The lounges and cabins of the rechristened Christina O, the yacht that once belonged to Aristotle Onassis, have seen a parade of celebrities from the worlds of global politics, the arts and entertainment. Over the years, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Prince Rainier of Monaco, Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Greta Garbo, Lisa Minelli, Eva Perόn, John Wayne, Rudolf Nureyev and many members of the Rothschild and Rockefeller dynasties all descended the majestic central staircase, swam in the pool with the famous Minoan Bull mosaic (a pool that turned into a dance floor at the touch of a button) and drank at “Ari’s Bar,” perched on stools covered with whale skin. Today, the fabled boat is garnering yet more attention, as it plays host to Princess Diana and friends.
It has been more than half a century since this legendary boat starred in news broadcasts seen around the world as the reception venue following the wedding that shocked America, that of their former First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, to the shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. Today, the yacht Christina O is set to play a leading role on the television screen again, this time serving as the backdrop to Princess Diana’s love affair with Egyptian billionaire Dodi Al Fayed, for the needs of the fifth season of “The Crown.”
When Onassis owned it, the yacht Christina hosted the cream of the political and artistic scenes, but today, anyone with €700,000 to spend for a week’s cruise can enjoy its luxurious appointments. Interestingly enough, nothing in the early years of this ship’s existence foretold the glory that lay ahead. This ship, which hosted Heidi Klum’s 2019 wedding and is often found off Mykonos and other cosmopolitan Mediterranean islands, made her maiden voyage in 1943 under the name “Stormont.” A frigate in the Canadian Navy, it took part in the Battle of the Atlantic and in the D-Day landings.
Onassis bought the ship at the scrap price of $34,000 in 1954 and spent $4 million renovating it, before naming it after his daughter. When one considers that amount is equivalent to approximately $45 million in today’s money, it’s easy to understand the levels of luxury involved in the restoration. The Christina was undoubtedly the most luxurious craft in the world at the time. It was, after all, the crown jewel in Onassis’ naval empire, and the magnate used it both as the headquarters of his business and as a floating mansion. In the yacht’s reception rooms hung a Renoir, a de Chirico and two fake Goyas which Onassis enjoyed fooling his esteemed guests into believing were authentic.
With the Christina, Onassis created a trend that survives to this day: every self-respecting billionaire should really have a mega-yacht that turns heads wherever it docks. After Onassis’s death in 1975, the Christina went his daughter, Christina, who, in turn, donated it to the Greek state for use as the presidential yacht. It functioned in this capacity under the name “Argo”, but gradually fell into disuse and when, in the early 1990s, it went under the hammer at a reserve price of $16 million, not a single buyer appeared.
Eventually, in poor condition, it was discovered by the shipbuilder Costas Karabelas and bought by the ship owner and friend of the Onassis family, John-Paul Papanikolaou. Its renovation took 16 months of intensive work, 1.2 million man-hours and $50 million before the boat, now renamed the Christina O, was returned to its former glory. Today, the yacht features a master suite, 17 passenger cabins, a gym, a spa, a cinema and many indoor and outdoor lounges. All its interior spaces remain connected by the ship’s impressive staircase.
The Minoan Bull mosaic at the bottom of the pool was rebuilt, piece by piece, and Aristotle’s bar, where Churchill once drank vintage brandy, was restored to its original form as well; the counter still boasts wood from a sunken Spanish galley, the bar stools are still covered in whale skin, and the hand supports are still shaped from the teeth of killer whales.
Today, another episode is unfolding in the glamorous life of this boat. On the fifth season of “The Crown”, to be released next fall, the Christina O is standing in for the Cujo, the Al Fayed family boat on which Diana was photographed by paparazzi in the summer of 1997 in Saint Tropez. It was a year after her divorce from Prince Charles, and the last summer of her life.
This article was previously published in Greek at moneyreview.gr.