I read in the US press that “Downton Abbey” is the one place in the world where people most dream of staying. Despite the end of the TV series, the love for our home – the “Real Downton Abbey” and love for the fictional characters from Lady Mary to Carson, seems to endure. Fans continue to enjoy the stories and beautiful cinematography with friends via box sets, or when it is shown again on TV through various platforms.
We welcome guests on tours and have hosted a few dinners and, in fact, very occasionally offered a night staying at the Castle for a couple of people. It has, however, always been as part of our private support for a charity and each time has raised a lot of money, which is brilliant. My new bright idea is to ask if anyone would like to experience what it is like to dine and stay here – at Highclere – or its alter ego “Downton Abbey” as part of our own initiative.
In the UK, Downton is repeated on ITV whilst of course in the USA it was shown and is repeated on PBS. PBS was without doubt the right platform for us, but it was above all a great success for PBS, a franchise operation funded through donations. The sponsor was Viking Cruises who also partner with us for special pre- and post-cruise tours, which give privileged access for their guests.
Travelling in the USA I gathered that “Downton” fans held dinner parties on Sunday evenings in January and February after which they would enjoy the next Downton episode. Whilst I cannot conjure another new episode this January and February, (out of my remit!), perhaps it is possible to ask you to conjure up some “Downton Abbey” style dinner parties.
Choose a date this February, invite your friends to your home, and perhaps cook some of my recipes. Maybe design the evening to raise some money for your favourite charity or donate to PBS itself – however there is no requirement to do this, it is entirely your choice. Decide what you are going to wear and how you are going to set the table. The latter can be a matter of contention and a friend staying over New Year reminded me of an article in the Sunday Times about setting the table. What is the right way to do it and how should you arrange the glasses?
We have created some videos introducing various aspects of how we hold a dinner party here at Highclere. For example how my husband and Luis our butler choose the wines, or how Paul the chef and I discuss the menus, how Luis likes to set the table and how I create the flower arrangements. These videos will be rolled out in the community section of the website each week, starting from January 11th.
We have called this idea Come and Dine – enjoy, entertain and experience. I hope you might find it fun. Then, when you have held your dinner party, send in your photos and we will pick the winner. You and your lucky guests (total of eight people) will fly over, dine, and stay in the Castle so that when you wake up from your dreams and open the shutters, you too can look out over the Arcadian parkland of the Real Downton Abbey.
As ever our wonderful friends Viking Cruises are supporting us and will sponsor the flights and transport to get here. Your first night will begin at The Vineyard Hotel, an awarding-winning Relais et Chateaux 5 star hotel and will include dinner and a wine tasting. The following day you will arrive at the Castle in time for afternoon tea, to change for dinner, enjoy cocktails and a tour, have dinner and stay the night. The next morning you can enjoy breakfast under the great portrait of Charles I by Sir Anthony van Dyck just like Lord Grantham or in real life just like Lord Salisbury, Sir John A Macdonald, the Prince of Wales or Henry James. We look forward to welcoming you and to receiving lots of photographs.
Lady Carnarvon with Karine Hagen from Viking Cruises
For further details, see the Community section which clarifies the terms and conditions. We will let you know who the judges will be! I may well be one and I think dinners are about good food, detail, laughter and friendship thus it all leads to much enjoyment! To quote the playwright Oscar Wilde “after a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives.” I am sure the Dowager Lady Grantham would have said as much …