Emma Manners, Duchess of Rutland, on her new podcast, how to use one’s title – and ‘things that go bump in the night’
My podcast Duchess is totally the brainchild of my eldest child, Violet. She came back from business school in LA and she said, ‘Mum, you’ve got to do a podcast. I’ve been thinking about how amazing it would be if you could interview lots of people from similar backgrounds in similar houses and homes throughout the British Isles and talk about the role of women within private heritage.’
I feel a bit like a hired hand really. She does everything because I am hopeless at all of that [technical stuff]. Then I come in and I chat to the ladies, which is wonderful. I hope with this podcast you will get some gentle insight into the world of big houses in Britain, and it will be far more accessible. And you can feel it as opposed to being told about it on a television programme where you have got someone else’s take and spin.
So, I have spoken to Henrietta Spencer-Churchill at Blenheim Palace, the Countess of Devon at Powderham Castle, Lady Ingilby at Ripley Castle – those are just a few. It has been very exciting and incredibly uplifting. I think when you live in heritage as we all do, there aren’t many people who share the same issues and problems.
It’s very nice to share problems with another friend or colleague who is from the same world. We talk about extraordinary women that these homes have had through history. We are very reflective of the fact that we are just a speck in time.
Being surrounded by portraits going back a thousand years makes you very aware of that. We talk about the role of women within the home, in their particular home, about how they make their homes work in the 21st century, and how they come up against obstacles.
One of the recurring themes is about ‘things that go bump in the night’. All the ladies have had similar experiences on that. I have found and witnessed it here at Belvoir. You live with things, present and past.
They could be portraits, they can be history, and they can also be beings that have gone and left, but they still decide to be with you. So, I don’t know, is that a ghost? Or is it an entity?
Whatever it is, they have decided to make themselves known. We don’t know what they are, but you hear things. People speak to you. I don’t know… You only know if you live in this world.
When you come from a very normal background – in my case, I was a ‘Miss’ – the whole process of becoming titled overnight just because you marry someone does feel very odd initially.
Then you sort of grow into accepting it and understanding that in the 21st century it has some importance because of what you can do to support and help in your local community.
That could be charity work, using your title as and when it is needed to support ventures. But other than that I think it means very little – except in America, where it is huge. The Americans adore it.
With a stately home, it is fundamentally about fixing the roof before you fix anything else because that can keep the rain out. And for me running this business, it is that same principle you take through to everything.
I am always very keen on signing every invoice and cheque that leaves this estate, so I know where the money’s going. Nothing goes out without assignment from me. I have worked harder than ever in lockdown – there’s only me, my PA and one other so you end up doing everything.
It is a bit like the war here; cover everything with dust sheets, and just forget about dusting and hoovering and polishing.