AS WE face our last minute Christmas shopping, spare a thought for The Queen who has 550 presents to buy every year – and that’s just for her staff. Her Majesty spends some £20,000 annually on gifts for her loyal employees – but it’s fair to say not much imagination goes into her festive buys.
It’s a modest gift or book token plus a Christmas pudding.
Even her closest family do not receive expensive gifts but traditionally exchange joke token presents, the cheaper the better, which have in the past included soap on a rope, toilet seats and brushes.
Some of the more memorable gifts have included an “Ain’t life a bitch” bath hat given to the Queen by Harry and a grow-your-own-girlfriend kit given to Harry in his bachelor days by Kate.
Let’s hope Prince Harry has warned his luxury-loving designer-clad bride Meghan.
She might risk being embarrassed like Diana, Princess of Wales was at her own first Royal Family Christmas in Sandringham in 1981, when she turned up bearing costly gifts such as cashmere scarves for an unimpressed if amused Queen and co.
At one time Her Majesty liked to do her Christmas shopping personally, so Harrods, then royalty’s favourite store, opened after-hours exclusively for her so she could wander around at leisure picking out gifts for family and friends.
But security measures have become so strict that these days she now does her shopping through the internet with the help of her personal assistant, Angela Kelly.
Preparations for the royal household festivities begin before Easter when Buckingham Palace’s chief housekeeper emails household members asking what they would like from Her Majesty for Christmas.
There isn’t much choice, it’s a gift token or a book token.
And even then there are conditions.
First, they have to have been in royal service for a year.
Next, they cannot have anything – as Prince Charles might put it – “above their station”.
The most junior staff have a voucher worth £30, increasing year by year to a maximum of £35.
The week before Christmas the staff troop into one of the State Apartments at the Palace to receive their presents from the Queen.
First they stand and listen to the Lord Chamberlain, the head of the royal household, delivering his annual report on their yearly performance.
Not perhaps the most conducive prelude to the festive season.
Then the Queen hands out the gift tokens, carried out in strict order of precedence with the private secretaries, Keeper of the Privy Purse, Crown Equerry and Master of the Household going first.
Last in line are the domestic workers: cooks, footmen, maids, cleaners, chauffeurs and garden staff normally never allowed inside the Palace.
Their names are called and they come forward to meet the Queen who hands over their present – beautifully wrapped, of course.
They thank her saying it is exactly what they wanted (without even opening it).
Then, everyone is invited by Her Majesty to a drinks party in the Ballroom.
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh send 850 Christmas cards: to heads of state, leading politicians, Commonwealth leaders, friends and family.
The Queen used to sign hers on board the Royal Yacht during the summer cruise.
But since Britannia is no more she adds her signature, always in black ink not ballpoint, while at Balmoral, and they are passed to Philip for him to sign.
He also sends a further 200 of his own to organisations with which he is associated.
Recipients can tell their standing by the way their cards are inscribed.
Cousins like the Gloucesters and Kents have theirs signed Lilibet – the Queen’s childhood nickname – while politicians such as the Prime Minister get a formal Elizabeth R and Philip.
Close friends like Lady Pamela Hicks receive a card bearing the legend Elizabeth and Philip (handwritten) and those lower down the Christmas card list sometimes find theirs is not signed but stamped.
The Queen gives around 1,450 Christmas puddings to her staff.
The Keeper of the Privy Purse is instructed to obtain the best price for the puddings, now reportedly not from Fortnum and Mason but the humbler Tesco.
By tradition the Queen also gives one hundredweight of coal to the “deserving and needy” in Windsor.
These once numbered around 900, today the figure is less than 50 as central heating has largely done away with coal fires.
So, they now receive the cash equivalent of a hundredweight of coal – currently £8.25.
Her Majesty’s Christmas tree comes from her Windsor estate and she also gives trees to several churches including two to Westminster Abbey and three to St Paul’s Cathedral.
The Queen moves to her Norfolk home Sandringham for the festivities, with strict instructions to family who have been invited about when they should arrive.
One again, it is all done in order of precedence with Prince Charles and Camilla the last couple to turn up.
The Queen stays on at Sandringham long after everyone else has departed, not leaving until the first week in February and – as she is not in the least bit superstitious – she insists on the Christmas decorations remaining up until she leaves.
That’s the way it has been for decades, and it will not change during the Queen’s lifetime.
She has already dictated the script for the 2019 festivities and nobody – Prince Philip included – would dare change a word.
Source: EXPRESS CO UK