Lord and Lady Harewood talk stately homes

PUBLISHED: 15:46 13 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:06 20 February 2013

Lord and Lady Harewood

Lord and Lady Harewood

The Lascelles family is celebrating its 250th anniversary at Harewood House this year. In a rare interview, Lord and Lady Harewood talk to Justine Brooks

Children always take their home comforts for granted. And Mark Lascelles, son of George Lascelles, seventh Earl of Harewood and Patricia, Countess of Harewood is no exception. 'When our son was three-and-a-half we took him to a rehearsal of a concert at Leeds Town Hall.We walked in and he looked around, saying "whose house is this, mummy?"'

Lady Harewood recalls this family story with an appreciative laugh, but admits she found her own arrival at Harewood House as a newlywed in 1967 rather more overwhelming. 'We drove up the drive late at night and there was this great black house. It was absolutely black. My husband took me round the ground floor the next morning, but I could only go half way. There was too much to absorb - I still find it extraordinary to think of. I kept saying "I can't do any more. Let's leave the rest until tomorrow". It seems odd to me now but it was overwhelming.'

She is obviously very much at home now, however, sipping hot chocolate in her private apartment in one of Yorkshire's grandest familyowned stately properties, which she shares with her husband of 42 years, two dachshunds and thousands of paying visitors who drop in every year.

Lord Harewood, son of Henry, Viscount Lascelles and Princess Mary, moved to Harewood from Goldsborough Hall in 1930, but had visited his grandparents there on numerous occasions before. At that time, many parts of the house had not been modernised. 'We didn't have bathrooms in the east wing, we had a hip bath in front of the fire,' he explains. 'My grandparents had bathrooms, but we didn't. My father eventually put bathrooms in for us.'

George and his brother Gerald soon settled in, spending seemingly endless days riding the estate and getting to know every nook and rook. 'We both found it very easy to acclimatise to living here,' he says. 'We went for walks with my parents, which was rather fun. They used to talk about the district and what went on in the world and we'd listen.'

'For my husband's 70th birthday we managed to arrange a concert in the house with four singers and two pianists without him knowing a thing about it'

Lady Harewood, who is originally from Australia, continued the restoration and modernisation process when she arrived in Yorkshire with her new husband. 'The first room we restored was what is now the Cinnamon Drawing Room, which was in a very poor state of repair.We behaved like a couple of children when it was complete.We'd pretend we didn't know it had been restored and act surprised about it.We never believed we would succeed in making another room look as good as that. And now it all looks good.'

The house has always been open to the public, but what was once a Wednesday walk-around is now a seven days a week business. 'It affects us, but it doesn't worry us,' says Lord Harewood, who admits he often actually enjoys meeting the public, especially children.

In fact, the presence of hundreds of visitors on an almost daily basis doesn't appear to curb the family's ability to enjoy themselves one iota. 'For my husband's 70th birthday we managed to arrange a concert in the house with four singers and two pianists without him knowing a thing about it,' Lady Harewood explains.

'We confined him to the private apartment and when the time came we blindfolded him and led him to the gallery. He knew exactly where he was by the smell and the echoing sound.What he didn't know was that there were all these people sitting there absolutely silent.

'As I steered him to his seat and whipped the blindfold off, the first singer, Alan Opie, broke into the beautiful Prologue from Pagliacci.'

Lord Harewood also has fond memories of childhood Christmases in the house, when head forester Bert Meredith would dress up as Father Christmas: 'I knew who he was because I recognised him, but neither my brother nor my cousins did.'

For Lady Harewood, however, happiness can be found right outside the window every day. 'When we look out of our sitting room window at the Capability Brown landscape, we're looking at one of the greatest artworks in England,' she says. 'There are marvellous times of day, particularly late afternoon on a sunny day when long fingers of shadows of the trees creep across the north front. And the red kites sometimes fly so close they look like they want to come in.

'It's always thrilling. There's no such thing as being bored by it.'

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