The Leader-Post from Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada on January 19, 2013 · 44
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The Leader-Post from Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada · 44

Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
Issue Date:
Saturday, January 19, 2013
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E8 Saturday. January 19. 2013 ARTS & LIFE Leader-Post kjd-riKt rum CASTLE LIVING Keeping Downton Abbey no small chore Lady Carnarvon oversees between 50 and 80 rooms LUCY HYSLOP FOR POSTMEDIA NEWS I suppose if you know how many rooms youve got, went the delicious quote by the Countess of Carnarvon in the U.K.s Telegraph, you havent got a very big house." Delivered two years ago when the fuss First stirred over the popular Emmy-award-winning British series Downton Abbey filmed at her home, it raises some embarrassment for Lady Fiona Carnarvon when I remind her of it today. I kind of regret saying that, but it just popped out of my mouth, she admits when I meet her in the study of Highclere Castle, a country estate west of London. I thought that sounded dreadful and I really didnt mean it to. Truth is, the comment is absolutely spot on for the behemothic setting for the third season of the Masterpiece Classic. The show is focused on the fictional Down-ton world of the Earl and Countess of Grantham and the folk under them, and the home plays a central role again among heavyweight stars such as Dame Maggie Smith (the dowager countess and the earls mother), Hugh Bonneville (The Earl of Grantham and head of the Crawley family), and this year, Shirley MacLaine (American mother of the Countess of Grantham, played by Elizabeth McGovern). All around the sandstone castle are notable state rooms from the saloon, the golden epicentre of the home, bedecked with leather wall coverings from Spain dating from 1631, to the library boasting nearly 6,000 books and the baroque-ceilinged splendour of the music room. There is a flurry of carved wooden stairs, ornate silver, crafted turrets and 150-year-old windows, among 1,000 acres of parkland and hundreds of rooms. Trying to pin down more precise statistics is useless, quite frankly I simply dont know how many bedrooms there are between 50 and 80 apparently; Ive just never counted, she adds pithily. I dont know even how many square feet there are." While in her 30s, she and husband Geordie, the 8th Earl of Carnarvon and the Queens godson, moved into Highclere after her father-in-law died in 2001. Previously an accountant, the countess soon entered a life less ordinary. Its really so bizarre what you end up knowing when youre married to an earl in a house, she continues. For example, you might find her poring over maps so that no water pipes are cut through because that is awfully tedious or making herself completely au fait with the workings of a reservoir coming off a nearby hill. Im now frightfully good at sorting out soil pipes and other really glamorous things in the plumbing department," she says matter of factly. In the olden days, hundreds of staff would have been allotted into different "departments, including housekeeping, maintenance and the sawmill, with each boasting 20 to 30 people. "Now housekeeping has two people, but its still referred to grandly as a department," laughs Lady Carnarvon, who has a 12-year-old son, Edward. As for the person who used to create jams and elderflower cordials to be stored in a specially assigned area in the castle, she quips: "The still-room maid is now me. So much of the work today is done by contractors on the castle, designed in 1842 by Sir Charles Barry, who also had the Gothic vi sion for Londons Houses of Parliament Built on the site of a previous ancient house, where the Carnarvons have lived since 1679, Highclere boasts foundations of a medieval palace belonging to the bishops of Winchester for eight centuries. Without a castle maintenance book or specialty magazine for reference, the extraordinary features of running this type of home are passed down by word of mouth. Lady Carnarvon just followed her nose and has relied on her housekeeper and others for much advice: Most people that are here have been here a lot longer than me, so I tell them that Im the newcomer and have them explain how things work, she says. Now Im best friends with the utterly delightful electricians and Im into three-way lighting systems, which I never dreamt I would be. Inside the building, for example, if she wants to redo a room, she turns to one lady who has decorated the house for more than 50 years (and her father before her). So I can say to her, What colour was this room in 1942? and shell know. Its extraordinary, she muses. (Her fascination with history is well documented: exploring the castles role in the First World War and her husbands great-grandmother, Lady Carnarvon wrote Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle. Lady Grantham in the TV series, scripted by (now Lord) Julian Fellowes, is loosely based on her.) Traditionally, theres been a certain rhythm to maintenance. Usually, February is the main refurbishment or housekeeping month, she explains, but with the Down-ton filming starting earlier and earlier, they no longer have that month. Shes certainly not complaining, however: This is something that wont come along again, so we definitely run with that, she adds. Its a great opportunity Upkeep is done in fits and starts today," she explains. By way of example, she has recently spied a window blown out at the top of the castle and with her husband off shooting she adds she often finds herself pushed up into the top of the house to sort things out, and invariably I find a couple more windows that need mending too. With the filming crew on site, that usually means she does things in other bits of the castle, she explains. Such as polishing the silver, which is performed over a couple of days by a few people "along with tea and doughnuts in the strong room," she laughs. Not that theres as much of that as in the earlier, even grander days of Highclere. "Sadly, some of it was sold for the maintenance fund but then its more useful as that because in todays world its not what one has out all the time anyway, she adds. Today, she brands herself a "multi-muddler" incessantly working on projects both Inside and outside the castle. Beyond enjoying a gas with her people in the kitchen, every Wednesday she meets with the staff to go through the chores and any upcoming events. Over her 11 years at Highclere, however, Lady Carnarvon believes she has relaxed about running the extraordinary home. I used to want to get everything perfect and get everything done straightaway," she explains. "Now I realize that thats not what life here is about; it's about Just carrying on. Carrying on, perhaps, but accompanied occasionally with a glass of champagne. She's been known to start early on her favourite tipple J t The saloon at Highclere ... .. & W t . , IP t Highclere castle, home to The grand entrance at Highclere, which was built in 1842 on ancient foundations. if things are not going entirely according to plan, but adds, "In all honesty, I dont drink that much, but I have figured out that two glasses of champagne a week is the same as one glass of white wine. Im all for champagne; its an excellent drink. So when it comes to the V t ' t & Jsf - the Carnarvon family for the last glamorous setting of Down-. ton, it sounds like theres plenty of clinking to be heard whether or not the cameras are rolling. If you are interested in visiting Highclere Castle, which will be open to the public from March 30, visit A ?-.5. VVCo ' Castle is the centre of the home, with leather wall coverings 300 years and where the TV 'V V.' y Highclere Castle Enterprises LLP 2012 Lord and Lady Carnarvon In Highclere Castle. Burlison Photography from Spain dating to 1631. Courtesy of Lord and Lady Carnarvon series Downton Abbey is filmed. ,Yl -Li r q:i ' j ; It flfcoxs ' Vir 9

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