Lady Carnarvon welcomes Egyptian dignitaries to Highclere Castle - AKA Downton Abbey - to mark Tutankhamun anniversary (From Basingstoke Gazette)
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Lady Carnarvon welcomes Egyptian dignitaries to Highclere Castle - AKA Downton Abbey - to mark Tutankhamun anniversary
LADY Carnarvon welcomed dignitaries from Egypt to Highclere Castle this week to mark 90 years since the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb by the fifth Earl and Howard Carter.
His Excellency the Egyptian Ambassador H.E Mr Ashraf Elkholy answered questions for the attending national media at the Castle, which has been catapulted into the spotlight since its selection as the filming location for ITV1’s award-winning costume drama Downton Abbey.
Raising smiles at the event was a 12 year-old camel called Kokoso, who greeted the visitors as they arrived.
Head guide Diana Mitchell and her team led the parties through The Egyptian Exhibition in the Castle’s atmospheric cellars, which tells the tale of the Earl and Carter’s discovery of the tomb in November 1922, the first and only discovery of an intact tomb.
By the terms of the original Concession to Excavate, Lord Carnarvon would have been entitled to some of the objects and to replicate others, and the cellars are full of glittering copies of the treasures they’d have witnessed. One darkened area, extremely popular with visiting school parties, is a fascinating recreation of how it would all have first appeared to the adventurers.
The fifth Earl died in Cairo just six months after the discovery, having contracted septicaemia through a shaving cut.
Bravely struggling through the event alone due to the absence of her husband – the eighth Earl – due to illness, and losing her own voice by the minute, the present Lady Carnarvon said: “We wish to celebrate Egypt, as it is an amazing place to visit and it’s having a difficult time at the moment. But miles from affected areas are places like Luxor, which is absolutely wonderful.
“We find that around 65-70% of our Downton Abbey visitors come to look at the Tutankhamun exhibition anyway. We are tremendously lucky and we have waiting lists of people who want to come and see both.”
The fortunes of the castle are certainly rosier than a few years ago, before the couple’s friend Julian Fellowes suggested the castle as a shooting location for his new series given that had served as his original inspiration.
Since then, Lady Carnarvon and her team have had to respond to ever-increasing worldwide demand for access and for information, in addition to welcoming thousands more visitors per year into what is essentially her family home.
Speaking to The Gazette, she admitted that she is almost overwhelmed by the constant interest, which includes multiple invites to go to America – where Downton Abbey is a huge, Emmy-winning hit - to talk about the castle. And she is also planning a new book about the sixth Lady Carnarvon, a celebrated American beauty.
“My stars today recommended that I delete half of my inbox so perhaps that is the place to start!”, she laughed, before continuing: “Some of the emails are so lovely, saying ‘Oh I am coming from Australia and I have booked the wrong date please can you fit me in’. We are a family business and so we try to help everyone.”
She also revealed that filming is progressing well on the latest series – the fourth - of Downton Abbey, adding: “They have been and they’ve gone and they are coming back again. I tend to work in the house when they are here in case they need to ask anything and it’s always interesting – ‘Can I bring a crane that weighs 76 tonnes into the house?’”
The fourth series of Downton Abbey will be broadcast on ITV1 in the autumn.