SOUTH YORKSHIRE: Chatsworth TV series sets the estate tills ringing

Farm shop manager Andre Birkett
Farm shop manager Andre Birkett

A TV documentary that gave millions of viewers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of life at Chatsworth has set the tills ringing at the stately home.

The three-part series, which concluded this week, has sparked a bonanza for the estate as visitors flock to discover its delights for themselves.

Visitor numbers are up, farm shop takings are up and brides are queueing up to tie the knot at the historic Peak District landmark.

“The phone has been ringing off the hook with people interested in weddings. The series has definitely raised people’s awareness of Chatsworth,” said spokesperson Stephanie Cliffe.

“People keep asking us how we managed to get a three-hour advert on the BBC!”

The series has made stars not just of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, who live at Chatsworth, but also some of the key figures who keep the estate running smoothly.

Farm shop manager André Birkett is a larger-than-life character who started out as a kitchen student, moved to the private kitchens of the 11th Duke and Duchess and began working at the farm shop back in 1984.

Popular with everyone, from the Dowager Duchess to the staff who work for him, he got on well with the TV crew. “I wasn’t fazed by the cameras and I couldn’t act if I tried. Anyone who knows me will tell you that the person you see in the documentary is the real me, complete with Yorkshire accent.”

Viewers saw his reaction as buyers unveiled a new bottled beer, brewed by Peak Ale on the estate and named André’s Ale.

“He’s still a little bit embarrassed about it, but it’s selling well – along with a new André’s salad dressing!” says Stephanie.

Another key character is new head guide Heather Redmond, at 25 the youngest person to hold the post, as well as the only woman.

She had a baptism of fire when she started the job last year: “On the first day I arrived they asked if I’d mind being filmed… so all of my learning was done on camera.”

The series was a warts-and-all production – or, in one case, a bruised lip.

Trainee supervisor Lewis Leybourne had been enlisted to pose as Mr Darcy in a Pride and Prejudice-themed wedding photo shoot but he was mugged on the previous night. The cameras caught his relief when a make-up artist was called in to disguise the damage – and his delight when the trick paid off.

“It’s one of the highlights of my time at Chatsworth so far,” said Lewis, who first joined the staff as an assistant in the Carriage House restaurant.

Meanwhile, the house’s aristocratic residents showed another side of their characters.

The Duke and Duchess were shown joining staff for the annual litter pick around the park – and the Duke on an early-morning walk across the fields to have his hair cut at the barber’s in Bakewell.

A rough cut of the documentary was watched by the Duke, Duchess and four key staff to check that no security issues had been breached.

But most of the community had their first sight of the series along with the public.

“It was interesting, but I was in tears the whole time,” admits Stephanie. “It seemed like the culmination of a year’s worth of work, so when I saw it on screen it was really emotional.”

The series can still be seen on BBC iPlayer.