On Thursday, December 17, 2015, my daughter, Tara, and I thoroughly enjoyed our first…and our last… Downton Abbey Pre-Season Gala Event hosted by Q-TV, one of our local PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) television channels.
I was a late-blooming fan of this wonderful television series created and made in the U.K. (United Kingdom) that began airing there in September, 2010 and then on America’s PBS’ stations in January, 2011.
I had heard lots of praise for this show right from its beginning and I was always interested and intrigued from what I was hearing and reading about Downton Abbey.
However, when it began to air here in the United States, I was in the midst of a protracted downsizing and a move from a 3-bedroom ranch house in Flushing Township, Michigan to a 1-bedroom apartment in Bay City about 40 miles away. My mother was having health issues at the same time so I was very distracted and unable to start to even watch one episode of Downton’s first season.
In the next couple of years I went through a left knee replacement and its long recovery and several other difficult problems concerning my mother so it wasn’t until I began to babysit my granddaughter, Evvie, while my daughter, Tara, and her boyfriend, Justin, were working during the evenings that I was finally able to watch any episodes of Downton Abbey.
Tara and Justin were subscribers to Netflix and I had discovered that the first two seasons were still available to watch. So each time I babysat, after putting Evvie to sleep for the night, I began to watch those first two seasons of Downton. And I was hooked after just the first episode!
I eagerly told Tara that she HAD to sit down and start watching this incredible television series. I told her that just the setting alone, in the actual privately owned Highclere Castle, was just phenomenally breathtaking but that was just one part of how wonderful this show is.
I told Tara that the overall minute attention to details, from the historical and topical events that occurred world-wide, locally or throughout England at that time, to the vintage dresses and costumes, to exactly how servants and their employers interacted at that time was just amazing.
I explained to Tara that this was the most perfect television show I had ever seen. It was a masterpiece, from the exquisite writing, the wonderful acting, the brilliant directing and the producing, everything in Downton Abbey was superb.
Tara knows I don’t just randomly rave about something and she was very impressed that I loved this show from top to bottom. But at that time she was a working parent, going to college, with a very young daughter to raise and she just didn’t have the time to watch any of the episodes.
So after only watching a few of the shows from Season 1 on Tara and Justin’s Netflix, I soon realized that Season 3 had just ended airing on PBS. I could wait until January, 2014 to watch the new shows of Season 4 but that meant that I would then have missed a whole year’s worth of shows from Season 3.
I was bummed but I continued watching all of the Downton Abbey episodes from both Seasons 1 and 2, hoping that at some point Netflix would put Season 3 up for viewing before Season 4 began in January, 2014.
I was in luck though. PBS re-aired all of the Season’s 3 shows shortly before Season 4 began so I became all caught up on the past shows and on all of the many different events and story lines before Season 4 started.
In September of last year (2014) I became a “Sustaining Member” of our local PBS station, Q-TV. I donated a set amount of money to them on a monthly basis primarily because of the love that I have for Downton Abbey.
This membership gave me some unexpected perks. I was able to purchase at a discounted rate all of Downton Abbey’s Seasons 1-4 on DVD, as well as pre-order the Season 5 DVD that I would receive after it began airing in January 2015.
I also received a special invitation shortly after I became a Sustaining Member to attend Q-TV’s yearly Downton Abbey Gala Event for a pre-season viewing of the first episode of Season 5 in mid-December.
Ever since Downton Abbey’s phenomenal success, Q-TV has hosted this special viewing of the first episode of the new season each December and it is apparently quite the fancy event.
However, last year after receiving my first special invitation, I had a heart attack in late October, then my mother passed away in late November, so I just wasn’t in the mood to go to that Gala Event last December.
But this year when I received my invitation in the mail, I immediately called Tara and asked if she would like to go with me. I told her it would be quite special because it was going to be the very last Gala Event since Season 6, starting in January, 2016, was going to be the last year for Downton Abbey.
I also told her that we would be treated to a tea and scones party before the viewing of the first show of Season 6 and that would probably be fun to enjoy as well.
I also explained that a lot of the local Downton Abbey fans were encouraged to try and dress up like some of the characters in the show as well. But with our limited budgets this past year, I knew that trying to do that was out of the question for both Tara and I but that it would be really neat to see exactly what these people would wear.
