Part Thirteen: Highclere Castle, continued
Highclere Castle, continued
The Countess is an attractive woman with sandy blonde hair, full of energy and enthusiasm. She strikes me as being a great deal like her predecessor, the energetic Almina, who almost singlehandedly transformed the castle into a hospital during World War One. In fact, prompted by the Downton-inspired interest in Highclere, Lady Carnarvon has just completed a book about the 5th Countess entitled, Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle.
She worked hard to finish the book in time for the UK premier of Downton’s second season, scheduled to air in a few days. She explains that Julian Fellowes, the show’s writer and producer, was likewise inspired by Almina and drew upon her World War One medical work for the next installment of the series. Like the Earl, the Countess has gotten a sneak peak at several of the new episodes. “It has a great story line,” she says, tantalizingly.
Her book completed, the Countess has turned her considerable energies to a new project, which she calls “Heroes at Highclere,” a charity event planned for mid-October that will benefit wounded veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She gets excited as she describes the program, which includes flyovers of vintage aircraft, historical re-actors, equipment displays, artillery demonstrations, pipe and drum performances, and a charity auction. The auctioneer will be none other than Jim Carter, the actor who plays Carson in Downton Abbey, and many of the items he will auction off have a connection to the show, including a DVD of the first series signed by the members of the cast, an engraved clapper board, a day as an extra, and “prop” newspapers that announce the sinking of the Titanic. As the Countess describes her plans, I realize she is indeed a modern day Almina, serving the war wounded just as the 5th Countess did nearly a century before.
As our conversation with Lady Carnarvon draws to a close, it occurs to me that the interest which Downton Abbey has brought to Highclere Castle has enabled the Earl and Countess to deepen their knowledge of their family story and to broadly share it with others – in fact, to weave that story right into the Downton script. In the process, Highclere Castle has become Downton Abbey and vice versa, blending a storied ancestral home with a film set, real lives with fictional ones, so that they draw inspiration and vitality from each other.
Before we leave the library, Seren asks if she can take a group photo. This reminds us that we haven’t taken any pictures so far – partly because we have been completely engrossed in the castle’s story and partly because, when an earl is your tour guide, snapping pictures seems somehow inappropriate.
Coming up next: Saying farewell to Highclere