The Real Countess of Downton Abbey: Whether You Live in a Castle or House, It`s All About Community


Photo: Matthew Lloyd, Getty Images.

Lady Carnarvon, the Countess of Highclere Castle, the setting for Downton Abbey, was in Nashville this week to provide the keynote address at the 24th Antiques & Garden Show, this year held at the Music City Center.   In addition to her duties at the castle and numerous philanthropic projects, she’s the author of two books, Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle, and Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey.

Lady Carnavon had a busy week,  with press conferences, keynotes and book signings, but en route to an invitation-only high tea, after delivering her keynote at the MCC to more than a thousand people, greeting many of them and signing books,  she had a few minutes to chat with us at NPT Media Update about the role of women at Highclere/Downton, philanthropy, the role of community and just how much she knows before each episode.

Lady-C-low-res-196x300On the difference between Lady Almina and Lady Catherine:

“I think Almina and Catherine are two very different women, certainly enough, and Almina IS inspiring,” says Lady Carnarvon. “She was well ahead of her time.  She had the money, and because of that, was in some ways more independent than her successor. She could do what she wanted. So they were very different and have different stories to tell about the positions of women and what we can and cannot achieve.”

On what people can learn from her experience:

“It’s all about people in life isn’t it,” she says, when asked what people who do not live in and maintain a castle — which is all of us — can learn from her  experience.  “It’s about getting on with people.  People find their own role, I suppose, and what’s important is having a job you enjoy and being part of the community and creating a community, which is how I like to  live. Family is very important to me. I have five sisters  and we’re all very close together and that’s what’ s important.  Whether you’re in a castle or a house doesn’t really matter. It helps you. When you feel down or get depressed, if you’ve got people around with whom you work and who support you then you can get better.  People help you get through the challenges of life. And I hope that’s how we live at Highclere.”

On how much she knows about the plot of Downton Abbey:

“I usually see some of it being shot,” she says. “The main thing is a try not to talk about it. Otherwise I get muddled about what’s been on in the UK or the U.S.  (Regarding Matthew’s death) we were discussing which trees to take out along the road where Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) runs his car off, so you do know about it, because we have to be involved. We see the scripts as they go because they have to tell us what they want to do.

“I think we try never to be leaky, and never to talk  about it, which hopefully safeguards the plots, which are so incredibly important and valuable and allow Downton to roll on. And allows us to carry on with our lives. We’ve got our own things to talk about.”

On Philanthropy:

“Everything we’ve done for the last ten years, we’ve always tried to share our home and our fortune with charity. It’s just a part of it, rather than some new departure. The more you give out, the more you contribute. It’s a good way to live. In some ways, it well predates Downton, and is a fantastically positive way to market it.”

The Nashville Antiques & Garden Show runs through Sunday, February 9, at the Music City Center.

Downton Abbey,  season 4, episode 6 airs this Sunday night at 8:00 p.m. CST.

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