Tara excitedly accepted my invitation to accompany me but then she asked me if she could borrow all of my Downton Abbey DVDs so that she could try and watch as many episodes as she could before the Gala Event, just to familiarize herself with the basic characters and storylines.
I laughed when I told her she was more than welcome to borrow my DVD sets but that there was no way she would be able to finish watching all of the past 5 years worth of episodes in time.
Tara thought that each show was only half an hour, not the hour and sometimes more for each episode, so she was a bit dismayed to learn that there was so much she had to watch to get completely caught up.
But she was still determined to watch as many as she could each night after she had put the kids to bed so I loaned them to her and I laughingly told her that I knew that she would become just as hooked as I had become with Downton Abbey.
After a week she called me and she said, ‘Mom, you were absolutely right! Downton Abbey is a great show! And Justin is now hooked on it as well!” And she began laughing as she explained how that had happened.
After putting the kids to bed the first night she began watching Downton Abbey, Tara was parked in their recliner in front of the television, completely absorbed in just the first episode while Justin was doing language lessons on his computer.
He was trying hard to concentrate on his lessons but he was also becoming deeply interested in Downton. Every now and then he would ask Tara, “Wait a minute, I missed something, what happened to so and so?” So Tara would pause the DVD and explain what Justin had missed and then he would go back and try to finish his lessons.
Eventually he became so interested in watching Downton, he shut off his computer and joined Tara in watching the episodes each night or sometimes during the afternoons if they had spare time.
One late afternoon they were both absorbed in another episode when Justin realized it was time to go and get Evvie from her Daisy Girl Scout meeting. Tara asked him if he wanted her to just pause it and they could finish watching it later that night but he slowly and reluctantly said, no, it was okay, she could finish watching it and then just tell him later what he had missed.
Laughing, Tara told Justin that she would just pause it and wait until they could both watch it together later and he brightened right up and said in an enthusiastic voice, “Okay, thanks!” So she knew he was now just as much a Downton Abbey fan as she had become.
I laughed so hard when she had told me all of this and I said to Tara, “Good! My evil plan has worked! I’ve made two more converts into our Downton Abbey cult! Bwah-hah-hah-hah!” And she laughed right along with me.
The tea and scones party was to start at 7pm with the viewing of the first episode of Season 6 starting at 8pm. I told Tara that because this was going to be a jam-packed event, I wanted to get there early enough to number 1, find a good handicapped parking spot as near to the Lecture Hall at Delta College as I could because I’m a gimpy-limpy disabled person, and number 2, then try to get into the Lecture Hall quicker and get great seats.
So we left at a little after 6 and got to Delta College at 6:15. There were a few people already there milling around when we went up to the sign-in table.
I gave my name and Tara and I were then given stickers with a picture of Highclere Castle on it and our names, with the title of “Lady” in front of them, printed on the stickers as well. We were instructed to please put those on our blouses so that the “footman” could properly announce us before entering the tea and scones area.
We were both amused by this really nice and dramatic touch and I cracked up laughing when Tara softly whispered to me while we were standing in line waiting to be announced that this would be the first and probably the last time we would both be called “lady”.
The footman, in full regalia with white gloves and everything and with a proper British accent in a booming voice, announced each guest’s name.
So for us he called out, “Lady Tara” and then bowed her into the cordoned off tea and scones area. Then he called out “Lady Jeneane” in the same manner.
Tara and I were biting our cheeks to keep from giggling because it was so neat yet so funny at the same time to have ourselves announced like that and then bowed into the area with such dignified aplomb.
I’m so very glad that we did get there early enough so that we didn’t have to wait in line for our tea and scones like the other, later arriving guests because I don’t think my bad right knee and bad back could have taken the waiting. And how undignified it would have been if I then tumbled down into a heap of pain on the floor!
There were blueberry scones and poppy seed scones and almond scones. Tara and I each took a blueberry scone. There were large urns of hot coffee and tea and foil-wrapped candies of some sort too.
Tara and I found an empty table that had cardboard coasters that pictured the cast in front of Highclere Castle with the phrase “Downton Abbey Season 6 The Final Year”. We were told that we could take those home with us for souvenirs so we each put two in our purses.
