Last week we held a wonderful evening reception at the Castle to aid a spinal injury charity.It provides practical support to those who have suffered such an immediate and life-changing challenge.
It all happened because I had gone to the Wells Literary Festival to give a talk. I was hopeless at threading my way through the town to the cathedral where I was to park so I stopped to ask a traffic warden for help. Wells has a stunning cathedral and cloisters and Bishop Peter and his wife Jane are good friends from their time as Bishop here at Basingstoke near Highclere. It was an unexpectedly social walk from the car to the cathedral. I bumped into Archbishop Lord Carey and his wife planning their funerals, though I hope not for many years. Next I met a cousin in a wheelchair who is very special. Despite being paralysed in a horse accident, she is tireless in all she does and has since been appointed Lord Lieutenant of Somerset. This is an ancient office dating from the reign of Henry VIII and one which originally was responsible for raising local militia. Today however it is a ceremonial role, one which stands apart from politics. The Lord Lieutenant represents the Queen in Somerset and attends various other functions in and around London. It is an unseen link which continues to reinforce connections from the centre to the counties and back. On a personal note, I do not know how Annie does it all. She told me about the charity and the event was born.
Thus we are back at Highclere on a summer’s evening , with perhaps 150 guests, champagne and canapés. The creator of Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes, and his lovely wife Emma were kind enough to come along too. They were supporting it for their own personal reasons. A friend set off in a car on a school run, but ended up in hospital and then in a wheelchair. Life can be very fragile sometimes. I think Julian included some references to “Lord Lieutenant” in an episode of Downton Abbey and of course many might remember the scene in the Library here where Matthew was in a wheelchair after being injured in the First World War. Fortunately for him, he did manage to get up and walk again. I know miracles do happen and perhaps as medicine advances they may happen more often, but they are sadly rare in real life. In the meantime there are straightforward ways to help people and their families facing life in a wheelchair.
I always hope the kind guests who come along enjoyed themselves.
The double act later that evening was my husband and Emma Fellowes conducting the auction and a significant amount of money was raised for the charity. It is important to me that guests see Highclere as a home with a heart and atmosphere. It does what it can for others, whether as a hospital in the First World War, or a home for evacuated children in the Second World War, or a home which is sufficiently well know today to gather people together for many good causes. We were fortunate Julian Fellowes wrote such a great series and fortunate that it attracted so many viewers.