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Golly gosh! Vancouver welcomes the real countess of Downton Abbey

Lady Fiona Carnarvon

(CTV News) – For Vancouverites feeling less than spiffing about the imminent end to Downton Abbey, respite was at hand Friday at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. Fans, suitably attired in Edwardian and 1920s styles, gathered to welcome and share afternoon tea with the Countess of Carnarvon, who makes her home in Highclere Castle, known to the world as the setting for Downton Abbey.

Unlike her fictional counterpart, Lady Carnarvon does not live a life of leisure; dividing her time between researching and writing historical biographies, maintaining Highclere Castle and using her home’s increased profile to raise money for a number of charities.

“Downton has given us an extraordinary marketing platform,” she explained. “If we have an idea, we can make it happen. It’s definitely made us busier and we try to share our good fortune. I approach building work faster because I know we always have more visitors coming.”

Fans had come for an insight into the ‘real’ Downtown Abbey and Lady Carnarvon didn’t disappoint, charming the crowd with tales of the house’s history, including the times it hosted Benjamin Disraeli and John A MacDonald; life in a home with over 300 rooms (“I managed to get scaffolding up in one of the towers for six months without my husband knowing about it.”); and her time on set over the filming of six splendid seasons.

Speaking to CTV before her presentation, Lady Carnarvon was happy to share some charming behind-the-scenes secrets.

“I’d often show the crew where everything was. Some locations could be 20 minutes away from the castle. The scene when Daisy and her potential father-in-law were having a picnic, they’d forgotten the cheese for the picnic basket. So I went back to the castle kitchen to get some cheeses. It was a bit odd when they started down our stairs and would come out in Ealing Studios.”

“My son’s favourite moment was when Hugh Bonneville was violently unwell at the dinner table. I remember all the set up very well, with the extra carpets we put on the floor and the mats we laid on the table. When we saw the episode my son, who’s a teenager, was engaged for once.”

Attendees enjoyed a suitably aristocratic range of teas and cakes, along with the opportunity for a meet, greet and photo with Lady Carnarvon and a life-size cardboard cutout of Hugh Bonneville as Lord Grantham. For downhearted Downton fans mourning its end, Lady Carnarvon had some potentially uplifting words of commiseration.

“It’s sad that Downton’s finished, but there are rumours of a film, which would be enormous fun. 270 million people around the world watched Downton Abbey, so I think there’s a market for a film or two.”

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