We really enjoyed our blueberry scones as well as the tea. Tara asked me if I knew what type of tea it was but I’m not a tea connoisseur at all like I explained to her that some people were. I told her that maybe it was Darjeeling or Earl Grey and her guess would as good as mine but I did agree that it was delicious tea.
Then when we closer examined the foil-wrapped candies we were delighted to discover that they were Harry and David chocolates.
Harry and David is a fine-foods company so we knew that these chocolates would be extra special and they were! There were red and blue wrapped chocolates with the red ones being dark chocolate mounds and the blue being milk chocolate ones.
I especially love dark chocolate and I happily bit into one and it melted so smooth and good in my mouth! We were also told we could take home the extras at our table and so Tara and I excitedly put several of each kind in our purses as well to enjoy later.
As we sat back to leisurely feast on our tea and scones and chocolates, Tara and I began to enjoy watching the incoming crowds of people now being constantly announced by the footman.
Like I had told Tara to expect, there were several women all dressed up to emulate the times and fashions of Downton Abbey. There were fur stoles, sequined party dresses, flapper dresses, feathered and sequined head bands, sparkly shoes, lace shawls, elbow-length satin gloves, lots of long beads and the works!
Some of the few men attending the Gala Event got into the spirit of the event too and one elderly man was wearing a very Edwardian looking wool top coat with a bowler and a silver-topped cane. He was very distinguished looking and when I told him that, he beamed from ear to ear.
There was another younger man looking like he had just arrived from a pheasant shoot with a plaid jacket and vest, jodphers, boots and a hunting cap.
Tara and I had so much fun oohing and aahing over so many of the costumed people now arriving en masse. It made me wistfully wish that our finances could have allowed us to try and come in costume too, although my personality is not geared to trying to be an elegant creature.
I would have much preferred coming as Mrs. Patmore or Mrs. Hughes! When I told Tara that I should have come as Mrs. Patmore, she laughed and laughed but then she stopped and seriously replied, “You know, that would have really worked for you, Mom, I could see you dressed like her!”
Then four other women asked if they could sit at our table and we welcomed them to come and join us. They told us that they had been coming to each year’s Downton Abbey Gala Event but that when they had called to make reservations for this year, they were told that there were no more available seats left.
I was surprised because I had immediately called the second I had received my invitation in the mail and had made confirmed reservations but they had waited only two days after receiving theirs but it was already too late, every reservation was already gone.
However, they were told to go ahead and come anyways because there were always some no-shows and that if there were, they would be allowed to sit in the theater and watch the show.
I told them that this was our first time going to one of these and we really were glad we could come this year because it was going to be the last one and perhaps that is why the reservations were quickly taken.
I asked one of the ladies if the footman announcing everybody as “Lady” or “Lord” and the tea and scones party were done each year and she said yes, that is what they always did. She also told us to hang onto our entrance tickets because there were always great prizes given away after the viewing.
So the second the announcement was made to start going into the theater, Tara and I jumped up and quickly got into line so that I wouldn’t be standing too long.
Half of our tickets were taken at the door and put into a basket for the prizes later and we were told to not lose the other half. After Tara and I got seats in a good spot, I told Tara to put her name on the back of her ticket half so that I would not get hers goofed up with mine.
A few days before the Gala Event, Tara called me with a scheduling problem. Normally Justin works 1st shift so there should have been no problem with Tara being able to go with me. However, because of the holidays, Justin was “asked” to work extra hours on Thursday.
He was able to come home at 3pm like normal but then he had to report back to work at 9:30 that night. Because the show was due to start at 8pm, I guesstimated that it wouldn’t end until 9pm or perhaps a bit after that so that would not have worked out for Tara to be able to get back home in time to be with the kids before Justin had to go back to work.
So what we decided to do is to take separate cars and then at 9 or a few minutes afterwards, Tara would leave early and then go home so that Justin could go into work. She’d still have the fun of the party before the viewing and she’d be able to see most of the first episode of the last season. She said she could then just wait and see what she missed when the new Season started on January 3.
So even though she wouldn’t be there for the prizes being awarded after the viewing, if her ticket number was called, I could claim her prize for her by knowing which of our tickets was hers because she had put her name on the back.
