Mary Berry: ‘I felt like Downton Abbey’s Lady Mary in my new BBC1 show!’

Mary Berry Country House Secrets
(Image credit: BBC/Shine TV Ltd/Glenn Dearing)

It's a case of Lady Mary Berry in her new show, which starts tonight on BBC1 at 8.00pm

Mary Berry on visiting Highclere Castle, aka Downton Abbey, for her new BBC1 series Mary Berry’s Country House Secrets…

It’s not everyday you get to go behind the regal doors of Britain’s most luxurious stately homes and meet the families that live in them. But Mary Berry got an exclusive invitation to do just that for her new four-part BBC1 series. On top of that, the former Great British Bake Off judge was allowed to cook in the buildings’ enormous kitchens, creating delicious recipes inspired by the grand houses!

As we catch up with Mary Berry, 82, she talks about her favourite stately homes and how a visit to Highclere Castle, the real-life Downton Abbey, left her feeling just like Lady Mary…

So, Mary, what can you tell us about your new series…

Mary Berry: "Britain is famous for its stately homes, and when it comes to food, our country houses were the taste-makers. So I get to sample delicious dishes and enjoy lavish hospitality. I also find out what and who keeps stately homes going, and meet the families who own them to find out what it’s like to live and work in them. This TV series is different to anything I have seen anywhere, as nobody has been allowed to go behind the scenes before!"

How did you go about choosing which stately homes to explore?

MB: “There are masses of houses we could have done and each one has lots of history. We wanted to spread it all over the country, and we didn’t want National Trust homes run by someone else, so every house we visit has families still living in them. I loved the fact you didn’t know what was behind the closed doors when you walked down a corridor.”

First up is Highclere Castle, better known as Downton Abbey. What was that like?

MB: “It was very exciting; I loved it. It feels so familiar from watching Downton but it’s also somehow different. Lady Carnarvon was just delightful and made me feel really at home. It was lovely to see how Highclere is run and it really is a different world. It’s a very well-loved traditional country house.”

Mary Berry Country Homes

(Image credit: BBC/Shine TV Ltd/Glenn Dearing)

You were also invited to a lavish dinner party there…

MB: “Yes, it was lovely. I felt just like Lady Mary in Downton Abbey! The parties have evolved since Victorian times – one weekend party in 1895 for the then Prince of Wales cost around £500,000 in today’s money! The post-war era marked a turning point for Highclere, and to survive in the modern world the house has had to become more business-like and open its doors to the public. But they still bring people together to talk, laugh and dine in an elegant style. It was a rare glimpse into the private side of a very public house.”

How did you find cooking in the kitchens of these grand homes?

MB: “It was great because sometimes I was cooking with the owner and sometimes with the resident chef. At Highclere, spending time with the gamekeepers gave me the idea to make a gamekeeper’s stew, and since afternoon tea was an important part of the weekend house party, I made an indulgent tea-time treat of raspberry tartlets with crème patissiere. The kitchens were very large and practical – and the gardens were also beautiful!”

Out of the four homes you visited, do you have a favourite?

MB: “Every time I finished a session of filming, with each one taking six days, I would go, ‘Ooh, that’s my favourite!’ I liked them all for different reasons.”

Mary Berry's Country House Secrets starts tonight at 8.00pm on BBC1.

David Hollingsworth

David is the What To Watch Editor and has over 20 years of experience in television journalism. He is currently writing about the latest television and film news for What To Watch.

Before working for What To Watch, David spent many years working for TV Times magazine, interviewing some of television's most famous stars including Hollywood actor Kiefer Sutherland, singer Lionel Richie and wildlife legend Sir David Attenborough. 

David started out as a writer for TV Times before becoming the title's deputy features editor and then features editor. During his time on TV Times, David also helped run the annual TV Times Awards. David is a huge Death in Paradise fan, although he's still failed to solve a case before the show's detective! He also loves James Bond and controversially thinks that Timothy Dalton was an excellent 007.

Other than watching and writing about telly, David loves playing cricket, going to the cinema, trying to improve his tennis and chasing about after his kids!