With the launch of the brand new Downtown Abbey movie just around the corner, we spoke to the creator of the popular period drama and Garden House Hospice Care Patron, Lord Julian Fellowes.
You are a patron of many hospices, charities and societies – why was it important to you to become a patron of Garden House Hospice Care?
"One thing for certain is that we are all going to die and it seems important to continue the work of the Hospice movement. In brief, making it possible to live with death.
One of the most important roles that the Hospice plays is enabling people to die in their homes - for me it’s a very vital part of their work and I think it all comes under this blanket heading of living with death. I think the work that Garden House Hospice Care does is tremendously important. It is one of the most difficult times in people’s lives, not dying, but having someone you love die. It can feel bewildering and lonely and I think all of the staff at the Hospice helping people through it is fantastic. "
What advice do you have for hospices and charities at a time when there are pressures around funding?
"I think it’s important to give people a sense of ownership when you are asking them to support you financially and it’s odd how many charities resist. If charities are smart they will divide funding into projects which are achievable and people who then contribute to those projects will feel a sense of real ownership."
You are an actor, producer, novelist and screenwriter - of all your achievements what has been the highlight?
"The biggest achievement is obviously winning the Oscar for Gosford Park, that changed my career overnight. I was an obscure minor actor who had never written a thing that anyone knew about and suddenly I was an Oscar winner, which made me a player in the great game and so that was the biggest life- changer.
My own favourite piece of work was a film I wrote and directed called “Separate Lies” with Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson, Rupert Everett and John Neville. I loved that and won an award for the Best Newcomer Director from the National Board of Review in New York."
We are looking forward to the film release of Downton Abbey in September – why do you think it has been so successful?
"Downton Abbey was and is a kind of phenomenon which swept the world. It was an extraordinary thing to be in the middle of. We attracted a very good cast and I thought from the beginning that it would do well and attract an audience, but I didn’t know the extent of it. I think the trick is the characters – you’ve got to fall in love, or hate or, at any rate, feel for the characters. All my work has a strong character narrative."
You have achieved so much, do you take a period of time out before moving on to the next project?
"Things go around in my head a bit and I am trying to think of solutions to plots and problems, but I think I am rather prosaic in the way I just bumble on. At the moment I have five ‘go’ projects and two looking for a home."
Do you take time out to relax?
"I go through periods where I work less, when I can’t get down to things but that passes. I think in the past 20 years I probably worked too hard and I would like to slow down now… Careful, God may hear me. If I’m honest, I think it’s a failing in me, but I do enjoy television. I love Coronation Street and I like watching American series like: Mad Men, The West Wing, The Good Wife and Grey’s Anatomy."
You have one son, Peregrine– has he followed in your footsteps at all?
"He’s a producer and has just finished his first feature film, which is in post-production. He’s doing very well. I think it’s quite impressive to have a picture released at 28."
You have a significant birthday this year and so do we as we approach our 30th year. Do you have any advice to share with us?
"Your perspective on life changes as you get older. You know that question that people ask you: ‘what would you say to younger self?’ My answer to that is, ‘calm down.’ I am calmer now then I was then and if things don’t work out I am calmer about that. I have worked on many projects in my life now in different capacities - some of them have been successful and some of them have not and you survive both experiences.
I suppose I like supporting causes that open up peoples’ lives. There are people who are living very disadvantaged lives and one of the greatest disadvantages is not so much that they are malnourished or under-supplied or underachieving. It is that they are brought up in an atmosphere where it seems impossible that they are going to achieve anything extraordinary. So many kids have no options and I support initiatives where children get the opportunity to look at the wider world and see their own place in it as something that is potentially more significant. That is something in my old age that I like to see – when the cupboards of confined existences are thrown open."
Mary Poppins the Musical is coming back to the Prince Edward Theatre in November.