A samovar from Boris Yeltsin? I want one too

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The Independent Online

An American friend rang from Idaho last week to ask if I could get hold of a list of the 200 official gifts due to go on display at Buckingham Palace this summer as part of the jubilee exhibition. It opens on 5 August and Jayne, my American friend, read about it in the Boise Examiner. What on earth for? I said. Because, said Jayne in a careless sort of way, (which, knowing Jayne, meant she cares very much indeed), one of them might be hers. "You mean you gave a present to the Queen?" I said incredulously. I know she's an active member of her community – she runs courses such as Women Against Food Additives, and Everyday Empowerment – but I had no idea she mixed with royals.

Jayne said that when she was a student the Queen had visited the university and her sorority had presented Her Majesty with a patchwork quilt featuring the endangered animals of America. Her personal contribution was an embroidered caribou.

I was impressed. Once, on a visit to Northern Ireland, I found myself unexpectedly at an exhibition of antique American quilts. I had no idea that the quilt played such an important part in American cultural history but, having read the cards that accompanied every exhibit, I soon did. Afterwards, leafing through the visitors' book, I read tributes such as "thank you, thank you, a magnificent collection" from Agnes Quinlan of Perth, Australia, and "Your home-spun cornucopia illustrating the dignity and indomitable spirit of American womanhood made us feel truly humble," from Mr and Mrs Walter Kirkwood, of the Ribble Valley, Lancashire. The last entry, scrawled in pencil, said simply: "That was shite," signed PM, Belfast.

In the 50 years that she's been on the throne the Queen has received 1,500 state gifts and allowing only paying customers to see what amounts to less than a quarter of her bottom drawer doesn't strike me as particularly generous. In the middle of one of the Buckingham Palace flowerbeds, which you can only see if you are invited to one of those summer garden parties, there's a huge ceremonial urn about 12 foot high which says on the plinth something like "presented to the nation by William IV to commemorate the battle of something or other". And I remember thinking, if it's a present to the nation, why is it in the Queen's back garden?

Jubilee year is the perfect occasion to show us some of those legendary gifts from presidents, princes and prime ministers during her 251 official overseas visits to 128 countries. While I'm in royal statistics mode, I might as well give you a few more. Since 1952, the Queen has received three million items of correspondence, sent 100,000 telegrams to centenarians in the UK and Commonwealth, given 75,000 Christmas puddings to staff, owned more than 30 corgis, hosted 88 state banquets and attended every Trooping the Colour ceremony except one, in 1955, which was cancelled because of a national rail strike.

Now, about those presents. The one I particularly cherish was actually given to the Duke of Edinburgh during a state visit to France in 1972. It's a 6ft-long wine cooler in the shape of a grasshopper which, when you rotate its wings, turns into a low-level coffee table. I've always wanted one. The legs and wings are made of steel and brass, but the head is Sèvres biscuit porcelain. On second thoughts, Sèvres biscuit porcelain wouldn't be practical in our house. I've given up trying to paint nail varnish over the chips in my favourite cups.

Other presents include a samovar from Boris Yeltsin, a glass mosque from the Malaysian president, a computer from Ronald Reagan, a sealskin chess board made by Inuits and, less extravagantly, a pineapple, 30 eggs, a pair of sandals, 10 tins of tuna, and a lacrosse stick. She's often given live presents – armadillos, anteaters, jaguars, black beavers, turtles, an elephant from Cameroon, a sloth from Brazil, and a canary.

I bet my enterprising friend Tim, who runs an incredibly successful wacky present website called I Want one of Those, has a list of those 1,500 royal car boot sale winners which he will replicate with stickers saying: "As used by the Queen''. Now I'm getting muddled. Was Her Majesty given a power-shower in the shape of an old-fashioned red telephone box, which Sophie, Countess of Wessex, will graciously demonstrate to Buckingham Palace visitors this summer, or was it on Tim's website? Either way I want one.

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