The Viscountess of Sandwich has shown that she’s one of England’s more proactive aristocrats with a string of ventures including virtual tours and lockdown yoga videos promoting her country pile – the sprawling Mapperton Estate in Dorset – to the masses.
Chicago-born Julia Montagu’s latest venture is Amercian Viscountess, a YouTube series in which she travels around the UK in a dreamy open-top sports car interviewing people who also live in stately homes.
A trailer for the series, which is made by production company Aonia and also airs on pay-for platform Patreon, sees Montagu offering a glimpse into life in the gilded home she shares with her husband Luke, also known as Viscount Hinchingbrooke.
New YouTube series American Viscountess sees Julie Montagu, 47, who was born in Chicago but is married to the Earl of Sandwich, leave her country pile for a tour around the nation’s stately homes
Julie pictured with her husband Luke, Earl of Sandwich, and children William, Emma, Nestor and Jack at Mapperton House – the family’s magnificent Jacobean pile in Dorset
After offering virtual tours during lockdown, and online yoga sessions from the most regal rooms in the house, the enterprising Montagu has now turned her hand to television – and is seen driving a beautiful looking sports car as she sets off around the country visiting other stately homes
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have arguably led the way when it comes to high society figures sharing insights into their lives via podcasts, videos and social media.
Princess Diana’s bridesmaid India Hicks regularly interviews her mother, Lady Pamela Hicks, for her podcast, with the royal family often the topic of conversation, and the Duchess of Rutland has frequently opened the doors to online viewers detailing her life in 11th century Belvoir Castle.
Montagu beams in the glossy two-minute clip as she explains how marrying into landed gentry had proved a unsettling prospect because of her hugely different upbringing.
She tells viewers: ‘When Imarried into the British aristocracy it was the start of a wonderfully exciting journey but it was also a little daunting.
‘I became a vicountess and for an American girl from a small town outside Chicago that was quite a shock.’
In June, Montagu revealed the ways in which she’s trying to save her lavish stately home after losing £250,000 this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The 47-year-old has been quick to embrace savvy new business ideas to keep her manor house and the family’s 15 acres of Italianate gardens afloat – including virtual tours and yoga classes.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have arguably led the way when it comes to high society figures sharing insights into their lives via podcasts, videos and social media – with India Hicks and the Duchess of Rutland all sharing snippets of their lives
She implores viewers: ‘If you love castles and manors and stately homes as much as I do, please join me here every Sunday as I head off to visit some of Britain’s most spectacular homes.’
She hints in the YouTube series that life isn’t always rosy trying to keep a historic home in check, saying: Living in a place like this is a joy but also a challenge and every day we’re aware that we’re preserving a very special part of Britain’s heritage.’
Usually boasting 200 visitors a day in high season, the estate was only able to reopen its gardens on the weekend and still lacks the usual tourists from abroad and elderly guests that it relies on.
‘Mapperton costs around £200,000 a year to run, but this year we’ve lost around £250,000,’ Julie said, speaking to The Times earlier this year.
Mixed emotions: Montagu says living in a place like Mapperton is both ‘a joy but also a challenge’ as ‘we’re preserving a very special part of Britain’s heritage’
Montagu has raised her children in the home dubbed the ‘finest manor house in Britain’ – but revealed earlier this year that the home lost £250,000 during the pandemic (Montagu pictured in 2016)
The weddings and conferences that usually help keep the houses running have been cancelled, while cafes and gift shops remain closed – plus Julie’s yoga retreat, which the trained teacher started running last year, had to be scrapped.
Her latest venture sees her imploring viewers: ‘If you love castles and manors and stately homes as much as I do, please join me here every Sunday as I head off to visit some of Britain’s most spectacular homes.’
It’s not the first time the aristocrat has stepped in front of the camera.
Known thanks to her role in the now defunct reality series Ladies of London, she has regularly presented virtual tours of the estate.
