LONDON: Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II is putting gifts received from world leaders on display at Buckingham Palace, with the eclectic collection including presents from the likes of Nelson Mandela and John F. Kennedy.
A remarkable array of over 200 gifts will go on display from Saturday, providing an intriguing reminder of the globetrotting lifestyle and international encounters of the 91-year-old sovereign.
“One of the most universal aspects of the Queen’s meetings with other heads of state, both at home and abroad, is the exchange of gifts,” said Sally Goodsir, assistant curator of the new “Royal Gifts” exhibition.
Since her accession to the throne in 1952, Elizabeth has travelled more than 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometres) around the world and taken part in 89 state visits abroad.
At the same time, she has welcomed more than 100 leaders to Britain for formal state visits.
“The exchange is a gesture of goodwill and these gifts are representative of traditional skills or of cultural significance and speak of a nation of culture’s history and traditions,” explains Goodsir.
Although hugely diverse, these symbols of friendship have often involved an exchange of signed photographs.
These include one from US President John F. Kennedy in 1961, who along with his wife Jackie was invited to dine at Buckingham Palace while on an unofficial visit to London.
The gifts on display also include a handwritten note of Kennedy’s “high esteem” for his royal host.
Thirty-five years later, the queen met with another great figure of the 20th century when she welcomed Nelson Mandela for a state visit. The then South African president offered the monarch a silk scarf depicting bushmen hunting a herd of eland in his country’s Eastern Cape region.
Next to the scarf stands a surprising portrait of Elizabeth, created by weaving dyed banana leaves together, which was given by Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame in 2006.
Kangaroos and horses
Below the majestic chandeliers of Buckingham Palace’s ballroom gifts from Asia are on display, including a lacquer box with the image of a heron worked in silver on the lid.
It was a present from Japan’s Emperor Showa to Elizabeth for her coronation in 1953.
“Emperor Showa’s subsequent state visit to the UK in the 1970s was the first time a Japanese emperor had left Japan to pay a visit to any country outside,” says Goodsir.
The queen has also received a number of living animals — a crocodile from the Gambia in 1961, an elephant from Cameroon in 1972, and six Australian kangaroos in 1977 — all of which have found homes in London zoo.
Around 20 horses have also been given, as well as a porcelain one from French President Francois Hollande which was presented during Elizabeth’s state visit to France in 2014.
The gift which made the longest journey before ending up in Buckingham Palace was presented by Tim Peake, the first British astronaut to carry out a space walk from the International Space Station.
Peake wore a British flag badge during the space walk in 2016 and gave it to the monarch earlier this year.
Also on display, in a tribute to Princess Diana to mark the 20th anniversary since her death, are a number of her personal items including a briefcase and ballet shoes.
Diana, the first wife of Britain’s heir to the throne Prince Charles, died in a Paris car crash on August, 31, 1997.