Bright pink and as cheap as chips, Felicity the Flamingo is perhaps the last gift you’d expect a four-year-old Princess to want for Christmas.
But at Sandringham on Christmas Day, the minute that Princess Charlotte spotted her in the crowd of well-wishers, royal eyes were irresistibly drawn to the £1.50 inflatable toy.
Holding her mother Kate‘s hand, Charlotte kept turning round for another peek before entering St Mary Magdalene for the Royal Family’s Traditional church service.
Afterwards, the little princess made a bee-line for Felicity and her proud owner; wheelchair-bound Gemma Clark, 39, who from 15 months of age has suffered from cerebral palsy.
‘Felicity was a 39th birthday present from my older sister, Fran, and she goes everywhere with me. She’s like my lucky mascot,’ says Gemma.
‘But Charlotte kept looking at Felicity and I thought: “I wonder if the Princess would like her?” So when she came over with Prince George and their parents after the service, I asked her: “Would you like Felicity?”
.Gemma Clark, 39, (left with her parents Pam and Paul) who has cerebal palsy and is wheelchair bound gave her inflatable flamingo ‘Felicity’ to Princess Charlotte after church at Sandringham on Christmas Day (right)
‘Her face lit up and she said: “Yes please.” I told Charlotte: “You don’t have to call her Felicity if you don’t want to; you can call her whatever you want.”‘
‘Then both she and George gave me a hug and I was on cloud nine. They were so sweet and it is a moment I will remember for ever as being special. The atmosphere was just awesome.’
Today, Gemma and her family are tickled pink at the thought that Felicity might be the surprise Christmas hit for a little girl whose gifts don’t usually come from a Spar convenience store.
She can only hope there will be no royal squabbles with Princes George and Louis should they take a shine to her, too.
And, after what the Queen admitted was a ‘bumpy year’ in her Christmas Day speech, the magical moment AT Sandringham showed the world that — when it comes to ‘relatability’ — Charlotte can’t put a foot wrong.
Indeed, for all her privileges and royal status, she is just like every other four-year-old who at Christmas decides their favourite present is the one you least expect them to be thrilled with.
More than that, however, this heart-touching moment gave the Clark family another special memory.
Gemma, youngest of three daughters, was a healthy toddler when she fell seriously ill with gastroenteritis and was rushed to hospital by her parents Paul, a farmer, and mother Pam.
She spent four weeks in hospital, semi-comatose, but never fully recovered after doctors discovered severe dehydration had left Gemma with lasting brain damage, affecting her speech, balance and ability to walk. At Charlotte’s age, Gemma’s life revolved around speech and occupational therapists.
Pam, 67, whose two older daughters, Fran and Tracey, are 46 and 44, says: ‘It was very tough on the family. The elder two suffered a bit in the beginning because all the attention was on Gemma. Despite everything, Gemma is a happy young woman. She has just got on with life and taken everything in her stride.’
Gemma Clark from Lincolnshire waves to Princess Charlotte after the Christmas Day morning church service
The Duchess of Cambridge with Princess Charlotte after attending the Christmas Day morning church service at St Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham, Norfolk
Paul, 69, who has been married to Pam for 46 years, adds: ‘Before 15 months of age, Gemma was a perfectly healthy child and we would have given anything for this not to have happened and for her to have married like her older sisters and had children.
‘Her biggest problem is that she can’t walk anywhere on her own, but her outlook on life is fantastic. My wife has been brilliant with Gemma, and she’s had a lot of help from many people. She very rarely gets down.’
In fact, Gemma always thinks of others worse off than she is, and last year raised £2,000 for Cancer Research UK in memory of a childhood friend who died from leukaemia by agreeing to let her sister Fran, a hairdresser, shave her head for charity.
Gemma, youngest of three daughters, was a healthy toddler when she fell seriously ill with gastroenteritis and was rushed to hospital by her parents Paul, a farmer, and mother Pam
It was Fran who bought Felicity the Flamingo for Gemma’s birthday last September.
Pam says: ‘We were spending Gemma’s birthday on holiday in Fuerteventura, and Fran just wanted to buy a little something for her sister to open on the day and so she picked it up at the local Spar store.’
Gemma continues: ‘When I opened it I thought: ‘Really? A pink flamingo?’ I don’t normally like inflatable animals, but I did like Felicity. She grew on me. Taking her with me everywhere was just a fun thing to do, because everyone notices her.’
