The owner of Highclere Castle, which is the historical house depicted in his ITV drama Downton Abbey, says the show’s creator, Julian Fellowes, takes inspiration for the show’s plotlines from her dinner-table stories.
Speaking to The Sun, Fiona, Countess of Carnarvon, says she often tells Julian about a scandal among former members of her staff, or her ancestors, and is then surprised when the tale is shown on Downton.
She added, “I’ve written a book about the period and you’ll find some of the storylines in there. I got there first!
“Julian and his wife Emma are great friends and have stayed here often. He knows and loves Highclere.
“He’s jolly clever. He knows this period of history really well and the Edwardian and First World War period is really my love, so we share a passion for that time…
“You kind of chat over supper but then I suddenly see a bit of the story on the show and think, ‘Blimey, I told him that over supper!’
“I would never be forward enough to tell Julian, ‘You’ve got to use this’. That’s completely up to him.”
The paper adds, “Each £1million episode of Downton is filmed in and around Highclere’s 1,000-acre estate. And Lady Carnarvon reckons the TV crew are not always as careful as they should be with the castle’s many treasures.”
She said, “Sometimes I think, ‘I asked you not to move that’. But they’re wanting to get the best shots of Highclere and it always looks incredibly beautiful.
“But on the very first day of filming they dropped a lighting rig on a little decorated box. They came to me and explained what they’d done and I said, ‘I don’t believe it!’ because my husband had asked me if we should leave it or not and I had said it would be fine.
“I gave them the address of the restorers. They put their hands up and paid the bill. I’ve also said, ‘That paintwork is completely wrecked, you’re repainting it!’
“They’ve a lovely painter we’ve nicknamed Nick No Ladder because he’s so tall. We know him quite well.”
Lady Carnarvon added, “We were always pretty busy on a Sunday but now we’re busy all week.
“That’s exactly why we did it. It wasn’t for the money — ITV and the BBC have never got any money, as they all tell you.
“Our gamble was that we hoped we’d have five or six million visitors last year and it just went up and up and up. It was so exciting.
“We’re not open to visitors solidly, unlike Castle Howard or Blenheim Palace — we’re open over Easter for two weeks, then over this summer for July and August — so we’re not a visitor attraction in the same way.
“We have a basket of business — weddings, corporate events and now filming. Business has gone up maybe 30 to 40 per cent.
“That’s very good in a recession — fan-bloody-tastic.”