With the new Downton Abbey now out, we meet the household of the ‘real’ Downton Abbey house, Highclere Castle
Words and Photos by Jeremy Flint
Highclere Castle is a magnificent stately home in the heart of Hampshire that has gained global recognition as the filming location for the British period drama Downton Abbey. Today, Highclere is home to George Herbert and his wife Fiona, the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon (Lord and Lady Carnarvon), owners of the ‘real’ Downton Abbey house.
With the much-anticipated movie Downton Abbey: A New Era having recently graced our screens (in the UK in April and USA in May), photographer Jeremy Flint was invited behind the scenes at Highclere Castle to meet Lady Carnarvon and some of the many people who work there, the real-life cast of Downton Abbey, in an exclusive for Discover Britain magazine.
Meet the real-life Downton Abbey household
According to Lady Carnarvon, life today in the big house differs greatly from the screen. “It has a different role than one for which it was created, I have more dogs – seven! – and there are more people who work here today than in Downton, playing varied roles as we welcome visitors,” she says.
“We are working hard to make the best of the marketing platform Downton Abbey provides by building on our brand with Highclere Castle Gin. I have also written books. We are helping Highclere to play its part on the world stage.”
John Gundill, Highclere’s General Manager
At the helm of Lady Carnarvon’s esteemed team is John Gundill, Highclere’s general manager. John is responsible for the day-to-day running of the house, and events, working closely with all the castle staff.
He manages the kitchen, banqueting, housekeeping, gardeners, estate staff, farm workers, and pretty much anything else, where required.
“No two days are the same” he says. “Both Lord and Lady Carnarvon are very hands on and involved in all aspects of the business and the public love to meet them…I have seen many early summer sunrises for filming, and I have been privileged to share and be present at some amazing events during my time here at Highclere.”
Luis Coelho, Head Butler at Highclere
Luis Coelho, head butler at Highclere, is the modern-day equivalent of Mr Carson in Downton Abbey. “I’ve been working at Highclere for 14 years as butler to Lord and Lady Carnarvon, and I am also the banqueting manager, overseeing all the food and beverages for public opening and event days,” he says.
Luis resides at the castle and entertains the family and friends of theirs, who often stay. “When family are in residence, we do a butler service in the same style as Downton, and I have a full team of butlers who work
for me,” he says.
Jason Nash, Housekeeper
Jason Nash, a full-time housekeeper, is one of the newbies at Highclere, responsible for making beds, hoovering, and cleaning. He is part of a small team who keep the castle pristine for the family who live there and visitors who arrive.
“I liken my role to Mr Barrow,” he says, referencing the Downton Abbey character and footman. Jason’s favourite part of the job is having access to all areas of Highclere Castle, including the incredible Egyptian exhibition. His most memorable moment was climbing the Tower “even if it was to hoover up dead flies” he says.
For the full behind-the-scenes at Highclere Castle feature, see the April/May 2022 issue of Discover Britain, available to buy here.