Family friends would even take Felicity away on holiday — taking pictures of her on the beach, having a drink, to send back to Gemma, who likes to keep a diary and scrapbooks.
Before this latest jaunt, Gemma would like Charlotte to know, Felicity has been to Barbados and Cornwall and can’t wait to hear about her new adventures.
‘Kate and William have always been my favourite royals and Felicity couldn’t have a better new home. When Kate married William, she wore an awesome dress. I loved it to bits and have just followed them ever since,’ says Gemma. ‘When they had children, our family would guess what the children’s names would be. Funnily enough, with their last baby, I guessed it would be called Louis after Lord Louis Mountbatten, and I got that one right.
‘Felicity was a 39th birthday present from my older sister, Fran, and she goes everywhere with me. She’s like my lucky mascot,’ says Gemma
‘I was writing a letter to Kate and William to say how much I admired them and to ask if I could meet them, when Fran said: ‘How do you fancy going Sandringham on Christmas Day?’ I just screamed and went: ‘Yes!’ It’s something I’ve never done before.’
At 9am on Christmas Day, Gemma set off on the hour-long drive from Spalding, Lincolnshire to Sandringham with her parents while Fran and her husband, Andrew Secker, travelled separately.
Joining thousands of well-wishers, they expected only a glimpse of the royals on their way to church, but Gemma was given a prime spot with her mother near the church entrance, with her father a few rows behind. Pam says: ‘We’d never been before so we didn’t know what to expect. Parking was the main concern and whether we could get near the front, but as it was, we had a fabulous view.
‘We didn’t expect anyone from the royal party to come over to us. We hoped they would, but it was a surprise when Kate and William came along with the children.
‘The lady behind me said: ‘Oh my goodness, did you see Charlotte looking at Felicity as she walked into church?’ and I said: ‘No, I didn’t take any notice.’ She said: ‘Oh, she definitely wants that flamingo!’
‘After they came out, Charlotte’s eyes lit up when they stopped to talk to us. Gemma likes to do things for other people, but she did turn to me and asked: ‘Can I give Charlotte Felicity?’ And I said: ‘Of course you can’. I felt very proud and pleased for Gemma — she had a wonderful day. She’ll remember this for the rest of her life.’
Gemma continues: ‘The atmosphere was just amazing. I was thinking to myself: ‘Oh my goodness, Gemma, you are actually doing it.’ I never thought I’d go to Sandringham or be hugged by Charlotte and George.
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge stand with their children Prince George and Princess Charlotte outside the St Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham in Norfolk on Christmas Day
‘I couldn’t believe it when Kate and William came over with the children to speak to me. I told Kate she and William were brilliant when they appeared with Mary Berry on television before Christmas, and she laughed.
‘Then, after Charlotte shook my hand and said hello, I could see her looking at Felicity and asked: ‘Would you like her?’
Princess Charlotte of Cambridge attempts a curtsy to the Queen at the Christmas Day sevice
‘It felt like a really special moment when they both gave me a hug. George said: ‘Happy Christmas.’ They both looked so cute and gorgeous. I was very pleased I took Felicity along, and I think my siser will accept my apology for giving away her birthday present to me.’ Dad Paul says: ‘It was fantastic to see Charlotte walking up and down holding Felicity. I was three of four rows back, but I could see everything going on, and it was just phenomenal.’
he ADDS: ‘It was staggering seeing the little royals giving Gemma a hug. I was never expecting anything like that, it was just wonderful. When we got back home for our Christmas lunch, it was all we could talk about.
‘It’s amazing to think of Charlotte playing with Felicity. I hope she gets lots of fun from it. I said to Gemma the following morning: ‘Did you intend to give Felicity away?’ and she said: ‘No, not really.’ She just wanted to take her so she could say it was another place that Felicity had been.
‘We couldn’t have asked for a better day. The weather was brilliant and it was perfect for Gemma. All we have ever wanted is to create nice moments for her throughout her life.’
Gemma is now planning to write a new letter to the Cambridges, to ask how Felicity is settling in, and perhaps to invite them all to her big ‘Glitz and Glam’ 40th birthday celebration next year.
She hopes that Charlotte will bring Felicity the Flamingo back to visit her one day, or send a photograph from wherever she may travel next.
