September 1, 2014

Medina
Cloudy
70°F

Medina man wins contest to see British castle where PBS series filmed

MEDINA — Kevin Hack said he’d never entered a contest until last year, when he filled out the form for the “Masterpiece Classic” Sweepstakes and a chance to visit the British castle where “Downton Abbey” is filmed.

Call it beginner’s luck.

Lord and Lady Carnarvon, left, meet with Kevin Hack and his friend Dreama Bowen outside their home at Highclere Castle. Filming for the "Downton Abbey" television series takes place at the castle and Hack won a trip to tour the castle and meet with Lord and Lady Carnarvon. (COURTESY PHOTO)

“They called me to say I won, and I was kind of thinking it was a scam,” said Hack, 45, of Medina. “I’m kind of a little leery of those contests, but I figured ‘Masterpiece’ is well known for public programming so it’s probably safe.

“When they called back a second time, I was sure I won.”

Hack, who works for FirstMerit Financial Services, was chosen from 1.4 million entries for a four-day stay in London for two and airfare, along with a trip to the Highclere Castle, about 50 miles from London.

The first prize, sponsored by Boston-based WGBH’s “Masterpiece,” was valued at more than $4,000.

Sunday’s premiere of the third season of “Downton Abbey” drew 7.9 million viewers. The show, presented by PBS and WGBH as part of “Masterpiece Classic,” has earned Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for the two previous seasons, and has become one of the most successful shows on public television.

“They asked me how many times I entered, because you could have entered up to 50 times,” Hack said, “but I only entered once.”

Hack and his friend, Dreama Bowen, took their trip in September. They spent four days in the city with a lineup of events.

The highlight was a visit to Highclere Castle in Hampshire. The castle is the country seat of the earl of Carnarvon.

Hack got to sit down to high tea with George Herbert, eighth of earl of Carnarvon, and his wife, Jayne, while visiting the castle. The couple is close family friends with “Downton Abbey” writer Julian Fellowes.

The couple has another home and lives at Highclere only part of the year.

“They were very nice and accommodating people,” Hack said, adding they were down to earth and in touch with daily life at their home.

“Lady Carnarvon had just come from birthing puppies in the barn.”

Hack said he was surprised by the photos in the Herberts’ castle, including some of the couple with Lady Diana and princes Harry and William when they were young.

“Lord Carnarvon is the godson of Queen Elizabeth II,” Hack said. “I was struck by how much of their personal photos were around the home.”

Hack said he visited nearly all of the rooms where “Downton Abbey” is filmed, including the iconic oak staircase featured prominently in the show.

“It was as it looks on television,” he said.

He said the castle is beautiful inside, but the view from outside on the castle grounds was his favorite part.

“I really enjoyed the vista of the classic English countryside,” he said.

Hack said some visitors are surprised to learn that scenes from “Downton Abbey” featuring the servants’ quarters are filmed on a set and not at Highclere Castle.

“They have a kitchen and servants’ area, but it’s much more modern now,” he said.

The family also has only a handful of employees to help maintain the grounds compared to the full cast of employees featured on the show that takes place in the early 20th century.

Hack and Bowen’s trip featured more than just a visit to the castle. Included on their itinerary was Leeds Castle, in Kent, surrounded by a lake and moat.
Hack and Bowen received a private tour of the castle — billed as the “loveliest castle in the world” — that included a “below stairs/what the butler saw” theme.

“We got to see all the servants’ quarters and travel some of the passages they would have used to reach all the rooms in the house,” Hack said.
Hack and Bowen also took a riverboat tour of London and received a special tour of the Buckingham Palace crown jewels exhibit. The tour was provided by a staff member from the London mayor’s office.

“I was just blown away by the artwork there,” Hack said.

After their stay, the pair flew back to Boston first class.

Hack said that while he was exhausted, everyone involved with their stay was positive and friendly.

“Now that the show is such a success, I wasn’t sure if they’d be sick of tourists like us by now,” Hack said. “But everyone was so friendly and excited. They’re really very proud to share their history.”

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.