Royal baby: Woman's 70 years of royal watching

Mary Relph
Image caption Mary Relph has spoken regularly with the Queen over the decades she has watched the Royal Family

As the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge - plus the world's media - await the birth of a new royal baby, one woman who has devoted decades of her life to the Royal Family is more excited than most.

Mary Relph is on first name terms with the Queen which, for someone who is not an aristocrat, politician or celebrity, is no mean feat.

It is the result of years of loyally enduring snow, driving rain and the bone-chilling cold to see the Queen attend church on her Sandringham estate.

Her popularity with the Windsors is such that, when Prince William and Kate Middleton married in 2011, the Duchess of Cornwall sent the 81-year-old a slice of wedding cake.

Mrs Relph, of Shouldham, Norfolk, had been unable to attend the public celebrations due to an injured back.

The piece of cake, inset in a specially-designed tin and wrapped in baking parchment, was accompanied by a hand-written note from the Duchess, who also sent her a "beautiful bouquet" after discovering she had a major cancer operation earlier this year.

In February, at Sandringham, the Queen also asked her if she "should be out in the cold" following her illness.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Mrs Relph is a regular sight at royal walkabouts
Image caption A piece of cake from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's wedding was sent to Mary Relph as a personal gift from the Duchess of Cornwall
Image caption The Duchess of Cornwall heard that Mrs Relph had hurt her back so was unable to attend the celebrations

Such is the great-grandmother's dedication to her "hobby" she has only missed seeing the Queen at Sandringham three times since 1988 - once when her partner died, the second time when she fell down the stairs and most recently following her operation.

So far, she has seen three generations of royal babies grow up.

"I am very excited to have another little royal baby here," she said. "I've seen all the Queen's babies and have all their photos in books. Princess Anne's children, the Duke of Kent's - I've followed them all.

"But I have always liked Charles - I've always had a soft spot for him. I used to watch Charles and Anne playing snowballs as children at Sandringham, they had little blue coats on. Yes, I go back a long way."

As the years have rolled by, the royal parenting approach has softened, according to Mrs Relph.

Image caption Mrs Relph has hundreds of photograph albums filled with pictures of the Royal Family
Image caption Sideboards and shelves are loaded with hundreds of commemorative mugs
Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption The new royals are more "modern and laid back", Mrs Relph said

"Charles had a bad deal when he was young as the Queen was always so busy, but the Queen Mother always favoured him a lot.

"We are living in a different age now - William and Harry are more modern and so laidback."

The Norfolk country retreat has been a long-held favourite holiday location for both the Queen and her father, King George VI. But the newest addition to the Royal Household is expected to be brought up in the county as well.

The royal couple are believed to be living between Kensington Palace and Anmer Hall, near Sandringham, while Prince William works as a pilot for the local air ambulance service.

"It's wonderful to have William and Kate in Norfolk, but I don't suppose we'll get anywhere near the house. I haven't seen George yet - I'm still waiting."

Image caption Members of Mrs Relph's family helped prepare Anmer Hall in readiness for the new baby, she said

Mrs Relph first began watching the Windsors when she was about eight years old. One of her earliest memories was spotting the Queen as a young princess standing with her sister Margaret on the steps of Sandringham church.

Despite her advancing years, she still gets up early in order to secure the best vantage points for royal watching. As she gathers with the photographers and friends waiting for "the moment", the conversation will often turn to fashion, she says.

"We talk about different things when we're waiting, but what the Queen is going to wear is always a hot topic.

"Some people don't like it if the Queen has the same outfit on, one that they've seen before. 'She had that on on so and so' they say."

A fan of nearly all the Royal Family, she said Princess Diana, an icon to many, never got her seal of approval.

"I never really liked her, she used to look at you under her eyes," she said.

"She always seemed to try and get one ahead of Charles. I never wished her any harm, but I wasn't keen on her."

Over the decades Mrs Relph has also followed the royals to various locations across the UK, including regular trips to Balmoral and numerous events at Buckingham Palace.

"For many years, Mary has been a familiar face for members of the Royal Family at Sandringham," a royal aide said.

"As we prepare to welcome a new arrival, it's remarkable to think how her interest and goodwill have spanned the generations."

Mrs Relph has built up a large amount of memorabilia, including the royal wedding cake tin, more than 100 commemorative plates, hundreds of mugs, ornaments and thousands of photos.

Some of these are signed gifts from celebrated royal photographer Arthur Edwards - a surprise guest at Mrs Relph's 80th birthday.

She hopes her next event will be the Trooping of the Colour in June. However, anyone wishing to reserve a spot should beware.

"Two years ago I went and this American woman had blankets all around - I went and stood there and she looked at me and said 'I'm sorry madam you can't stand there'.

"I said: 'Why not - I've been standing here for years'. She said: 'Well, I'm saving these places for people'.

"There's this spot you go near the memorial so you're dead in line for the balcony and for when they come out to go over the Mall.

"I held my ground - I'd been there for years and years."

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