American-born aristocrat tours British estates for Smithsonian Channel


Illinois native Julie Montagu hosts “An American Aristocrat’s Guide to Great Estates,” an eight-episode series premiering Sunday (9 p.m.) on Smithsonian Channel.

Montagu became the Viscountess of Hichingbrooke when, in 2004, she married Luke Montagu — whose father is the 11th Earl of Sandwich — and moved into Mapperton House, the family’s 16th century estate in Dorset. She appeared for two seasons on Bravo’s reality series “Ladies of London” and, in 2018, provided commentary for the BBC when Meghan Markle married Prince Harry and became the Duchess of Sussex.

Montagu, 48, spoke to The Post from Mapperton House about “An American Aristocrat’s Guide to Great Estates,” in which she tours regal homes and castles for an enthusiastic, behind-the-scenes look at their histories and internal operations.

Were you surprised at how you felt touring these homes?

I could talk forever about this. I had two big takeaways: number one, how hard these homeowners work to make their estates commercially viable. It’s not like they’re getting taxpayer money like the Royal Family. Second, my learning curve on Britain’s history, which I’m now so passionate about … I learned so much walking into these homes and, as an American, was fascinated by sitting in a chair that’s 500 years old. The homeowners knew I was coming with good intentions, because I was in the same boat as them, and [most of them] had me spend the night. In Eastnor Castle, I was in the same room that Queen Mary spent the night in and the whole time I was looking around in awe. All that enthusiasm you see is genuine. It was all so new and different. I’ve been here for 20 years but I’m as American as they come.

How did you get involved in the series?

I was on “Ladies of London” … and a BBC producer who watched the show contacted me when Meghan and Harry became engaged and I did a secret interview for the BBC — I knew they were engaged before it was made public — about what it’s like to be an American marrying into this kind of life. [The interview] went out the day they were engaged and it went viral. I was teaching yoga in London and my phone was pinging — everyone from CNN, ITV and Fox called and then I was contracted by the BBC to commentate at the Royal Wedding. Somebody from Smithsonian Channel saw that interview and that got the ball rolling. We filmed from April 2019 until July, and then they decided to add two more episodes that will air next winter — “Welcome to Mapperton” and “Christmas at Mapperton,” where I go and visit Highclere Castle from “Downton Abbey.” We filmed those from October through January.

How has the pandemic affected the British estates?

Mapperton is closed to visitors: we closed our cafe, postponed our weddings and furloughed all of our staff [and] it’s been the same with all the historical houses across the country. So a TV series like this, which I’m really passionate about … I want people to see how hard these homeowners work and the interesting things they do besides sharing their history. Hopefully, when the pandemic is over, people will travel and be able to see these homes and estates, maybe with more empathy than they had before.

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