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A glimpse into the world of modern English aristos

Move over Downton, there's another stately home on the scene - and its real-life inhabitants are every bit as entertaining as the famous Abbey's characters. Keeley Bolger meets the Viscount and Viscountess of Weymouth for a preview

From the soar in sherry sales to the resurgence in the butler trade, Downton Abbey has spawned a whole plummy industry of its own. Add to that a whopping £22bn boost to the UK tourism industry, thanks to holidaymakers visiting locations seen in the hit series, it's no wonder the BBC are seizing on our appetite for all things posh, with a new documentary about a modern aristocratic family.

The three-part series, called All Change At Longleat, follows the Viscount and Viscountess of Weymouth as they look after the day-to-day running of Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire.

With the flamboyant artist Lord Bath, who is famed for having a string of women he dubs 'wifelets', winding down for retirement, it's now up to his son, the Viscount - or 41-year-old Ceawlin Thynn, to give his regular title - and his wife, Emma McQuiston, to take the reigns.

Already there have been widely reported problems, with Thynn and his father falling out after the younger man removed his dad's beloved colourful murals.

And the family falling out - which has now been patched up, you'll be glad to hear - was such that Lord Bath didn't go to the wedding of the young couple, who knew each other since childhood and first met when McQuiston's half-brother married his half-aunt back in 1989.

On a more positive - but long-awaited - note, the marriage made McQuiston Britain's first black viscountess.

"I've been lucky that I haven't encountered much adversity growing up in London and having friends from all different backgrounds," says the 29-year-old.

"Obviously, it was interesting in the history of England [to become the first black viscountess], but I think it's a positive thing. I don't think about it every day, I just get along with it."

So what else can we expect from the series? Here, the Viscount and Viscountess gives us a glimpse into their world.


Longleat has the honour of being the first drive-through safari park outside of Africa, and nearly 50 years on from its opening, still draws in the crowds.

"I think Longleat's special because you have so many different elements," says the viscount, who lives in quarters within the stately home. "You have a fantastic example of Elizabethan architecture, a stately home and all the treasures within, which obviously are fascinating.

"We opened the safari park in 1966 to the tune of a lot of controversy and a lot of opposition, and from that platform, we've generated a lot of attractions."


But the idea of opening up their home for the TV cameras was undoubtedly a daunting one for the newly-weds, particularly as the drawn-out commissioning process meant more time to dwell.

"We started to get cold feet and think, 'Oh my God, do we really want to do this? What if it goes wrong?'" he says.

"Because the downside is kind of unlimited. If you mess it up and say too many silly things, and they [get] put together in a certain way and all of that...

"Then we decided to be perfectly brazen about it," he adds. "The opportunity was too undeniable to expose the business on three one-hour slots on the BBC, that is about as prime time as it gets.

"We decided that we had to gulp and do our best, and try not to make fools of ourselves."


A bit of a local character, Lord Bath pops up a fair bit in the series.

"He quite likes exposure," says the viscount, smiling.

And he is "reasonably confident" that his relationship with his dad will be shown in a fair light, which is to say, relatively amicable.

"I think he's always going to be annoyed with me to a degree about [the murals], but I think enough water has passed under various bridges that we've found a space to make peace," he says.


As well as the day-to-day dramas of running a safari park and stately home, the couple had the additional stress of becoming first-time parents during filming.

While baby John is now a bouncy 11-month-old, the couple had a terrifying ordeal, with the Viscountess falling ill with a rare pituitary gland disorder at the end of her pregnancy.

"I was having terrible headaches for a while and I was given lots of painkillers, but they were getting worse, to the point where I couldn't move, I was in agony," she explains.

"I went to hospital and they gave me an MRI scan and thought it was a non-cancerous tumour, because I had bled in my pituitary gland. It was very painful, so they ended up delivering John early. That whole process was terrifying. All I cared about was John."


One episode features some Nazi memorabilia, the hangover of a previous ancestor's collection.

"I will be very relieved when it is no longer here," explains the viscount, who says they'd never want to "profit" from donating the memorabilia.

"I find it discomforting to have it," he admits.

"The question is, what to do with it, and I think we'll start putting some feelers out to holocaust museums or war museums, and see if someone is interested in taking this and putting it towards some positive use from an educational perspective."

All Change At Longleat begins on BBC One on Monday

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