Nanny in charge with one of her charges

When I was five years old, my sister Sarah was four, and Lucy even younger, our mother interviewed a nanny. Sarah and I immediately decided we did not like her. We couldn’t see why we needed her and she was bound to tell us what to do. In those days, nannies wore a uniform and, with my mother’s help, Nanny chose a purple and white narrow striped dress with a wide belt, teamed with a classic purple coat. She looked very smart and was completely unfazed by our attitude. We, in traditional style, did our best to play our mother against Nanny to get the best result for us and thus we set off in our lives together.

Let’s go fly a kite!

Mary Poppins has to be the ultimate Nanny with lots of magic to sprinkle into everyone’s life. She expected good behaviour but in return she made everything possible. In some ways it is a classic Christmas film and therefore entirely appropriate that the new version should be released now.  The traditional London ‘pea souper’ fogs, the damp streets, alleyways, rooftops and chimneys celebrate London’s skyline and it all ends with cherry blossom. Jack, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s character twirls around with his ladder,  with supporting retinue of agile lamplighters, although I am not sure that Dick van Dyke who returns with Mary Poppins, doesn’t steal the new film … a heck of a trooper. By way of mention, Highclere has quite a lot of chimneys and ladders… but without the dancers.

We have a lot of chimney pots but I don’t think our dancing would qualify us for walk-on parts in any film. We do have plenty of umbrellas though.

Sadly, though, at the end of the film, Mary Poppins leaves. Ours remained. After Lucy, three more sisters came along to join our family and, whilst our own Nanny unfortunately could not fly without the help of an airline, she did bring light and fun into all we did together. We certainly flew kites, played games and her wit is unique and very forthright – she comes from Yorkshire.

The Labradors of Highclere and Dogton Abbey meet Nanny… from a series of books inspired by our dogs and Viking Cruises!

Like Mary Poppins, Nanny also had a certain affiliation for chimneys in that she was very much in charge of looking after the chimney for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. Perhaps it was our parents’ way of ensuring that the six of us didn’t stray too close to the fireplace but,whatever the motive, it was certainly Nanny’s personal domain. Even today, when she is with us at Highclere for Christmas, it is her favourite spot, in a comfortable armchair, her knitting and a small table pulled close.

Nanny tasting the Baileys on behalf of Father Christmas

After bringing up all of us, she moved on to look after my sister Sarah’s children. She remains imperturbable and retains her often quixotic approaches.She claims she has given up alcohol. I have no idea what she means because it clearly does not include gin. Two fingers of gin (and don’t be mean) with tonic water, ice and lemon is on the menu at 6pm sharp. She also likes rosé wine but, specifically her own take on it. She asks Luis to pour her some white wine and top it up with red wine which raises some eyebrows and splutters of horror from assorted guests as she mixes a delicious white Mâcon with a very decent Bordeaux. Rather like Mary Poppins however, Nanny is always right and does not change course, whilst Luis doesn’t bat an eye. At Christmas a nice glass of Baileys is added to the mix which I once caught her sharing with chief elf Sally whilst the latter was trying to decorate the saloon.

Spratt or Gooding or of course Jeremy Swift

Watching Mary Poppins with my own, now grown up, son, I spotted “Spratt” from Downing Abbey as one of the characters which was rather fun.

Of course the teaser trailer for the Downton Abbey film has also now been released too. The cameras pan around our home circling up towards the towers and chimneys, giving them a gorgeous golden autumnal glow.

It’s not yet time for Father Christmas, but Nanny may well be watching, so no misbehaving!

From all of us here at Highclere, a very happy Christmas!