For now that Felicity is under new, royal ownership, clearly the world must be her oyster.
She’s only four, but Princess Charlotte is already ruling the roost: LIBBY PURVES on how the little royal calls the shots with her elder brother George… and gets away with it with her cheeky grin
By Libby Purves for The Daily Mail
Princess Charlotte certainly stole the show on her first walk about at Sandringham this week: in her smart little double-breasted coat, she wowed the crowd with aplomb.
Brandishing an inflatable flamingo, she plunged along the lines with glee, stepping forward to hug Gemma Clark in her wheelchair, and refusing to do the royal thing and hand over a bunch of roses to an aide (divas of any age don’t let go of flowers easily, OK?).
But this little girl knows her manners just as well as her more reserved brother, George, and she bobbed a dainty curtsy to her great-granny, the Queen, and shook hands with the vicar. Butter wouldn’t melt — but she did look as if she’d been doing this for years.
Maybe Charlotte understood that people have queued for hours to see her family, maybe not. When you’re four years old and wearing a new Christmas outfit and the world is full of admirers, you go for it with gusto.
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge kisses Prince Louis as they pose next to Princess Charlotte and Prince George in Norfolk earlier this year
Until, perhaps, at some other time and in private, you morph into Violet Elizabeth Bott from the Just William books, fix your parents with a hard stare as fearsome as Paddington’s, and impose your iron will. I don’t know this for sure, but I can make an educated guess.
Little girls at that age are a power to be reckoned with. I’ve been one, had one, and babysat many of them in my time.
They tend to have, for a while, the strongest personality in any house: looking up defiantly at huge looming helpless fathers, sometimes (as I would to mine) with the menacing line: ‘Oh, give in, Dad! Give in!’
One such child whom I was supposed to be teaching to read laid down firm rules from the start. She insisted on wearing her Superman outfit and told me: ‘You sit there. Azackly there. I will sit here. And learn afrabet. Then go and see the ducks.’ And I was powerless to alter this rigid timetable.
Princess Charlotte, waves as she arrives for her first day at school, with her brother Prince George and her parents the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, at Thomas’s Battersea in London in September
Charlotte may have an elder brother but I think we can be in no doubt that for now she rules the roost between gentle, quiet George and baby Louis, perhaps in the style of Great-Aunt Anne or her more sociable and rebellious late Great-Great-Aunt Margaret.
We’ve seen the evidence, after all: the snaps of her beating her big brother to a bouncy slide at a fete, bestowing a flinty glare and telling photographers ‘you’re not coming!’ at her baby brother’s Christening.
And as for poking out her tongue she’s a serial offender — most notably at a regatta this summer to the embarrassment of her mum. But, when the mood takes her, she’s also fond of beaming a winning smile over her shoulder and giving a cheery wave.
Princess Charlotte and Prince George have fun playing football after the King Power Charity Polo Match
Indeed, she seems to embrace every formal event with unselfconscious glee. It’s a four-year-old girl thing, and will probably last a good few years more. So it should.
Nobody will dare tell Charlotte she should be seen and not heard, or that little girls must be ladylike and not ‘tomboys’. Maybe her active outdoor life will mean at some point she’ll opt for trousers, not frocks (that was my decision: I fought those damn velvet dresses for years, snarling in ragged shorts with a home-made bow and arrow strung for action).
If so, it’ll be uphill work for the Duchess of Cambridge getting her into those demure 1950s outfits. But good luck to Charlotte. Because lying in wait one day is adolescence with all the pressures on young girls: to be pretty, cute, giggly, passive and attractive to boys, who are scared of ‘bossy’ girls.
Princess Charlotte stands on the steps holding the hand of her mother the Duchess of Cambridge after attending the wedding ceremony of Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan Markle at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle in May last year
She’ll have to get through that pressure, plus all the additional expectations and scrutiny that come with her royal status. Princess Anne did it by being a fearless, champion sportswoman and yelling ‘Naff orf!’ at journalists (actually, the reporters involved later admitted that it wasn’t naff but quite another word).
Charlotte will find her own way through, I am sure, become a grown-up woman and equal human being. Maybe gentle George will even be a help with the tough bit.
But right now, she rules: and if and when she does kick over the traces, she’ll have worked out that a well-timed curtsey gets most things forgiven.