Capturing ‘real’ Downton Abbey at Chatsworth

Duke and Duchess of Devonshire - re BBC One show Chatsworth starting Monday May 14th
Duke and Duchess of Devonshire - re BBC One show Chatsworth starting Monday May 14th

TV CAMERAS go behind the scenes at Chatsworth in a fly-on-the-wall series revealing the Upstairs-Downstairs lives of the Duke and Duchess and their staff.

The three-part series, which starts on Monday, was filmed over most of last year, and is being billed as a ‘real life Downton Abbey’.

The 12th Duke – Stoker to his friends – and Duchess are very much in front of the cameras, at one point joining the annual litter-pick over the estate before the season opens.

But the series will also focus on how they mix with employees.

Half a dozen staff members have been selected, including farm shop manager Andre Birkett who is mortified when the cameras are with him as he finds a pair of discarded underpants in the shop toilet.

“I didn’t want them to use that but it shows we didn’t have control over the filming!” he said.

The others, who are bound to become well-known faces to the 750,000 visitors to Chatsworth each year, are:

n Heather Redmond, on probation while finding her feet as the first woman head guide, in charge of a 60-strong team, some of whom have been with the estate since before she was born

n Ian Turner, farm manager, a servant of Chatsworth for 32 years, touring the estate during the lambing season – and planning tactics for his entries in the local horticultural society show

n Matthew Hirst, Head of Art and Historic Collections, who organises Chatsworth’s major shows

n Jonathan Moseley, floral designer, struggling to cope with thousands of tulips blooming too early for the annual Florabundance display

n Lewis Leybourne, from Sheffield, a young trainee supervisor whose good looks get him ‘borrowed’ to appear as a bridegroom in photographs for Chatsworth’s wedding brochure.

The BBC say the series will show how the Duke, 68, and Duchess get involved with everything on their 30,000 acre Peak District estate, from the smallest detail to the £14m restoration project, only just completed.

Andre, aged 47, who came to Chatsworth as a teenager to cook for the-then Duke and Duchess, is shown in charge of the farm shop which has over 3,000 lines - as many as a small supermarket.

He’s seen discussing a new beer, Andre’s Ale, with Robert Evans, founder of the estate’s Peak Ales brewery, only a few hundred yards from the shop.

Andre is hoping it won’t fall foul of the regulations, as did the best-selling Andre’s chicken liver pate.

“We can no longer call it Andre’s Pate because there aren’t any Andres in it,” he said. “We now call it chicken liver pate with pork – Andre’s favourite.”

Only a very few of the estate’s 700 staff have so far seen the new series as a whole - although they were assembled in the house’s theatre to watch what Andre calls a ‘taster tape’ of the series.

So what does Andre, who lives on the nearby estate village of Edensor, think about being among what the BBC calls ‘a colourful cast of characters’?

He said: “I can’t act. I can’t change my voice. It’s pretty much me whether I like it or not!”

A BBC spokesman said: “It is a unique opportunity to take an in-depth glimpse of life upstairs and downstairs in the 21st century.

“The series gives an insight into the people who live and work in a world visited by many - but known only to a few.”

n The first episode is on Monday, May 14, on BBC1 at 9pm.