As the Queen prepares to officially mark her birthday this Saturday, researchers at the University of Stirling are launching a study into the centuries-old tradition of giving gifts to the British royal family.
Led by Dr Ines Branco-Illodo, of University of Stirling Management School, the research seeks to explore and understand why members of the public give gifts to members of the royal family on occasions such as official visits, Christmas, weddings, anniversaries, births, and funerals.
Dr Ines Branco-Illodo
Dr Ines Branco-Illodo said: “We often see in the news that, for special occasions such as official visits, family celebrations, birthdays or other anniversaries, members of the royal family are showered with flowers, chocolates, cards and other gifts from the public. However, we know very little about these experiences from the perspective of the giver. We are very keen to listen to people’s stories to understand a different dimension of how we give gifts.”
Semi-retired Home Economics teacher Sheila Clark, from Newton Mearns near Glasgow, regularly gives gifts of her photographs to the royals, and has volunteered to participate in the research.
Sheila, 63, said: “I don’t do it all the time, so when I do, it’s special. I can go and see them, have a little conversation and hand something over, and it gives me nice memories.”
Sheila grew up in London, accompanying her mum on trips to see the royal family.
She explained: “I first saw the Queen coming out of Buckingham Palace when I was four. My mum had been interested her whole life, since the Queen was a princess, and I spent a lot of my young years outside Clarence House or in the royal parks.
“I became interested in photography in 1977, aged 19, and first photographed the Queen with an instamatic, coming up Hope Street in Glasgow at the start of her Silver Jubilee tour. During the 1980s, I kept accompanying my mum to royal events, and I would take a picture and we’d speak to them, and we’d often give flowers. Soon I started giving them the picture I had taken the time before.”
Sheila shows the Queen her scrapbook at Crathie Church 2009
Sheila and her mum often spent Christmas day at Sandringham, where the private service for the royal family is broadcast to well-wishers outside the church. “I was there for Diana’s last Christmas,” she remembered. “I gave some Galaxy chocolate to William and Harry. It was always a really nice atmosphere, we’d meet up with other friends there, and it was lovely to share Christmas day with the royal family. The Queen would come out and gather flowers given by the little children.
“I was there for Kate’s first Christmas, I gave her a photo I’d taken of her at Trooping the Colour. But soon after that more and more people started coming, it got too overwhelming.”
Sheila said the detectives accompanying the royal would often direct them towards those in the crowd who had gifts, so they would become familiar faces.
Sheila's mum (seated) and Sheila (with camera) with Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall at Canisbay Parish Church, 2003
“The Queen knows my name and where I’m from – and has spotted me and stopped to speak in the past. In 2003, my mum received a letter and bouquet from Prince Charles, after I wrote to say she wasn’t well. After she received that, even though she hadn’t been out for a while, she said I had to take her out to Bellahouston Park in Glasgow to see him, and he came over and held her hand.”
Sheila knows her photos are dotted about at different royal residences: she has seen a picture of the piano at Balmoral with two of her shots sitting on top. “It feels very special to know that,” she said.
Dr Branco-Illodo added: “Sheila’s story is incredibly interesting and provides a valuable insight into the experiences and motivations of those who give gifts to the royal family.
"We would like to hear a range of stories and experiences from people who has given a meaningful gift to the royals and encourage them to register their interest.”
To support the research, the team would be interested in hearing about the experience of anyone who has given a gift to the royal family, especially those who give regularly. Participants will receive a £20 retail voucher. Members of the public interested in taking part can register their interest here.
The research team also includes Dr Mona Moufahim, of University of Stirling Management School, and Dr Chris Pich, of Nottingham Trent University.