At 1.45pm on Friday 13th, I was standing on the Castle lawns in the shade of a cedar tree watching some cars leave Highclere after a press event here. Luis and his banqueting teams were in waistcoats (of course), they had been practising heading a football whilst I was throwing it in, only slightly worried about the Library windows – see my previous blog for more photos! We then began to carry plates of food back from the picnic to the office as I can’t bear to waste food and the meats and salads were utterly delicious. Bella the Labrador was helping.
Young Robert answered my mobile with which he had been taking the photos, and shouted excitedly (something unprintable but to the point) and we dropped everything to run across the lawns of “Downton Abbey” or “Highclere Castle”, our in-house white Labrador following the trail of ham at her own sedate pace.
Whilst, as you might imagine given the need to plan the Castle diaries, we have been involved in the backstage preparations for the movie, we had just thought the news would break a little later. We all launched ourselves at the door to the estate office inside, in which Justine was sitting in the driving seat, telling us to stay calm. Needless to say, and with a certain inevitability, Hannah, our press officer, had a day off and was both rather merry and 60 miles away. She would phone every so often and tell us to chill, sounding more than chilled herself and already long on the champagne, so that whatever she said reduced us to hysterical laughter. John G, our Castle manager, was on a beach in Cornwall and my husband is away on business in the USA.
I had already prepared a blog and was trying to sort out the photos to accompany it, papers were flying everywhere and the telephone began to ring. Within half an hour however, we were settled down, blog posted, fingers at keyboards for Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, excited and ready to share and reply.
My first comment was, in fact, ‘champagne’ so James H was dispatched to the Castle fridges and retrieved two bottles both to celebrate and to sustain our afternoon. Maggie produced some very classy blue plastic cups. Lots of our team miraculously appeared, the champagne evaporated, tea intervened before we moved on to Prosecco. There were now more (small) bottles and fewer people so it was all going rather well. Justine had just commented to me how fantastic it was to work with a young, bright Oxford law graduate (young Robert) whereupon he found himself replying to his own comments on Facebook, which was without doubt a Prosecco moment and led to more laughter.
We do try to reply honestly to comments because, whilst of course we are also excited, we both are, and are not, Downton Abbey. Maggie Smith and Michelle Dockery are not going to pop out from behind a door or round the corner of the garden quite yet. We are Highclere Castle with our own timetable and our own affairs. Whilst I am always thinking about Highclere and its unique challenges, I am also always thinking about what Highclere can contribute back. Thus the timing of our September weekend “Heroes at Highclere” was not, and is not, coincidental. The Downton cast do a great deal for charity, and I hope Highclere does as well, so it was a chance to bring a weekend together. It all seems rather serendipitous.