Hugh Bonneville at Arundel Castle: Charitable interview reveals secrets from Downton Abbey, Paddington and upcoming ITV series Douglas Is Cancelled

World-famous actor Hugh Bonneville had his audience in tears of laughter as he shared anecdotes from his career in TV, film and stage, during a charitable 'chat show' at Arundel Castle on Saturday (June 15).

The star – best known for his roles in Downton Abbey and Paddington – was in conversation with Sussex World’s editor-in-chief, Gary Shipton, in a packed marquee in the castle grounds in aid of children's charity, The Sussex Snowdrop Trust.

Hugh, who is currently filming a third Downton Abbey movie, broke off from a busy schedule to give a fascinating insight into working with some of the country’s finest actors, including Dame Judi Dench, Dame Maggie Smith and Hugh Grant.

In front of an audience which included the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk, Hugh also spoke of his journey to becoming an actor – and how he could have been a lawyer in a different life, whilst also revealing the day he found out his mum worked part-time for MI6.

Hugh plays Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, in the historical drama series Downton Abbey.

Asked why Downton has been such a success, the actor praised the wonderful scripts, story-lines, and the producers' eye for detail.

“Each character was their own individual and when I got to the last page I really wanted to know what happened next,” he said. “That translated to what the audience experience was. They cared about the characters and were engaged with them.”

Hugh had the audience laughing throughout the evening – most notably when he recounted being told by John Kerry, a former presidential candidate in the United States – that he was addicted to ‘Down-town Abbey’.

On the brilliant Maggie Smith – and what she is like to work with in Downton Abbey – Hugh said: “I was as terrified of her on the last day of filming as I was on the first. Terrified is not quite the right word – in awe of her.

"Her standards are incredibly high. She can find comedic qualities in something you didn’t realise was funny and find poignancy in something you didn’t realise was there. She can bring a tear to the eye. She is an extraordinary, mercurial talent.”

ITV's mini series Douglas Is Cancelled scheduled for broadcast later this month and Paddington 3 (Paddington in Peru) – due to be released in November – were also topics of conversation.

Hugh, who plays Henry Brown in the series of beloved family films, revealed that the latest is based in Peru but that he ‘rarely left a car park in Boreham Wood’.

"The wonders of technology left me convinced I was at the Amazon,” he joked.

“We visit Paddington’s aunt in Peru at the home of retired bears but she herself has gone off on an expedition so we have to find her."

Hugh took questions from the audience on Saturday evening – including what he thinks epitomises West Sussex to where his parents moved when he was a teenager.

"Harting Down – I love it,” he said. “I love the South Downs Way.

"The trail walk hike nearly killed me. It was 100km with three other elderly men.

"It came home to us in the pandemic that sense of space and big views and big skies can be to lift the spirit. I’m passionate about the South Downs. It’s God’s own creation. It’s God’s own county – West Sussex is the best.”

In thanking Hugh for being so generous with his time, Gary Shipton referenced the actor's superb autobiography Playing Under The Piano which is packed with starry anecdotes as well as mentions of the work Hugh has done with the National Youth Theatre to make it as accessible as possible to talented youngsters – irrespective of where they live or their financial circumstances.

Di Levantine, chairman and co-founder of The Sussex Snowdrop Trust, said the audience were ‘captivated’ by Hugh Bonneville and Gary Shipton’s conversation, which was ‘highly entertaining’.

She added: “Hugh’s regaled us with anecdotes of stage and screen. He gave a unique insight into his personal life and his acting career.

“He was so gracious with all our volunteers, and we were very grateful that he had altered his busy filming schedule to support us in this way.

“We were delighted that their Graces, the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk attended the evening. I announced that the Duchess had agreed to become a patron for our charity which was met with much applause.

“To have an event such as this within the castle grounds is a huge privilege which has only been made possible with the collaboration of Sharon Blaikie and the Arundel Festival of the Arts, Arundel Castle and our main sponsor atomos, wealth & financial wellbeing, Digby Fine English and the silent auction which contributed to £8,000 raised on the evening.

"We hope that the audience will go on to support the charity, having a greater understanding of the work of the trust and the impact it has on so many local families who are caring for a child who has a life threatening or terminal illness. It was the most fascinating evening that we shall never forget.”

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