A surprisingly recent Buckingham Palace tradition

Christmas display at Buckingam Palace Image copyright David Telford

Each December a Christmas tree appears beneath the famous royal balcony in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace. But unlike the famous Trafalgar Square tree it's a fairly modern tradition, writes Joe Kent, of Radio 4's Saturday Live programme.

It may all have begun with a letter to the Queen from an unhappy commuter in 1996. Graphic designer Robin Ollington, now 85, was walking to Victoria station on his way home. "I passed through Trafalgar Square where the spirit of Christmas was very much in evidence where people sang carols around the beautifully lit tree."

The festive mood continued down the Mall until he reached Buckingham Palace. "A gloomy mass. What a contrast. Gas lamps, silent sentries, and the odd window dimly lit. Not a sign of Christmas." So he wrote to the Queen and her private secretary suggesting that perhaps a well-lit tree in the forecourt would add a little Christmas cheer.

Three days later a reply arrived thanking him for his letter. "I have shown your letter to the Queen, and your suggestion has been most carefully noted," it informed him.

Expecting to hear nothing more, and slightly sceptical of the letter's claims, Robin thought nothing more. "I write lots of letters and rarely get the courtesy of a reply. I was just so pleased to have got such a friendly response."

Image copyright Cesar Gonzalez Palomo

But then another letter from the Palace arrived. "I just thought I would let you know that, were you to drive past Buckingham Palace after dark, or indeed in the daytime, you would see the front decorated with a welcoming Christmas Tree - all due to your very sensible suggestion," the letter read, according to Robin.

"It's incredible to think about it now. It was a complete surprise. People think I'm making it up but I've still got the letters to prove it."

It's not Robin's only brush with royalty. His graphic design work included stamp designs for both Guernsey and Gibraltar - which require royal approval before they can go into production. In 1998 he worked on a series of stamps celebrating the history of the Christmas tree and its introduction to Britain by Prince Albert.

Robin is yet to see this year's Christmas tree but hopes to do so soon.

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