Just before March 2020, in the “old era” pre-covid , I went to see the Tutankhamun exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in central London. I was very lucky and shown in early and spent a glorious hour slowly wandering around, looking at the works of art, the practical delicate objects of everyday life and musing on the endless fascination of the story and treasures. Everything was beautiful, of historical interest and crafted with such skill.
At the end of the exhibition, I was asked if I wanted to sit down and put on a headset to have a 3D experience – I nearly said no but then thought why not? It was not very long.
I was so glad I did as I was transported back to Ancient Egypt. I could look around, turn my head, look down, look up – I was there, it was so real. It was something I still cannot forget today, over two years later.
Moving on, over the last few years we have tried to innovate at Highclere. This is never easy when the “business “ is sustaining an antique castle which, in every way, needs to stay true to itself, cannot move and is a traditional industry welcoming visitors. Yet of course like every business we do need to think ahead and as the bills to restore are never-ending I regard it as a challenge to have a bright idea.
One endeavour was to create our Highclere Castle Gin business which developed into some possibly increasingly eccentric virtual cocktail parties during covid and is now forging ahead and commended for being outstanding. I also write books, each project something I really enjoy except when the deadline approaches. There is a new Downton film and some smaller requests to film, all of which is wonderful but more is always needed.
Putting it all together, I thought Highclere can go 3D and go where no other stately home has ever gone. In fact not many others have quite followed this path at all yet. Filming a room in 3D takes some time and, given the number of cameras on the one 3D camera, it is a process which has to be done in one take only. If I go wrong, I can feel the tension although the words are “don’t worry Lady C let’s do it again”. The next step is for the expert filming team to download each video which takes days.
We have learnt a lot. If we are outside in the garden, the filming team has to disappear into various bushes in order to be out of sight and there were various squawks due to nettles. But then the result is that it is just you (or whoever is wearing the googles) in the garden with me and you can almost bend down to pat one of the dogs, who are not in the bushes although that is where they would rather be.
It is also a way of going behind the scenes to see rooms in the castle that you cannot see on our tours, to have a look at where the housemaids lived or to sit and take time out to look round a room you have glimpsed in a film. We have made quite a few now and, given there are so many rooms or extraordinary places to explore, the plan is to keep adding: a world apart to explore.
There are also 2D videos and, building on the the concept, I thought we should meet up every Friday. One of the Dowager’s Lady Grantham’s amusing lines was “what is a weekend” and I thought that is where we should begin – at “Friends on Friday”. Next I thought we would add a monthly book club – webinars mean we can all meet together wherever we are.
However, as well as a virtual world of exploration and friendship, we need to bring in real events as well. We have we all missed it during the pandemic. “Friends of Highclere” will therefore also offer some bespoke events. A summer garden party just after Ascot – perhaps we could walk some race horses past the lawns to “channel” the social season! And of course a special Christmas event.
I do find Winnie the Pooh a helpful guide to life and he said “You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” And “A day without a friend is like a pot without a single drop of honey left inside.”
Friends of Highclere is a club for you to see the treasures and secrets of this extraordinary home and to bring us all together in every way though Friendship.