I was so happy to see the four women who had sat at our tea and scones table were allowed to find seats so that they would not miss out on watching the show.
Then there was a bit of a commotion and loud murmurs from the back of the Lecture Hall and everybody turned around to see what was going on. Soon people started laughing and clapping their hands when 6 women came in to find seats, all of them wearing maids’ costumes.
They were each wearing a black dress uniform with high collars and long sleeves, frilly white lace bib aprons, long black stockings, sensible shoes and white maids’ caps on their upswept hair.
Tara and I laughed along with everybody else and we grinned at them as they made their way into the middle of the row of seats in front of us. What a dramatic last-minute entrance! They looked like they could have stepped right out of Highclere Castle’s formal rooms!
Then two women history professors who taught at Delta College gave the audience a synopsis and a brief skit about what the world’s financial situation was like during the mid to late 1920’s leading up to the Wall Street stock market crash, Black Tuesday, in October, 1929.
Their brief history lesson was meant to tease us about how all of this was going to affect Robert’s running of the Downton Abbey estate and his personal financial situation during Season 6. It gave us all sobering things to consider.
Then the first episode of Season 6 began and the whole audience was quickly captivated. I won’t give out any hints or teasers about what happens to my American blogger friends who are eagerly waiting until Downton Abbey begins to air here January 3, 2016 but I will say that at the end of that first episode, the whole audience gave a loud “Awwwwwww!!!” It was a great episode to start off the very last Season of Downton Abbey.
During the credits, the 350+ people in the Lecture Hall loudly cheered and clapped and there were plenty of tears and wet eyes as well. I will admit I did all of that too.
Then the lights came back on and the drawing of tickets for the prizes began. There were 6 very large baskets of Harry and David premium food items that were given away. There was a huge coffee-table sized Downton Abbey book that I was hoping, in vain it turned out, to be lucky enough to win. There were several single Season 6 DVDs given away as well as several Seasons 1-5 DVD sets too. But the grand prize was a complete Seasons 1-6 Collecters Edition DVD set and that was luckily won by the man who had been sitting next to Tara.
As we left the theater, we were each given a disposable hot beverage travel mug that featured the entire cast in front of Highclere Castle on it. Inside there was a special sticker with the same image and a Downton Abbey tea bag envelope. There were also travel cosmetic bags given out courtesy of Viking River Cruises, one of the sponsors of Downton Abbey.
I immediately called Tara when I got home to tell her what all had happened after she had had to leave. I purposely did not tell her what had happened in the show because she really wanted to wait until it aired on January 3 but I did tell her how the whole crowd went “Awwwwww!” at the end.
Then I told her about all of the really nice prizes that were given away afterwards and how that man who had been sitting next to her had been lucky enough to win the grand prize of the Seasons 1-6 DVD set.
Tara laughed and said that she was really glad he had won because he had told her what a huge long-time fan of Downton Abbey he was but that he could not afford to purchase any of the DVDs. So that made me glad that he had won the grand prize too.
The Downton Abbey Gala Event was a great night for both Tara and I. We had so much fun being announced as “Lady”s, we both enjoyed our tea and scones, and we both liked the viewing with so many mutual Downton Abbey fans. So we are both so glad that we were able to attend our very first…but unfortunately, the very last Pre-Season viewing party.
So we will both, as well as Justin too, watch the last episodes of this wonderful, scrumptious, divine, television show with bittersweet tears and laughter starting in January. But we can always re-visit the beautiful world of Downton Abbey whenever we want with my DVD set.
Thank you so much Julian Fellowes for creating and giving to the world our Downton Abbey. You have given to us something so magical and perfect, right down to the smallest detail. Thank you too to all of the great actors who brought to life the vivid words in your scripts from the very talented writers. Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to bring to us, your devoted fans, the most wonderful experience that is Downton Abbey.
Downton Abbey Season 1 Cast Image
Downton Abbey Season 6 Cast Image
Highclere Castle where Downton Abbey is filmed
The publicity photo showing the hilarious accidentally left empty water bottle on the mantle that is definitely not plot-line time appropriate.
The cast spoofing the water bottle photo