This year’s special exhibition at Buckingham Palace is Royal Gifts and it showcases gifts that Her Majesty The Queen has received in her official capacity. Sadly we don’t get to see what Prince Philip might give her on her for her birthday but the Royal Gifts exhibition is worth a visit.
The Queen is our most travelled monarch and has been on more than 250 overseas visits, each one resulting in a gift from the country she visited, as well as travelling the length and breadth of the UK.
Buckingham Palace has put together a selection of all these gifts from over 100 countries and official engagements in the UK, trying to cover as many countries as possible. You get to see the gifts as you make your way through the magnificent rooms which make up a visit to the Queen’s London home. The displays take us on a world-wide journey starting in Europe and moving through the continents and a room which focuses on the UK.
Here are the gifts that caught my eye…
Many gifts note the fact that our head of state is a woman including this simple, lovely white ‘Kili’ bag, made from woven coconut and pandanus leaves, a gift from the Marshall Islands in 2012.
The newest gifts were from the King and Queen of Spain who visited the UK in May 2017. Their gifts recognised the shared history of our countries, as the Book of Hours is a facsimile of one which belonged to Philip ll of Spain who married Mary Tudor of England. The postcards, also facsimiles, are the correspondence between the current king and his great-grandparents, Alfonso XIII and his future wife, Queen Victoria’s grand-daughter who he met at Buckingham Palace and began sending cards to.
Some gifts give you an insight into how much a visit from the Queen meant. This hand-painted jigsaw map travelled to every Girl Guide patrol in New Zealand in 1954 and this journey along with the signature of each Girl Guide is documented in the accompanying manuscript.
The prize for the furthest travelled gift is easily won by this flag, previously sewn on a spacesuit worn by Tim Peake on a spacewalk in 2016. The first union flag to venture into the vacuum of space!
One aspect of the exhibition which appealed to me was the juxtaposition of the gift alongside a contemporary photo of the Queen, either with the leader who gave her the gift or with the gift itself. Here we have the Queen riding in a carriage with Nelson Mandela in 1996 displayed next to the gift of a silk scarf depicting San people hunting a herd of eland in the Drakensberg Mountains.
Some items have fascinating stories attached to them such as this model of a longboat from Tristan da Cunha given to the Queen in 1962. In 1961 the central volcano of the island erupted and the islanders had to escape by these boats. They made their way to England (in larger boats presumably!) and were housed in Southampton until they could return home in 1963.
2 contrasting gifts from Canada: one the more traditional and beautiful is Polar Bear and Hunter in Greenstone. The second, rather more fun, a pair of mittens to celebrate the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver!
Whether it is the box itself or something that was said, the Queen looks like she is enjoying receiving this wooden casket, originally containing Pakistani sweets on a visit to the Scunthorpe Central Mosque, Lincolnshire in 2002.
This fine ebony Carving of a Drummer from Tanzania was given to the Queen in 1997 and is a wonderful piece of craftsmanship.
Mexican art is colourful and often playful and this Tree of Life was given to the Queen in 2015, shows her surrounded by familiar objects including union flags, her insignia, Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, horses ridden by herself and the Duke of Edinburgh and guardsmen.
Some items are not royal gifts in the formal sense, such as this photograph of President Kennedy given to the Queen when he was here on private business and visited the Queen with Jackie Kennedy for a dinner. Sadly he was killed before he could return for an official state visit.
Your reward at end of your tour is the outdoor cafe where the pastries are properly royal, each with a crown!
One more treat as part of your visit is the very well stocked shops where you can buy all things royal from cakes, tea towels and pens to crockery sets, jewellery, beds for your corgis and very smart teddy bears!
For more information about visiting Buckingham Palace which is open until 1st October this year: www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/the-state-rooms-buckingham-palace
Full disclosure: As is usual in this industry, I was invited to the Palace to review the summer exhibition. This has not affected my views of the visit.