The ship’s white ensign was lowered for the final time in front of hundreds of guests, ending an era which began with the launch of her sister ship HMS Invincible in 1977.
Lady Sarah Chatto, whose mother Princess Margaret launched HMS Illustrious in 1978, was joined by 15 of the ship’s 17 former commanding officers at the decommissioning ceremony today.
Captain Mike Utley, the ship’s current commanding officer, said:
It has been a great honour to be the final commanding officer of HMS Illustrious. This is a symbolic day in the history of the Royal Navy as we lower the ensign for the final time on the Invincible Class.
We say goodbye to Illustrious with sadness and pride as we remember her outstanding history, but also excitement as the Royal Navy looks to the future and HMS Queen Elizabeth.
Illustrious is being replaced as the nation’s helicopter carrier by HMS Ocean which has just undergone a £65 million refit.
Ocean will eventually be replaced by two new 65,000-tonne aircraft carriers being built for the navy; HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.
The Ministry of Defence is looking to preserve HMS Illustrious as a lasting tribute to the personnel who served on all 3 of the Invincible Class aircraft carriers.
Bids from private companies, charities and trusts to secure her future are currently being considered, and a condition of sale is that HMS Illustrious must remain in the UK.