while jamming to “Come on Eileen” like retirees who had finally cashed out their pension.
We tracked down someone who was actually on the cruise to find out the truth about this story and what it was like actually being there. This is what P&O passenger Sam* had to say about it.
VICE: So you were on this cruise that’s being referred to as a “booze cruise”, how did you end up booking the cruise and who were you with?
Sam: It really wasn't a “booze cruise” at all, but I went with my family and girlfriend.
When you got there was the atmosphere like?
It was like a normal cruise – a lot of old people.
Did you see anything kick off?
I just heard the security alarm go off around 2 AM and that was it. No one knew anything about it until we got off of the boat two days later.
When you left your room after the incident, was there a lot of damage?
I only found out what happened when I got off the cruise on Saturday. On Saturday, my girlfriend and I had to wait like five hours to get the train. While we were in the terminal waiting, this family was talking to some officer from the cruise. We’d thought they’d lost their luggage or something, then the police turned up and we realised something happened.
My mum suggested we check Twitter, because Richard Gaisford had tweeted about it and we figured out that this family is probably the one that got attacked by the couple. Then I went outside and took a picture of all of the police cars and police vans parked up. When I came back in, the police were taking statements and then I saw the man and the woman being taken away.
You just saw two people get arrested?
Yeah, a woman came out first. She was holding her arm and then a man came out limping. Then I went outside and I watched two police vans drive them away.
When did you realise how this had turned into a huge viral story?
It got bigger throughout the day. When my mum said “check Twitter”, I read it and we literally had no idea that it happened. But then I think a few articles came out a few hours later and everything got bigger.
Was it weird knowing you were there?
Not really, there’s always drama when we go on holiday.
Is that on cruises?
I’ve been on like four or five cruises and this has never happened before. This incident was completely isolated and unrelated to everything.
Do you think the news around it has been blown out of proportion?
Yeah, 100 percent. No one even knew what happened. I was there for about a week and I didn't think any bad things had happened. There are people writing articles about it, but they weren’t there. They said the Sailaway party caused it, but the party only lasted for half an hour. Also, the drinks were so expensive. It was like £5 for a pint of beer – no one could get that drunk. Ninety-five percent of the people were civilised people. What happened wasn’t much of a drunken incident – it was just a fight.
Would you go on another cruise like this?
Yeah, I’d go on the P&O again.
What about this video of people on the cruise doing some “patriotic partying”?
They’d just handed out British flags and then they waved them around for half an hour at the party. I was there sunbathing. No one was drunk. It was hardly patriotic, they were just waving flags.
Were there any flags around when people were getting arrested?
No, they got arrested on Saturday and the Sailaway party was on Thursday. And when they got arrested, everyone had left the cruise terminal by then. I was just there because I was waiting for a train.
They got arrested days after?
Yeah, because there were no police on the cruise. They were confined to their cabins until Saturday when they got arrested.
Again, 95 percent of the people were perfectly civilized and nice. We had two fancy evenings where we had to wear tuxedos, so no one was getting drunk or anything.
* Not his real name