Jan Hugo is officially the easiest person to buy presents for – cup, mug, spoon or toy –it doesn’t really matter, so long as it’s royal.
The 57-year-old owns Australia’s largest royal memorabilia collection – at 10,000 pieces-strong and growing, it takes up four rooms in her five-bedroom home in Nulkaba, a suburb of Cessnock in the Hunter Valley.
Jan lives here with her husband David and runs a business taking tour groups through their home. We were lucky to get the royal tour to film this week’s episode of The Fanatics.
Nondescript from the outside – apart from a shopping centre Santa’s mailbox that David has turned into a royal mailbox – the couple’s brick-veneer home is a sea of royal blue and Union Jack red indoors.
Charles, Camilla, Diana, Kate, William, Phillip, Harry and of course, Queen Liz, are literally everywhere. Their likenesses – and sometimes caricatures – jump out from the cups, saucers, mugs, plates, masks, and sculptures that fill 16 glass cabinets and adorn the walls, floors, and ceilings of the dedicated “royal rooms” inside the home.
There’s even a padded throne in the toilet.
Jan and David call it their collection “accidental”. Thirty-six years ago they received a single commemorative coin, followed by a set of wedding glasses, free with a roll of film they developed at the chemist, then it was a plate here, a cup there…
Now, there are more than 10,000 pieces.
The couple swear they’re not royalists though. It’s important to have a sense of humour about these things.
“How sad would it be if we didn’t have a laugh at ourselves or each other?” Jan says.
Not everyone who comes through the museum feels the same. They get some pretty serious royal fans coming through who don’t appreciate the liberties the caricaturists have taken with some of Charles and Camilla’s more defining features.
But mostly, people are just amazed.
“They say, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe you can fit so much in one room!’ And I say, ‘Well you’ve actually got four rooms to wander through!’”
A pair of collectors
David still works as an electrician, but Jan is retired. Her occupation now, she jokes, is full-time duster.
“I just work my way around the room, dusting, rinsing and drying. Once I’m finished it’s time to start again!”
The pair’s relationship has not met with any strain at the hands of the Royals. Maybe that’s because David has an obsession of his own: His man cave out the back is home to a 5,800-strong beer can collection.
The pair met in high school, and Jan reckons it was a few years into their marriage before someone gave David a set of beer cans.
“He put them on top of the cupboard and he went to the shop and got six more, and it just sort of grew from there,” she says.
Together, the pair also collects Arnott’s biscuit tins. There are about 350 of them upstairs.
“It’s just something we do,” Jan says. “That’s something we have in common – if we’re not chasing beer cans or Arnott’s tins, it’s Queenie cups.”
If we didn’t collect it and put it in our homes, it’d all be in a landfill.
The tour business they run together is purely for passion.
“We actually had a friend that had a collection years ago and she had opened her home, and then she decided not to do it anymore and we thought, we have all the same things she had, so why not share it with people?”
They operate at a loss, but they don’t care.
“We do it because we love it,” Jan says.
“It’s just in my blood. You get one thing and get excited about that and find something else. If we didn’t collect it and put it in our homes, it’d all be in a landfill.”
Originally published as Jan Hugo houses Australia’s largest royal collection by Alice Bradley. Author at realestate.com.au.