If I were editor of Hello! magazine, I wouldn't know whether to be writing my letter of resignation at my stylish but businesslike desk, or giving thanks on my knees from my hard-wearing yet elegant carpet. At a stroke, the entire tittle-tattle industry has been out-thought by the object of its greatest curiosity, the royal family. How have the Windsors pulled off this coup? In a word, gifts. This is not about the baubles of patronage that they dish out but rather the presents, trinkets, cadeaux, coming the other way. Readers of the New Statesman may have noticed that Buckingham Palace has put on show a selection of the tokens that the Queen has received in her 50 years on the throne. (Noticed, yes; and thought about, rushing up the Mall, I have no doubt, in order to carry off every hallmarked fish-kettle and corgi-cosy that wasn't nailed down. Friends, your republican moment may come. For now, let's return to the extraordinary story of how HRH outflanked the gossip-peddlers.) Anyone who has ever seen a copy of a celebrity glossy on the table of a friend or servant will know that its stock in trade is the glitzy wedding. Hello! and its rivals are to showbiz matches what Lloyd's List is to shipwrecks. They inventory everything, from the name of the laboratory-reared pop group that provided the bridesmaids, to how many yards of blameless tulle were harvested. Everything, that is, except the detail which has intrigued every wedding guest who has ever turned up with a keepsake under his arm: who gave what?
Because the exhibition at the Palace is not confined to the spoils of the royal nuptials, there's been no need to bung in a toaster from the people of Norway, say, in order to pad out the display. Instead, curators seem to have had the run of everything that's been in the attic since 1952. And what an astonishing horde it is! Everyone who visits the charming Ball Supper Room will have their own favourites, but I particularly admired the cowboy boots from Houston, which were presented to the Duke of Edinburgh (little worn: the boots, not him); the souvenir of Brunei, comprising silver trees trembling on the back of dragons, for which the dumbstruck cataloguers could find no more exact description than "trophy"; and a gold-plated puck, a fond memento of the Montreal hockey club.
"It's like when you go on holiday," said a woman in the queue. "You get something home and think, 'What did I buy that for?'" Her friend said: "They're the things you never knew you didn't want."
The knick-knacks of the rich and famous could surely be a publishing gold mine. Among those who came to goggle at Buck House and its contents were plenty who got a kick out of the spangled tat. The exhibition subtly implies that the Queen herself may be one of them, by conferring on her that prized but unsuspected trait, a sense of the absurd.