A few years ago, my sister Sarah gave me a zingy little pink iPod and ear phones which was very kind of her although it was swiftly and mainly co-opted by Geordie for running whilst I took it cycling (sometimes) – in any case it was somewhat more portable than a radio!
In the way that language develops, a clever journalist morphed the word iPod with the word broadcast to become podcast. Curiously theses audible tales are now often broadcast on the radio as well as all the new “podcast” platforms. In the meantime radio stations can be accessed through phones which encompass much that the original iPod offered which is perfect as, in many ways, I still love radio broadcasting the best with all its idiosyncrasies.
At the beginning of the first lockdown, over a year ago now, I thought that we – Highclere- might develop a podcast: it would be a way of sharing extraordinary lives in an extraordinary time. It is on all the usual platforms now and the “Library” listed on this website too. Tactfully my first guest was my husband and then I began to share the characters who live here at the Real Downton Abbey, both upstairs and downstairs. The whole gambit of life is what makes it so engaging just as it is in the TV series and film(s). Nature, trees, plants were at the forefront of what helped us all travel through lockdown so I asked Paul our head gardener to record one in the gardens with me.
From the outside to painting and decorating inside the Castle and so on to Pat, who is arguably our longest serving team member at just over 60 years here. Her stories of ghosts and previous Earls, of meeting the Queen or riding a motorbike are almost too many for thirty minutes… I like hearing her gentle voice, with its laughter and country vowels, I hope you do too.
We have held concerts here every year in aid of various charities, thus I asked the eminent friends who guide us. Other events have involved flying displays including the famous Red Arrows and Red 10 kindly spent an afternoon sharing stories as did Steve who flew Concorde and Rick (Air commodore) who flew Tornados for the RAF.
Since Highclere is essentially a farm, I then thought you might all enjoy hearing the different points of view of how we grow food, of the wild flowers banking the fields and of the space given over to nature. Naturally the food chain is ultimately is about shopping which led to Sally and our favourite gift shop, followed by local famous authors and actors such as Sarah Parish who, with her husband, has a charity associated with Southampton hospital.
John the castle manager has appeared in two of the podcasts (numbers 14 and 20), firstly trying to explain what he does and secondly with Sparky the location manager for Downton Abbey. Sparky has been here from the very first series in 2010 and John and Sparky walk round in circles together calling each other out. The stories are legion. On one memorable occasion, Sparky had arranged with film catering to put all the chillies from a chilli con carne into just John’s portion whilst the remaining dish was entirely bland for the other hundred crew and cast. John got his own back when Sparky, was with a recce including the director, DOP and key team crew of Downton Abbey. Sparky asked John if it was possible to move a bench in the gardens. John began a long story about how it had had to be set with concrete and that therefore it wouldn’t be either a quick or simple job. When Sparky moved away a few yards to relay the news and suggest a reposition of that scene. John said to me “quick take the other end Lady C and lets carry it a few yards down the hill“. Sparky was speechless and I had to put the bench down as I was laughing so hard.
Last Christmas a small team from ITN productions filmed us and it was very nice to turn the tables and hear about their lives. They were charming and had spent much of the month laughing, with the camera hard to steady as they followed our antics at Highclere.
Upstairs and downstairs, outside and inside the guests have been very kind and the main proviso was that we had all dined and laughed together at Highclere. To my mind the last year has emphasised the emotional strength that can be gained from the sense of belonging along with a sense of purpose. Highclere, both the castle and the antiquity of the landscape and trees, has given us all an anchor, a visible reassurance and a knowledge that we walk in tracks made by others.
My latest guest was entirely inspiring. Often dining here, yet not often enough, we parted company afterwards on such a high that I felt everything was possible. I hope you will enjoy listening to it as much as I did recording it. It is out this Thursday. I think we have had over 70,000 downloads so far and I do hope people have enjoyed them as we navigate these uncharted waters.