Monica's messages from The Queen and The Pope for her 100th birthday

A sprightly South Tyneside centenarian certainly has friends in high places '“ after enjoying a milestone birthday bash fit for a Queen and a Pope.

Much-loved Monica Gagliardi toasted turning 100 with a message of congratulations from Queen Elizabeth II and a papal blessing from Pope Francis.

The pensioner took centre stage as scores of friends and family came from far and wide to join in with her big day at Cheviot Court Care Home.

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Pals from Connolly House care home, where she lived for 15 years, joined in the fun – while son Brian clocked up the air miles to be with his mother after flying in from Australia.

The globe-trotting grand lady was born in Whiteleas, South Shields, but has family roots firmly entrenched down under after emigrating to the country alongside her Australian-born husband Joseph in 1944.

The loving couple, who tied the knot in 1941 at St Peter and Paul’s Church in Tyne Dock, spent five years in the country, in which two of their children were born.

They returned in 1949 and remained married for 54 happy years until Joseph’s death in 1995.

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Daughter Pat Thompson says her mum has a love of all things Antipodean – but her heart still remains in South Shields, where she met her husband at a dance.

They went on to have three sons, Brian, Peter and the late Vincent and daughter Pat, and the family tree has been extended to include nine grandchildren, 11 great grandchildren and one great great grandchild.

Daughter Pat applied through the internet for her Roman Catholic mum to receive a papal blessing.

She said; “It is a certificate from Pope Francis. Mum is a Roman Catholic and we got a blessing for her on her 100th birthday.

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“Her birthday was a lovely day and she had all the family and a lot of friends, including many from Connolly House, over on the day.”

South Tyneside’s latest member of the 100 club says the secret to her long life is remaining independent – and still finding time to catch up on her reading and fill in her crosswords.