‘I have over 12,000 items of royal memorabilia – more than anyone in the world’

“Pulling down my rare oil painting of the Duke of Kent, valued at £60,000, I felt a swell of pride.

“Never mind Queen Elizabeth, I should be crowned queen of my own royal collection!” I laughed to my husband John, 66, a farmer.

With 12,000-plus items of memorabilia, I’m the extremely proud owner of the largest collection in the world.

We’re throwing a big party at our farm in Weardale, County Durham, on Jubilee night, and John was helping me get things ready.

Picking through choice royal mementos – my favorite being a framed napkin used on a flight by Prince Charles in 1977 to Teeside Airport, where he only landed because of fog – I turned to John and grinned. I may have been a magistrate for 30-odd years, but I don’t need to consult with the rest of the bench on this one. My verdict is that the Platinum Jubilee – for Elizabeth the Great as I like to call her – will be the best yet.

Anita Atkinson has the biggest collection of royal memorabilia in the world

People wonder why an ardent monarchist like me isn’t jetting to London on the big day. Well, I’ve agreed to help with a pop-up royal tearoom in nearby Bishop Auckland, where a cousin of mine runs a venture for adults with learning disabilities, who are going to be great British bakers for the day. So I’ll be tucking into their scones and happily musing about the monarchy.

Dubbed everything from ‘royal superfan’ to ‘royal historians’ and ‘record-breaking royalist,’ because of my memorabilia – said to be worth more than my £200k house – I prefer to be called a monarchist.

And while my four granddaughters love their queens and princesses – like Frozen’s Elsa – in Disney films, my queen is always Elizabeth. I know everything about her and love to dress up in patriotic red, white and blue at any opportunity.

Anita says she was destined to become a monarchist
Anita says she was destined to become a monarchist

My parents were married in 1936, the “year of the three kings”, when George V died, then was followed by Edward VIII, who abdicated, going on to be succeeded by his brother George VI.

Although I wasn’t born until 1956, I think I was always destined to be a monarchist. Now, I have a royal museum on the farm, with items going back to 1761 to the reign of George III. I’ve updated it with a tribute to Prince Philip since his death – with mugs, plates, memorial coins and even painted stones.

Growing up, Mum’s memorabilia collection was on a smaller scale. But our china cabinet was full of royal collectibles, like coronation cups. There was nothing from Edward’s abdication – as Mum thought it was wonderful!

Anita can transform into the late Queen Victoria
Anita can transform into the late Queen Victoria

“The greatest love story of the century – with the dashing Prince of Wales giving up the throne for his woman,” she said of Edward and Wallis Simpson. I loved listening to her royal tales.

The youngest of five children, I remember being six or seven and one of my aunties arriving with her daughter and saying, “Look at our Judith, she’s wearing the Queen’s colours.”

Her dress was red, white and blue, just like the Union Jack. Even though I was a real tomboy, after that I wanted the dress. I’m so obsessed with the monarchy I often wonder if I was a royalist soldier in a former life.

A life-sized cardboard cut-out of the Queen lives in Anita's house
A life-sized cardboard cut-out of the Queen lives in Anita’s house

Tailor-made memento

It was 1977, the year of the Silver Jubilee, that signaled the start of my serious collection. That year, I bought a Union flag from the scout shop in Durham, took it to the tailor in the next town and asked if he could make it into a waistcoat – of course I still have it.

I also organized a Silver Jubilee street party and bought a little coin for all the kids in the street. We had three-legged races, rounders, all sorts of things.

Less than three months before, I’d met John, my husband-to- be. We got engaged on my 21st birthday in the November and tied the knot in 1979 – the year Lord Mountbatten, the uncle of Prince Philip, was an assassin.

In 1981, which was the year of Charles and Diana’s nuptials, my first baby Ruth, now 40, was due on the royal wedding day.

Anita's daughter Ruth was due on Charles and Diana's wedding day
Anita’s daughter Ruth was due on Charles and Diana’s wedding day

“I’m not having a baby on that day,” I told the doctors. No way was I missing the wedding and I watched every moment of the big day on TV!

Then, in 1984 when Prince Harry was born, my son Jimmy, 38, arrived. In 1988, when Princess Beatrice was born, I gave birth to my youngest daughter Gemma, 33.

I have always gone to support the royal family if they’ve visited locally. I even went to the Queen’s Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in 1992. I was invited by the Lord Lieutenant of County Durham, after my aunt wrote a letter to Buckingham Palace saying we’d missed the Queen on a visit to a factory in town. Really, the Queen’s reign is the story of my life.

I’ll never sell my collection

I was rubbish at history at school, but I’ve read every copy of Majesty magazine and am often invited to give talks about them.

As the editor of a community newspaper until 2019, I often ran articles about royalty, too.

Anita drops by to see the royals anytime they're in town
Anita drops by to see the royals anytime they’re in town

I have no idea what I have spent over the years on my royal memorabilia collection, but I will never sell it. I will leave it to my grandchildren. They aren’t fervent monarchists like me, but they show an interest and the eldest two always help me with my museum.

I think about the Queen every day. I don’t know her, but she feels kind of like family.

When the prime minister, Boris Johnson, was in hospital with Covid, it was the Queen who stepped in. When she said, “Don’t worry. We’ll meet again,” it reassured us all. That’s exactly what she told people in 1940 to the children of the Commonwealth, during the war, saying, “All will be well.”

She was right then and she was right this time, too.

“This Platinum Jubilee is huge. God save the Queen!” I said to John, smiling, as I dusted Her Majesty’s image on a cup.”

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