Highclere Castle, better known around the world for Downton Abbey, is now back in the hands of the Caernarfon family full time. But the family opens the home and grounds up for tours and special events like weddings and balls several times a year. Diana Mitchell, one of the tour guides at Highclere Castle, recently shared some of the behind-the-scenes dirt about the Downton Abbey cast and how they managed during the series that went on for years.
According to Diana Mitchell, most of the Downton Abbey cast roughed it during the shooting. The Downton Abbey cast got very close during the shooting, and by the end, many said it was like a family parting ways. Jim Carter, who played Carson, the stiff upper-lipped butler who was the face of downstairs management of Downton Abbey, said that when shooting wrapped, it was much harder to say goodbye than he expected for a cast that had been together for six seasons of the hit show.
“I thought I would say goodbye to the crew who work so hard. Seeing their faces sobbing, it just did me in. We were puddles.”
Carter said that the genuine emotion helped the Downton Abbey cast turn in some excellent performances for themselves and fans of the series for the finale, which aired in the U.K. on Christmas night.
“It is really satisfying. You will need two hankies on Christmas night.”
Highclere Castle tour guide Diana Mitchell has gathered her notes about her experiences showing people around the Highclere property and interacting with the Downton Abbey cast into a talk she gave at the Horndean University in the U.K. Unlike American shows where the stars all get top-notch accommodations when shooting such a high-ranking series, Mitchell explains that aside from Dame Maggie Smith who played the Dowager Countess (Cousin Violet to Matthew and Isobel Crawley), the entire cast stayed in caravans (mobile homes) on the Highclere estate. According to Mitchell, Smith, now 82, preferred to stay in a five-star hotel in Newbury when working on Downton Abbey.
Mitchell’s talk called “Highclere Castle and the Downton Abbey connection” fascinated many as it was the first information from an insider about the behind-the-scenes goings-on about the Downton Abbey cast.
In her talk, Diana Mitchell, who served as an extra with her daughter and granddaughter in several episodes of Downton Abbey in outdoor scenes, said that the Caernarfon family opened Highclere Castle to the public after the death of the 6th Earl. Today the 8th Earl and his wife still live in Highclere Castle part-time. Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes was inspired by the family and by Highclere when he began writing the series, so it was natural that it would be the location for the show as the home for Downton Abbey‘s Crawley family.
Mitchell explains that Downton Abbey has been a huge boost to Highclere Castle and tourism, and has allowed the family to tackle major projects on the grounds and throughout the buildings. In her speech, Mitchell said that each season, before filming of Downton Abbey commenced, great care was taken to remove valuable furniture, rugs, and other antiques for safe keeping. These items were replaced by set props that matched the period.
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But it’s not only the producers of period dramas who want to hire Highclere Castle for a shoot. Simon Cowell wants to use the estate in Berkshire for British show X Factor to be used as the judges’ house. Sources for the show say they wanted to do something different this year, and the subject of using Highclere for Simon’s house was suggested.
“And they would, of course, hire a team of butlers to wait on him and the contestants. At the moment that is their number one choice. The only other option currently being discussed is Simon’s house in LA. But it has obviously been used in the past.”
Would you be interested in hearing a talk about Highclere Castle and the Downton Abbey cast?
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