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Julie Montagu All Photos © Smithsonian Channel

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Julie Montagu, Viscountess Hinchingbrooke

The American aristocrat uncovering British history
Published on January 16, 2020
First published in the January-February 2020 edition of The American magazine

Thank you so much for your time Julie, our traditional first question – where in the States are you from?

I am from suburban Illinois.

Can you tell us about how you moved to the UK, and how an Illinois girl came to be the Viscountess Hinchingbrooke?

I met my husband through mutual friends while living in London. We started dating and 3 months in, he told me of his illustrious past – he was part of the British Aristocracy and had a title, Viscount Hinchingbrooke.

How did it feel being an American entering into the British aristocracy, and how did the reality of UK life compare with the popular visions of British nobility?

It was quite daunting at first – it's a bit more formal than what I was used to living in the States. However, it certainly wasn't a Downton Abbey life. Things have moved on with the ever-changing times including the British Aristocracy for which I am grateful. But at the end of the day, there still is the responsibility of keeping a historic house alive and well.

How did you become involved in hosting this new Smithsonian Channel documentary exploring some of the grand estates of Britain?

Part of me feels I should thank Meghan Markle for this launch pad into hosting a TV series. As soon as Harry and Meghan announced their engagement, I was asked – as an American Aristocrat – to commentate on various networks about what I thought it would be like for Meghan due to the fact that we've both married into this very different world and we are both Americans. A few months after their wedding where I had also been commentating at Windsor Castle for the BBC, I received a phone call from my agent delivering the news of my possible involvement in this series. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Do you have a particular favorite estate which features in the series (not including your own home!)?

That's a very difficult question to answer as each estate is so wonderfully unique, so I'm going to play it safe and say Boughton House, owned by the Duke of Buccleuch. Boughton House is not only considered the English Versailles but it's also another Montagu home, which allowed me to learn so much more about the rich family history that I married into.

Julie Montagu Julie at Mapperton House

What was it like taking viewers behind the scenes of your home at Mapperton?

I hope it shows the viewers the harsh reality of running a historic home. There's no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and the work is constant. Leaks, repairs, improvements and the list goes on and on to make sure that this home continues to be a part of British history. At the end of the day, that's what we are doing – doing everything we can to make sure we help to preserve England's history and trust me, it's not easy by any stretch of the imagination.

Why is the British aristocracy such a source of interest and excitement for Americans?

I suspect it's because that is where our roots begin. And therefore, perhaps we feel as if the British Aristocracy is somewhere, somehow, a part of us. The British history is quite possibly the most wonderful, richest history in the world and therefore, it's exciting to see it still well and truly alive.

Was there anything during the filming of the series that surprised you, or that you hadn't expected to find?

Where do I begin! Yes! I was surprised to see how hard the other homeowners works to make their homes commercially viable, to conserve 300 year old tapestries, to create exciting and relevant events for the public and to do everything they can to make sure their homes survive.

What does the Special Relationship mean to you?

I always view the Special Relationship like one's favorite cousin. You can't wait to see them.

What do you most enjoy about living in the UK, and what do you most miss about the US?

I enjoy the most the rich culture, history and sophistication of the UK. I miss the customer service in the US and the best corn on the cob in Illinois.

Where would you recommend Americans in the UK visit to see and find out more about British aristocracy and its heritage?

Americans should head to Historic Houses – unlike National Trust homes where no one lives in them anymore, Historic Houses has over 300 privately owned and lived in estates across the UK that you can visit and experience great days out. www.historichouses.org

What's next on the horizon for you?

Hopefully a Series 2! And this year we are launching our Wellbeing and Heritage Retreats at Mapperton where guests also stay at Mapperton. A bit of yoga in our 17th century newly renovated Coach House, mindful walks on the 2,000 acre estates, delicious locally sourced food and drink and bespoke tours of Mapperton and 2 other historic homes in the area.

Finally, what's the best thing about being Julie Montagu?

Her 4 children and husband.

An American Aristocrat's Guide to Great Estates, hosted by Julie, premieres in the UK on the Smithsonian Channel from Tuesday January 21, 2020 at 8pm GMT. Check out our listings below, and go to www.smithsonianchannel.com for more information.

Episode 1 – Eastnor Castle - Jan 21st, 8pm
Episode 2 – Doddington Hall, Jan 28th, 8pm
Episode 3 – Holdenby House , Feb 4th 8pm
Episode 4 – Boughton House, Feb 11th, 8pm
Episode 5 – Floors Castle, Feb 18th, 8pm
Episode 6 – Sudeley Castle, Feb 25th, 8pm
Episode 7 – Newby Hall, March 3rd, 8pm
Episode 8 – Inveraray Castle, March 10th, 8pm
Episode 9 – Mapperton, March 17th, 8pm


Julie Montagu Julie with her children and husband

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