Chatsworth staff lend a hand to deck the halls

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Christmas arrived at Chatsworth this week, filling the house with colour, sparkle and the fragrance of pine.

With just hours to go before opening, the entire household threw itself into a frenzy of bauble-hanging as the halls were decked on a Christmas carols theme, ready for the first arrivals on Saturday.

Among those lending a hand was new head guide Heather Redmond – at 25, not only the first woman to hold the role, but also the youngest person.

The house has a special significance for Heather, daughter of Derbyshire vicar – now canon – David Truby.

“It was the first place my parents ever brought me… when I was only a couple of days old,” she says.

And landing her dream job earlier this year was a double bonus, because she had been parted from husband Alan while living-in at her previous post with the National Trust.

Heather’s degree was in law but she quickly realised her heart was not in the job and switched to visitor services management.

By that time she had married childhood sweetheart Alan but after six months together she had to move out to live ‘on the job’ at stately Coughton Court and then Dudmaston Hall.

The Chatsworth post – in charge of a team of 60 guides – means they can now look for a new home together.

“Now we’re together all the time and I get to work in the house that I love, so it was worth that bit of time apart,” she says.

But it has brought a whole range of new challenges, not least having to work with a television camera following her around.

Chatsworth is the subject of a three-part documentary, due to be shown on BBC1 in the new year. Recording has been taking place throughout the current season and one of those featured is Heather.

“On the first day I arrived they asked if I’d mind being filmed and they’ve been there ever since. So all of my learning was done on camera.

“I think it’s going to be quite funny. They’ll get an inside feel of just how crazy this place can be sometimes.”

In her eight months at Chatsworth, Heather has found herself climbing scaffolding and dressing as a lady’s maid, as well as reading dozens of books, finding her way around the labyrinth of passages and writing tours and trails that give visitors an insight to some of the secrets and intrigues of the house and gardens.

There are also extra jobs – such as bauble hanging – that come with being part of Chatsworth’s extended family.

“That’s what I love about this place: it’s still a family home. You smell the dinner cooking or see the Duke and Duchess’ grandchildren running around, chasing the new dog, Paxton.”

That family input is evident in the Christmas decorations too – such as the Duchess’s addition of a washing line of socks to the tableau for While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night.

Other highlights include the Painted Hall, rich with greenery and twinkling lights, a majestic setting for We Three Kings (recycled from last year’s Cossacks).

Focal point of the adjacent courtyard is a fountain – I Saw Three Ships – circled by Pugwash-style boats created by Sheffield-based Set One Design.

The chapel has been transformed into O Little Town of Bethlehem, complete with life-size buildings, boulders and palm trees. And the Sculpture Gallery, ablaze with hot colours and artificial candles, represents Torches, Torches.

Local schoolchildren have done their bit too: Curbar Primary made a mouthwatering display of salt dough food for the dining room; Pilsley made a stained glass window for the Painted Hall; Grassmoor filled the chapel corridor with stars; and Heath made angels for the Vestibule.

Chatsworth is open for Christmas daily until December 23.