It was the setting for an iconic TV series but now a behind-the-scenes real life family drama is being played out at one of the region’s stately homes.
The breathtaking grandeur of Castle Howard and its estate attracts visitors from far and wide, with the 18th century home run by Simon Howard for three decades, but today Mr Howard confirmed rumours that he would be stepping down at the end of the year.
He will remain a director of the company, but the day-to-day running of the historic house and estate will pass to his elder brother Nick and his wife Victoria, a former chief executive officer at publishing giant Harper Collins. The couple will move from London to take up residence at the estate.
Castle Howard is run by a board, whose company directors include Simon Howard and his brother Nicholas.
Reports earlier this week suggested Simon Howard had been urged to step down or face being outvoted by the directors of the company that runs the estate, although this has not been confirmed by the family.
Details of what has being going on behind the scenes to prompt such speculation about Castle Howard have not been made clear.
Simon Howard returned to the family seat to help run the estate after agricultural college in Cirencester and a postgraduate course in art. It was about the time when Granada TV were filming Brideshead Revisited, which put Castle Howard on the international map.
“I got sucked into the whole thing, and stayed, although I had always intended to come back and help look after the place,” he earlier said.
In August, Simon Howard, 58, revealed he had received precautionary treatment for throat cancer, although he said at the time that the treatment has gone well saying: “As things stand, I have been very lucky and I am in the clear.”
Today he said: “I was brought up here and for the last 30 years I have made it my life’s work to constantly strive to make the house and grounds as enjoyable as possible for visitors. I now feel the time is right to pass this responsibility and privilege to my brother Nick, who in turn will prepare the next generation of the Howard family to take on the running of the estate. I will continue to play an active role and will work closely with my brother to ensure the success of Castle Howard.”
Nick Howard said in a statement: “Simon has worked tirelessly for Castle Howard. I cannot thank him enough for what he has achieved during his tenure. Were it not for his extraordinary commitment, we would not be in a position to carry on his good work.”
The Yorkshire stately home is generally regarded as being the inspiration for the iconic country seat in Evelyn Waugh’s novel and was also the setting for the award-winning 1981 TV series, which starred Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews. In 2008 the cameras were back at the historic estate for a film version, starring Emma Thompson and Ben Whishaw.
Designed by Sir John Vanbrugh and built between 1699 and 1712 the estate is one of the country’s grandest. Simon Howard currently lives in a wing of the property with his wife Rebecca and their 12-year-old twins Octavia and Merlin.
The couple have been working hard the turn the large estate into a successful visitor attraction and last week preparations were underway for Christmas festivities at the house and estate which is one of Castle Howard’s busiest times of year.
The house will remain open to visitors.