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What do you give the woman who has everything?

Blog | By Harry Mount | Jul 21, 2017

The answer is – pretty much anything. Tomorrow, Buckingham Palace starts its summer opening with a gripping show, 'Royal Gifts’: 200 presents given to the Queen during her reign.

It’s quite a mixed bag: a paperweight made from a fossilised dinosaur bone, given by the city of Drumheller in Alberta; a bag of woven coconut leaves, given by the Marshall Islands in 2012; a portrait of the Queen in banana leaves, given by Rwanda in 2006. The exhibition is full of all sorts of revelations. What did JFK give Her Majesty? A signed picture of himself - hardly an act of humility. And then there are some real gems – the Italians gave her a wonderful, 15th century, Renaissance bust.

The really intriguing thing is what the poor Queen does with all these presents. She can’t throw them away; she can’t regift them; and she can’t use them - everything looks pristine. Thank God she’s got so much space to store and display these things. One insider told me that a second-rate picture, given by President Marcos of the Philippines, was stored at the Queen’s beach hut in Norfolk. The hut later burnt down; the Marcos painting was not mourned.

By far the most moving thing in the show is nothing to do with royal presents. It is Princess Diana’s desk (pictured). For all her riches and fame, the really heart-stopping objects are the everyday ones: her Roberts Radio, her family pictures (none of them including Prince Charles) and her tape collection – Lionel Richie and Elton John figure prominently.