After being felled by a brutal bug (which I picked up in my doctor’s office while waiting for my flu shot) last week, I was glad to be back at 55th and Fifth today where I embarked on the second leg of my own personal trifecta of reporting on every aspect of my television obsession, Downton Abbey. I interviewed cast member Lesley Nichol two weeks ago and am planning a very special Downton lunch for December (No spoilers here! It’s top secret for now). Today I was thrilled to dine and dish with Harry Herbert, the second son of the 7th Earl of Carnarvon, who was in town on a whirlwind three-day visit to New York to meet a few Upper East Side swells and talk to them about his glamorous and highly successful racehorse syndication business, Highclere Thoroughbred Racing. As the company’s founder, Henry puts together racing syndicates — small groups of people with deep pockets — to share in owning a racehorse. So what’s Harry’s Downton Abbey connection, you ask? Harry’s ancestral home is none other than Highclere Castle, the stunning setting — and very much its own character — on Downton Abbey. I kid you not.
If you’re like me and have watched the specials that have aired on Highclere on PBS and HG-TV, you’ve seen Harry’s sister-in-law Fiona, the 8th Countess of Carnarvon, who is married to his brother George, the 8th Earl of Carnarvon, giving behind-the-scenes tours of the great house and talking about what it’s like to have your home taken over by the cast of one of Britain’s most popular television programs. (They actually live in another home on the sprawling estate) Harry painted a fascinating picture for me of the real life cast of characters who have populated Highclere, worthy of their own PBS series. It turns out his parents’ love story mirror the one which plays out on Downton between the elder Grantham’s British-American union. Harry’s mother, Jeannie, was 19 years old when he journeyed from her home in Wyoming to England to visit friends and met his father, Henry. When she went back to the states, says Harry, ”He chased her to Wyoming and wound up marrying her.” Read more