Having also hosted An American Aristocrat’s Guide to Great Estates on the US Smithsonian Channel, the experienced presenter offers weekly online tours of Mapperton alongside her in-laws, either the Earl, 77, or Countess, 78 of Sandwich.
‘It’s entirely a family affair: Luke does the filming, our 13-year-old son, Nestor, does the sound recording, and people love it because it’s so personal,’ Julie explained.
The 48-year-old has had to embrace savvy new business ideas to keep her manor house (pictured) and the family’s 15 acres of Italianate gardens afloat – including virtual tours and yoga classes
‘We’ll show an old Tudor door hidden behind Georgian panelling and say, “This used to be Nestor’s favourite hiding spot,” and the camera will swing to Nestor, who’ll say, “Yes, it was!”‘
Mapperton House: The finest manor home in Britain
Built in the 1540s with additions in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Montagus’ country pile Mapperton House has been dubbed by Country Life magazine the finest manor house in England.
Spread over three floors and three wings, the house boasts 16th-century plaster ceilings and 18th-century panelling, as well as the Sandwich collection of pictures and furniture that reflect the family’s contribution to Britain’s naval history.
The fourth earl is said to have invented the sandwich some 250 years ago when he decided to wrap his food in bread to avoid dirtying his hands as he ate.
But it is also said that in the 17th century the first earl invented the choc ice when he chilled down liquid chocolate from Spain with snow and salt.
To bolster their finances, the Montagus let the house out as a film location and it was seen in both the 2015 film Far From The Madding Crowd with Carey Mulligan and the 1996 adaptation of Emma starring Gwyneth Paltrow.
Viewers include fans from South Africa, Australia and all across the US, and many respond to Julie’s request for donations despite it ‘not being enough to turn around the situation’.
Since lockdown started, the family have been rushed off their feet performing the tasks usually completed by 12 staff members (now all but four are furloughed) throughout the antique-packed house, which boasts three floors and three wings.
The family have also been busy distributing meals prepared in the café kitchens to people that are vulnerable in the local area.
Julie, who usually spends most of her time at the family’s south London home, admitted: ‘I know I’m very lucky to be here, but I’ve never been so shattered in my life — and I was shattered before.
‘Until lockdown I’d never appreciated what goes into running this house. People think living here is like something from a fairytale when it’s nothing like it at all.’
But getting more involved at Mapperton has also represented a new freedom for Julie, who for years was unable to spend much time there as she was holding the family together at their south London home.
Julie – who has four children – Emma, 21, and Jack, 18, from her first marriage, and William, 15, and Nestor, 13, with Luke – supported Luke through his recovery from prescription drug dependency following the misprescribing of anti-depressants and sleeping pills after a bad reaction to a sinus operation.
Her husband was unable to work for three years after his medication was wrongly stopped abruptly in 2009, and she became the primary breadwinner until he received a substantial settlement for medical negligence in 2014.
With little income or support, Julie effectively became a single mum and a carer, and was forced to be resourceful.
‘What happened to my husband was awful. But when you’re going through really difficult times you have to look after yourself in order to be able to look after others.
Built in the 1540s with additions in the 17th and 18th centuries, Mapperton House, pictured, has previously been dubbed by Country Life magazine the finest manor house in England
‘I was able to do this thanks to yoga, it’s transformed my life in so many positive ways.
‘In 2009 Luke wasn’t working and I knew I had to do something to make money, but at the same time I needed to be at home with my children. So I decided to learn to teach as well as practise yoga.’
Yoga introduced Julie to a new world of health and wellbeing. With Luke’s help, she developed an online nutrition course and later started a blog, The Flexi Foodie, which has since developed an international following and been turned into a best-selling cookbook.
However, her social media profile really took off when she appeared in three series of the reality show Ladies Of London, which followed the lives of affluent socialites – including the former model Caprice Bourret, businesswoman Sophie Stanbury, fashion entrepreneur Noelle Reno and the late model Annabelle Neilson.