Keeping Up With The Aristocrats offered viewers a glimpse behind closed doors at some of England’s grandest stately homes, but not everyone was impressed with what they found.
Some viewers complained about the decision to air a programme about the plight of the upper-class trying to keep their country piles afloat at a time when many families are struggling to pay the bills.
The first episode, which aired last night, showed Princess Olga Romanoff complaining about how difficult it is to maintain 13th-century Provender House, in Kent, and Lord Gerard and Lady Emma Fitzalan-Howard of the 126-room Carlton Towers, North Yorkshire, insist they’re ‘not rich at all’.
One unimpressed viewer wrote: ‘With people having to choose between heating and eating, is this programme currently appropriate? #keepingupwiththearistocrats.’
Family legacy: When Gerald’s elder brother Edward inherited Arundel Castle in Sussex, as well as 126-room Carlton Towers in North Yorkshire, he gave the latter to Gerald, who’s lived there since 1991. Pictured, Lord Gerald with Lady Emma, his wife of 30 years
The first episode of Keeping Up With The Aristocrats showed Lord and Lady Fitzalan-Howard of the 126-room Carlton Towers, North Yorkshire, pictured, insist they’re ‘not rich at all’
Expensive: The stately home, which sits in 1,000 acres, comes with a clock tower, three state rooms and a Venetian Drawing Room. While there are plenty of benefits to having that much space, there are also astronomical costs. The heating bill alone sets them back £70,000 a year
Reality check! Viewers questioned the decision to air the programme at a time when so many families are struggling with increased food bills and gas price hikes
Another posted: ‘When bills are rocketing, poverty increasing and people struggling, see fit to show is how the other half live #keepingupwiththearistocrats.’
A third added: ‘Why do we need this on our screens. #KeepingUpWithTheAristocrats.’
However others praised the ‘marvellous’ toffs and loved their ‘potty mouths’ and down-to-earth nature.
One tweeted: ‘Watching #KeepingUpWithTheAristocrats and it strikes me that #PrincessOlga would be a lot of fun! She comes across as very down to earth and likes a bloody good laugh! #PottyMouth #PrincessOlgaAndreevnaRomanoff.’
Another added: ‘#keepingupwiththearistocrats I love these posh people and accents.’
When Gerald’s elder brother Edward inherited Arundel Castle in Sussex, as well as 126-room Carlton Towers in North Yorkshire, he gave the latter to Gerald, who’s lived there since 1991.
Lord Gerald is also related to royalty – he’s a descendant of Anne Boleyn.
The stately home, which sits in 1,000 acres, comes with a clock tower, three state rooms and a Venetian Drawing Room.
‘Having a stately home is a privilege,’ Lady Emma Fitzalan-Howard said, ‘but it comes with a big emotional price tag.’ It also comes with an actual price tag: the heating bill alone costs £70,000 a year.
‘People think that Gerald and I are very rich but the fact is we are absolutely not very rich,’ his wife, Lady Emma, insisted.
Flogging their wares: Lord and Lady Fitzalan-Howard tried to sell their own-brand sparkling wine on last night’s episode, in another bid to bring in more cash to the costly estate
Fortunately Lord Gerarld is industrious and is always dreaming up new ways of earning money. ‘I’m always full of ideas, some good and some completely rubbish,’ confessed Gerald, 59.
To bring in money the couple host weddings at Carlton Towers, which has 17 bedrooms for paying guests and six for the family.
But Gerald is also teaching himself to smoke fish and meat in a shed he bought from Homebase, which he eventually hopes to serve to guests and he’s also planted a vineyard so the estate can produce its own sparkling wine.
The couple were thrilled when they put the stopper in the first bottle of sparkling and travel to Renishaw Hall to share it with the Sitwells.
Russian royalty: Princess Olga Romanoff (pictured) is a member of the Russian upper-classes, whose great-uncle Tsar Nicholas II was murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918. However she needs money to run her family’s estate and said she’s already spent £2million on maintenance
Putting herself to work: Olga remembers a time when there was a large staff to keep the estate running. ‘I love the garden but I loved it more when we had people doing all this,’ she said, mowing the lawn, ‘and I could just lie in the garden’
Money pit: Twice married and twice divorced, Princess Olga, 71, lives at the medieval Provender House near Faversham, which she inherited 21 years ago upon the death of her mother (her father, Nicholas II’s nephew, had escaped to England)
However others praised the ‘marvellous’ toffs and loved their ‘potty mouths’ and down-to-earth nature
‘We made some really good wine,’ Lord Gerald said after flogging their bubbles at a local food and drink market, ‘and that’s very exciting. I think my Dad would be sitting up there, smiling.’
Other toffs in the show include Alexandra Sitwell, 63, who inherited the 17th-century Grade I-listed Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire where her family has lived since 1625.
