Princess Diana was undoubtedly the biggest star in the real-life soap opera that engulfed Britain’s royal family during her life, but it turns out she also has an intriguing connection to “Downton Abbey,” the wildly popular period drama that aired for seven seasons around the world and is slated to hit the big screen next year.
One of her closest friends and confidantes was Harry Herbert, the younger brother of the Earl of Carnarvon, who owns Highclere Castle, the iconic English country estate where “Downton Abbey” was filmed. His father, the 7th Earl of Carnarvon—who was known as Porchy—was Queen Elizabeth‘s racing manager. The first series of the Netflix hit series “The Crown” depicted Porchy’s close friendship with the Queen as a source of tension in her marriage to Prince Philip.
Herbert was one of the people Diana confided in when her marriage to Prince Charles was crumbling. When I interviewed Herbert a few years back about his thoroughbred racing business at Highclere and mentioned I had written about book on the princess, I discovered the surprising friendship between them.
Herbert said that he first met Diana when they were both teenagers and described her as “a vision of beauty, full of laughter and energy.” He added, “She was a very special person.”
The Queen knew of Herbert’s close friendship with Diana and even sought his counsel when the Wales’ marriage appeared to be headed for divorce. He told ITV of a conversation he had with the Queen one summer at Balmoral. “The Queen wanted to talk to me about [Diana and Charles’ marital woes] because she was so worried about Diana,” he said. “It was a sad discussion, a sad moment really because that was everything at its worst.”
Herbert told me he treasured the time he spent with Diana during visits to her apartment at Kensington Palace after the divorce. “She could be feeling very lonely,” he recalled. “But then her boys would come bursting into the room and her face would light up. They were the most important thing in the world to her.”
When I asked him what Diana would think of the men her sons became, he said, “You can see Diana in the way William and Harry are with people. She would be very proud.”
Last year, in the ITV and HBO documentary, Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy, Herbert revealed, “People often asked me if I was in love with her. I said of course I was. Everyone was.”
And for more little-known facts about the world’s most beloved princess, don’t miss The Secret Message Behind Princess Diana’s Manicure.
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