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ME & MY MONEY: ‘Downton Abbey’s’ real Lady Mary, Fiona Carnarvon


Fiona Carnarvon, the eighth Countess of Carnarvon, lives in Highclere Castle, Hampshire, the setting for the hit ITV drama series Downton Abbey. 

The previous accountant married George Herbert, the Earl of Carnarvon, in 1999, and together turned Highclere Castle into one of the vital famous stately homes in England. 

They’ve one son, Edward, aged 23. 

The earliest records of the castle date back to 749AD and it’s now price £137 million. 

Lady Carnarvon tells Donna Ferguson it costs hundreds of thousands of kilos a yr to run.

Home truths: Lady Carnarvon says she spends an excessive amount of money on plants

What did your parents teach you about money?

I’m considered one of six sisters so for us, it was all about sharing, being careful and considering of others. Even now, after we buy a birthday present, my siblings and I club together. 

My father was a chartered accountant and he worked as a form of company ‘doctor’. He tried to show firms around, save jobs and businesses. My mother tried to bring up six girls. We were lucky. 

I got here from quite a privileged background but there wasn’t a lot of spare money and money wasn’t on the centre of our lives. And in the course of the Seventies when there have been strikes and the lights went off, it was hard for everyone living on this country.

Have you ever ever struggled to make ends meet?

I studied English and German at St Andrews and like a lot of university students I had a tricky time. I used to be all the time attempting to make ends meet and earn money to repay whatever I shouldn’t have spent being a student. All through the vacations I worked to pay my way doing tedious temping jobs.

The castle costs hundreds of thousands of kilos a yr to run. It has 300 rooms and 5,000 acres with a unbelievable collection of wildlife and rare birds. 

Have you ever ever been paid silly money?

That is not something that has ever happened to me. I simply work day-after-day and revel in doing so. In my view, there is no such thing as a secret pot of gold at the top of the rainbow. It’s what you do with what’s in front of you that matters – the way you make it work and the way hard you’re employed.

How much were you paid for allowing Highclere Castle for use because the set for Downton Abbey?

It is a confidential contract – but when we had been paid a lot of money, I may not should work as hard as I do. Downton Abbey didn’t change the money fortunes of the castle.

To begin with, the fee was pretty small. Because the years went on, there was all the time a careful balance to be struck on the fee, otherwise they’d find someplace else. The production company’s argument to us is that we’re lucky, since it is sweet promotion for the castle – which, in fact, it’s.

Were you surprised by the success of Downton Abbey?

We were all relatively amazed. The primary series was filmed in 2009, went on screen in 2010 and the next yr I used to be commissioned to put in writing my book, Lady Almina And The Real Downton Abbey.

That was an excellent success for the castle but in addition for me, because I managed to put in writing a book. It was as much as us to make the perfect of the publicity and determine where there is likely to be a chance to do something.

Does the castle pay for its upkeep?

We’re bringing money in, but that is about capital, and Highclere has had a capital deficit for 100 years. I’m afraid you may’t make that up right away.

What’s the costliest thing you got for fun?

A labrador puppy for my son Eddie when he was two. The puppy, Percy, cost £400 in around 2001 or 2002. I now have Percy’s daughter, his grandchildren and great grandchildren: seven dogs in total. So he proved quite an expensive purchase, especially when you concentrate on the vets’ fees.

What’s your biggest money mistake?

I do not dwell on my mistakes. I have a look at them, attempt to take lessons from the experience and move on. I see making mistakes as a part of life. My money weakness though is buying shrubs and plants.

Biggest money decision you’ve gotten made recently?

I’ve put quite a whole lot of my savings into Highclere Castle Gin. We began it in 2019 – just before Covid, which was terrible timing. But I hope it’s going to prove my best money decision. To this point, the gin has won 100 gold and platinum awards. It took us 4 years to develop. It’s inspired by what we grow at Highclere, the botanicals, the lemons within the greenhouses, the lavender and juniper on the hills.

Do you save right into a pension and put money into the stock market?

I began my pension in my 30s, which was far too late. I actually have encouraged my son to begin in his 20s. Although I save into mine, I’m more focused on my stocks and shares Isas. 

Geordie began his pension younger and we pick our investments together to be certain that as a pair we have now a balanced risk profile. I like to speculate in firms in several parts of the world, because our own island is actually struggling. 

I’m also fascinated about life sciences and pharmaceuticals, because they’ve been such a rare help to us.

Do you own any property?

We’re custodians – but is that not what we must always all be on this world today? The castle is in several trusts. My husband and I are only stewards. Houses deemed of sufficient national interest will be put in family trusts in partnership with Revenue & Customs and Historic England.

And inheritance tax is held over and the castle will be passed to future generations, provided that it’s held together as an entity, that nothing’s sold and it’s shared and open to the general public. Sometimes we have now as much as 1,000 visitors through the home day by day.

We’ve got to speculate in Highclere and repair all of the assets. The castle costs hundreds of thousands of kilos a yr to run. It has 300 rooms and 5,000 acres with a unbelievable collection of wildlife and rare birds.

Do you ever discover with Lady Mary, the heiress of Downtown Abbey?

There isn’t any comparison as I’m a farmer and a farmer’s wife. My uppermost thought after we took over Highclere was how can we make people care about our home and need to come back here?

Should you were Chancellor, what’s the very first thing you’ll do?

I might make a plan for growth. In the intervening time, we will not grow because we’re cut off from our major customers, being mainland Europe, and there is an absence of encouragement to speculate here.

What’s your primary financial priority?

To have a bit extra money coming in than going out.

  • Highclere is open Sunday to Thursday, from July 9 to September 4, 2023, for pre-booked tickets only. A 70cl bottle of Highclere Castle Gin is on the market from Waitrose for £39.99.

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