When Paddington first arrived in London from deepest, darkest Peru, he wore a label saying: “Please look after this bear.”
The journey from Buckingham Palace to a Barnardo’s children’s nursery in Bow, east London, may not have been quite so arduous, but the message around his neck remained the same.
The Queen Consort took part in a special teddy bear’s picnic on Thursday as she rehomed armfuls of cuddly toys left in tribute to Queen Elizabeth II.
The bears, which were among the thousands left outside royal residences in London and Windsor following the late monarch’s death in September, had been professionally cleaned and adorned with a new label.
Just like the original, it was printed on brown card and read: “Please look after this bear.”
This time, however, it was signed Camilla R and carried her royal cypher.
The Queen Consort said it was “a pleasure to find a home for these bears”, telling the children to “look after them carefully”.
She told them to place the tiny boots on their bears “otherwise he won’t be able to go outside”.
Camilla, patron of Barnardo's, was joined for the picnic by actor Hugh Bonneville, who played Mr Brown in the Paddington films.
He read Paddington Takes a Bath, a story chosen by the Queen Consort in honour of the toys’ professional clean.
When he had finished, it was time for the picnic. However, he quickly learned that while marmalade sandwiches may have been Paddington’s favoured snack, for today’s children they do not quite cut it.
“Who would like a marmalade sandwich?” Bonneville asked enthusiastically.
Oscar Isherwood, three, tried one and handed it back. “I don’t like it,” he declared.
Before long, Bonneville had a pile of unwanted sandwiches stacked up on his book. “I’m loading up here!” he laughed. “Rejects!”
The bears went down well though, and the Queen Consort gamely chatted to the children as she handed them out.
“Has everybody got a bear?” she asked. One small girl more in need of reassurance than a bear was rewarded with a royal hug.
Another boy happily accepted a bear and offered Camilla a crown in return. The Queen Consort opted not to put it on.
More than 1,000 Paddington bears were left at the gates of royal palaces in memory of the late Queen.
The tributes were inspired by the late monarch’s Platinum Jubilee sketch, which saw her take afternoon tea with the Peruvian bear at Buckingham Palace before producing a marmalade sandwich from her handbag.
The bears will now be distributed to children in need around the country.
Lynn Perry, Barnardo’s chief executive, told Camilla after her visit: “I hope you can see it’s meant the world to the children here today to receive a Paddington bear, it’s such a privilege for us, a real honour, and I hope you’ve seen the happiness and the joy that this occasion has brought to children in Barnardo’s.”
Bonneville said: “I think all the children here who receive one of these bears may not quite get the impact of of it now, but to have that by your bed in the years to come will be quite special.
“It’s wonderful that so many hundreds of these bears have been given a nice wash and a clean-up. So thank you to all the hundreds and thousands of people who left them as tributes.
“It is wonderful that they are being given to young children who will really enjoy having them in their teddy bear collection from here on.”
Karen Jankel, the daughter of Paddington author Michael Bond, who died aged 91 in 2017, said: “My father would have been completely overwhelmed by all this. I don’t think he ever anticipated Paddington reaching such dizzy heights.”
Meanwhile, Bonneville acknowledged that marmalade was an acquired taste.
“I was saying to Karen Jankel: ‘What if your father had written about jam?’ That might have gone down a bit better.”