Highclere Tea Featuring Lady Carnarvon
March 20 from 4 to 6
$450–675
The St. Regis Hotel
1919 Briar Oaks Lane
houstonpublicmedia.org 

If you can’t travel to England to take a tour of Highclere Castle, the real-life setting for the hit show Downton Abbey, the Houston Public Media Foundation is offering the next best thing: English tea at The St. Regis Hotel with Lady Carnarvon, mistress of the 5,000-acre estate, which dates back to the late 17th century. Of course the price is commensurate with the company: the tea alone is $450; for an extra $225, you can attend a pre-tea champagne reception. (If you need a primer on proper tea etiquette, we have you covered.)  

Lady Carnarvon was born Fiona Aitken, the oldest of six daughters, attended St. Andrews, and founded her own clothing line before marrying Geordi Herbert, the Eighth Earl of Carnarvon (and Queen Elizabeth II’s godson), in 1999. She soon moved into the sprawling country house that Downton Abbey, created by Julian Fellowes, would later make one of the world's most recognizable buildings. To help defray the estate's $1.5 million annual upkeeping tab, the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon decided to open up part of the house to tourists, as well as making the grounds available for lavish weddings. 

The Earl and Countess of Carnarvon

In the process, the owners have become celebrities in their own right, the subjects of a PBS documentary and countless newspaper and magazine articles. At the Houston Public Media Foundation event, which will be hosted by Lynn Wyatt, Lady Carnarvon will talk about the challenges of managing a large English country estate and give a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of Downton Abbey.

As fans of the television show know all too well, English primogeniture laws, which ensure that aristocratic titles (and property) gets passed to the oldest male heir, have a tendency to throw a wrench in things. The same is true for Highclere Castle, which, upon the Earl of Carnarvon’s death, will pass not to Lady Carnarvon but to his son from his first marriage. We can’t help but wonder what kind of plot Julian Fellowes would spin from that…

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