Her husband of 30 years, Rick, is a Bahamas-born businessman and former chairman of Wolverhampton Wanderers who has thrown himself into running the 500-acre estate, which boasts a Italianate garden and a vineyard with wine stocked in supermarkets.
Despite having a team of staff to help run the estate, Alexandra and Rick say it’s a tough business.
Money-spinner: Lord Ivar Mountbatten, 58, a cousin of both the Queen and Prince Philip, left, appeared on the programme with his husband James (right). Cameras followed as they prepared to put on a pop-up restaurant with French chef Jean-Christophe Novelli (left)
Saving money: Lord Ivar prefers to clean the 100 windows at Bridwell Park (pictured) himself in order to save some cash
Royal relatives: Lord Ivar is a relative of both the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh through his father, George Mountbatten
They have four gardeners, two housekeepers and a butler, David, who jokes he got into the business because of his father.
He said: ‘My father was a pig farmer and then became a butler but he says it’s the same thing: you feed them when they’re hungry and you clean up their mess!’
Meanwhile Princess Olga Romanoff, whose great-uncle Tsar Nicholas II was murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918, was quick to dismiss the general perception of her moneyed class.
‘I’m not your ordinary princess,’ she said. ‘At home you’ll find me shovelling s***, sadly, not eating caviar.’
Twice married and twice divorced, Princess Olga, 71, lives at the medieval Provender House near Faversham, which she inherited 21 years ago upon the death of her mother (her father, Nicholas II’s nephew, had escaped to England). By then the money had run out and it was a ramshackle wreck.
Touring the grounds: Alexandra Sitwell and her husband Rick strolled through Renishaw Hall, in Derbyshire, in their dressing gowns and pyjamas
Sprawling: The 500-acre estate boasts a Italianate garden and a vineyard with wine stocked in supermarkets
‘When I was a child, it seemed like there was a bottomless pit of money,’ she recalled. ‘And indeed there was until my grandmother died. Then my mother, poor woman, got into deep s**t and the debts just rose and rose and rose.
‘I inherited the house and I realised the house was literally falling down. ‘It’s still falling down, £2.5 million later,’ said Olga dryly. ‘I had to sell some of our Russian heirlooms to fund it.’
The show revealed she generates income by renting out a wing of the house via Airbnb and by giving £14-a-head tours to busloads of tourists.
Cameras followed Olga as she gives a tour to one group, making jokes about her late ancestor’s busts and pointing out a painting made for her by a late ex-boyfriend.
Yet she also remembered a time when there was a large staff to keep the estate running.
‘I love the garden but I loved it more when we had people doing all this,’ she says, running a lawnmower across the grass, ‘and I could just lie in the garden’.
Her candour made her a hit with viewers, who said they wanted to invite her over for dinner.
Staff: Unlike some of the other aristos, Alexandra and Rick have the benefit of a team of permanent staff members, including four gardeners, two housekeepers and a butler, David, pictured, who jokes he got into the business because of his father.
Also appearing in the series is Lord Ivar Mountbatten, 58, a cousin of both the Queen and Prince Philip who cleans the 100-plus windows of his mansion, 18th-century Bridwell Park in Devon, himself.
‘These places don’t run themselves and I’m the sort of person that I’d rather do something myself than pay for them to do it,’ Lord Ivar explained.
The divorced father-of-three made history four years ago when he became the first British royal to enter into a same-sex marriage, with airline steward James Coyle.
James explained: ‘Sometimes we’re at a drinks party and some old duffer will say, “who are you” and I’ll say “I’m Ivar’s partner” and they’ll say, “what business are you in?” and then you have to say, “the gay business”.’
The couple remain close with Ivar’s ex-wife Lady Penny, who even gave Ivar away on his wedding day. Their daughters Ella, Alix and Luli get along famously with their new stepfather.
‘I lived with a woman for 17 years then all of a sudden not having a woman on my side, but a man, it was quite a big step,’ admitted Ivar, adding: ‘We have a big, blended family.’
Bridwell Park comes with an ornamental lake, a Gothic chapel and a deer park, which, while beautiful to look at, are expensive to maintain.
In the series, Lord Ivar and James try to earn a crust by organising a pop-up restaurant at the house in collaboration with French chef Jean-Christophe Novelli, charging guests £165 a head for an exclusive dinner.
It is just one of the ideas Ivar and James has to try and make money to cover the £100,000-a-year it takes to keep the house running. They also have a cafe on site.
‘A restaurant seems a natural progression from the cafe,’ James said, as they prepared to welcome Jean-Christophe to the estate.
The chef puts the duo to work, making Lord Ivar clean the windows of the dining room twice and requiring three tablecloths on each table so it is soft to the touch.
But all the hard work is worth it when the evening – attended by the rest of the aristos featured in the show – goes off without a hitch.
‘After tonight, I think we’ve demonstrated that we can do it, we can pull it off,’ James said. ‘I would do it again… Just not tomorrow.’