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The King Rules The Waves

The King rules the waves, writes Amy Cooper aboard Rhapsody of the Seas.
THE bride said ”uh-huh” instead of ”I do”. She entered to the strains of Can’t Help Falling in Love, sung by a jumpsuit-clad Elvis. And she said her vows in front of 1000 total strangers, miles out at sea. It was Tricia Toole’s dream wedding. The Elvis fan married her sweetheart of 26 years, Michael George, aboard Australia’s first Elvis-themed ocean cruise on the Rhapsody of the Seas. The ceremony was a highlight of the three-day King Tribute Cruise, which returns to Sydney today. On board were 2250 Elvis diehards, who saw the Goulburn couple hitched by marriage celebrant and Elvis tribute artist John ”Elvis” Collins. ”I promise not to return you to sender or leave you at heartbreak hotel,” Mr George, 55, said in his vows. ”I promise not to be cruel and step on your blue suede shoes,” Ms Toole, 49, replied. ”I’m crazy about Elvis,” Mr George, a railway linesman, said. ”I was born on his birthday. He was 21 then and I was 21 when he died. That’s symbolic. We had to have an Elvis wedding.” Johnny Welsh, the tribute cruise’s organiser, mortgaged his house and sold his campervan manufacturing business to raise the $1 million-plus required to charter the Rhapsody of the Seas for $350,000 a day. Nothing can quite prepare you for spectacles like the Toowoomba Elvises – four blokes of varying size and age shoehorned precariously into white Lycra. ”It’s hard to go to the bathroom in these,” their leader said. Prices for the cruise started at $750 a person and it sold out two months ago. Money well spent, say fans such as Camilla Sheridan, a member of the Elvettes – diehard female Elvis fans who tour the country on the trail of the tribute artists. Ms Sheridan, 63, dyed her hair and painted her nails ”Presley purple” for the cruise. But the real transformations happened backstage at the on-board Elvis shows, where 10 tribute artists morphed from unassuming blokes to strutting, ebony-quiffed, superstars. Softly spoken Elias Jamhour, a 43-year-old delivery services manager from Bardwell Park, blossomed into the King with the addition of blue contact lenses, a white jumpsuit, stacked heels and bling. Mr Jamhour has represented Australia at the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest in Memphis. Another world-class local Elvis aboard was Jacqueline Feilich, 41, of Bondi, the only female Elvis tribute artist to gain the seal of approval from the Elvis estate. ”I went through hell trying to get started,” she said. ”I just couldn’t get a gig. It’s hard to be a woman in a man’s world and the Elvis world is a man’s world.” The tribute artists worked around the clock. There’s often little in it for them, they admit, except the thrill of paying tribute to their idol. Mr Jamhour has spent $20,000 on outfits. Mr Collins’s wardrobe is worth $70,000. ”The clothes I have on-board are worth $14,000 alone,” Mr Collins said. He brought seven suitcases. Among it all was Jim Porter, the president of the 47-year-old Elvis Presley Fan Club of Australasia for 21 years. ”Everyone on this cruise has one thing in common. They love Elvis. You won’t see anyone arguing here,” he said. And he gave this cruise the highest praise an Elvis fan can bestow. ”It’s up there with my first-ever visit to Graceland … I’m just living the dream on this ship. We all are,” he said.

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