Although it is their magnificent gothic mansion, Highclere Castle, that stars as Downton Abbey, the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon are having great fun imagining the characters they might have played if they’d had roles in the big-screen adaptation of the celebrated TV show.
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"We've never appeared in a scene so far, but it would be fun to do," said Lord Carnarvon – George Herbert, the 8th Earl – inviting HELLO! into the castle for this exclusive interview. "I'd like to be a gardener or a gamekeeper."
A below-stairs role would appeal to his wife, too. "I love cooking so I'd choose to be in the kitchen," she told us. "Or perhaps I could play a gardener. While I'm walking the dogs in the evening, I often pick up a fork and do some weeding."
WATCH: Lady Carnarvon invites HELLO! into the real life Downton Abbey
They may not have had roles in the film, but the couple graced the red carpet when they joined the stars of the show at its premiere in 2019. But perhaps the couple could appear in the upcoming Downton Abbey sequel.
While details around the second film remain murky, in April this year producer Gareth Neame told Entertainment Weekly: "We are totally committed to making a sequel if we can bring all the elements back. During the course of this year, we will try to assemble all the actors again, you know, as soon as we can."
More recently, in September, Jim Carter, who plays the butler Carson in the franchise, announced that the actors had seen a script for the sequel. Chatting to Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby on This Morning, Jim said: "Holly if you promise not to tell anyone, I'll let you know that we've seen a script.
"The script for a second film is there, we've seen it, it's very funny, it's got all the same characters in it, all the regular characters. I think the will is that, Covid willing, we'll film it next year."
Lady Carnarvon spoke exclusively to HELLO!
"It's all very exciting," said Lady Carnarvon, of the film. "It's almost as if the house is a character in its own right. The idea of a film had been mentioned, but we had to wait for the script to be ready and the cast available. It's wonderful that it all turned out well. For us, though, it's home and we love it."
Among the cast members who returned to Highclere in the first film were Jim Carter as loyal head butler Carson, Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley, Laura Carmichael as Lady Sybil and Allen Leech as chauffeur turned estate manager Tom Branson.
Downton Abbey ran for six series before being adapted into a feature length film
Written and produced by series creator Julian Fellowes, the Downton Abbey film sees the abbey and its inhabitants preparing for a visit from King George V, played by Simon Jones, and Queen Mary, played by Geraldine James. Highclere has had its fair share of royal guests over the years, too. The historic stately home has hosted Edward VII and Edward VIII, while the Queen and other members of the royal family have been regular visitors.
"Not all at once, though," said Lady Carnarvon. "We've been very lucky to welcome different royals on different occasions."
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The Queen was a close friend of George's parents Jeanie, who died in April, and the 7th Earl, Henry, known as Porchie, who was her racing manager. She is also godmother to George, 62, who is affectionately called Geordie by Lady Carnarvon. "She has quite a few godchildren," he said modestly.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Cornwall are all big Downton Abbey fans, but what about the Queen?
"Well, I'm sure she's watched some of it," said Lord Carnarvon. "But she's such a busy, amazing lady that I doubt she'd have time to sit and see it all."
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Cornwall are all big Downton Abbey fans
With its distinctive turrets and towers by Sir Charles Barry – the 19th-century architect who also created the Palace of Westminster – the image of Highclere on the Downton Abbey TV series titles creates a frisson of excitement. "It's an extraordinary house to live in because it makes you feel as if you're walking in time," said Lord Carnarvon. "Over the centuries, Highclere has welcomed royalty, statesmen and distinguished men and women from the worlds of literature and music."
Brimming with history, Highclere has certainly gathered its fair share of colourful characters, ghosts and intrigue along the way.
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