British centenarians have been receiving congratulations from the monarch since April 1908, when Buckingham Palace dispatched a message to the Rev Thomas Lord of Horncastle, reading ” I am commanded by the King to congratulate you on the attainment of your hundredth year, after a most useful life”. Nine years later, centenarians were still so rare that royal congratulations were sent to just seven men and 17 women.
Nowadays, each centenarian gets a card on his or her 100th birthday. Those who survive to 105 get another, and from then on , they receive one every year.
At first, the greetings came from a private secretary, but since 1999 the Queen has signed each one herself.
The wording isn’t made public, so as not to spoil the surprise – and if twins receive congratulations, the Palace makes sure each card is phrased differently.
You don’t need to alert the Palace if someone is about to turn 100; the Department of Work and Pensions ensures that it already knows. According to the DWP’s figures, the number of centenarians in England and Wales rose by 86 per cent between 2000 and 2010.
Meanwhile, the number of people aged over 105 has almost doubled from 360 in 2003 to 710 in 2013. And a baby born now has 50 times more chance of becoming a centenarian than one entering the world 100 years before. By 2066 there are expected to be at least half a million people over 100 in the UK – and more than a million by 2106.
(Pity the poor Monarch who has to sign all those cards by hand!)
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