Explore the home of Downton Abbey
Highclere Castle is where much of TV series Downton Abbey was filmed
Downton Abbey fans, who devoured all six seasons of the British period drama series during its five-year run, probably love it for more reasons than one.
It could be that there was no lack of solid characters with storylines that draw you in, from Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) and his mother Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith) to Mr Charles Carson, the butler (Jim Carter).
It is also impossible to talk about Downton Abbey without mentioning Highclere Castle.
After all, the Victorian castle located in Newbury, nearly a two-hour drive from central London, was where much of the beloved TV series was filmed.
Its saloon, library, dining room and drawing room, among others, provided the exquisite, luxe backdrop for scenes throughout its run.
But Highclere Castle is first and foremost home to the Carnarvon family, who has lived there since 1679.
Lady Fiona Carnarvon, the eighth Countess of Carnarvon, took us on a tour around her home, which sits on a 404ha estate.
At every turn, one is greeted with a rich sense of history, art, culture and jaw-dropping grandeur.
The first stop, the library, holds a book collection that was partially inherited from the ancestors of Lord George Carnarvon - the eighth Earl of Carnarvon. It includes a bible from 1771 and a Shakespeare text from 1685.
This is where the Carnarvons play games and where Lady Carnarvon sometimes writes.
It leads to the drawing room, an oft-featured fixture in Downton Abbey.
The castle boasts between 200 and 300 rooms, including 50 to 80 bedrooms, but each room appears to bear a personal touch.
Lady Carnarvon also led us to the Portico Chamber, better known as the room of Lady Sybil, who died after giving birth in the third season of the show.
Another important location was the dining room, which had a Victorian table that seats 30 and plush seats with deep green leather.
During filming, it was essential that the table was protected with cloth to prevent spills and scratches.
This place, said Lady Carnarvon, was about "food, laughter, family and friends", and is, above all, a home that is welcoming and warm.
And for that reason, she never buys more than two of anything.
"Otherwise, it starts to look like a hotel," she said.
And then, of course there is the grand oak staircase where fans have seen numerous dramatic scenes play out.
Time seemed to have passed by too quickly before we had to leave the sprawling estate, but not without having tea and biscuits.
Bringing Downton Abbey to life at MBS
Fans in Singapore will now get a chance to immerse themselves in the world of Downton Abbey once again later this month, and this time, up close.
Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, which kicks off on June 17 at Marina Bay Sands, will "transport" visitors to Downton Abbey. Tickets are available from Tuesday.
It will include nine zones that offer visitors a look at key costumes, film set recreations, audio-visual material featuring memorable scenes and some cast members, props and even holograms of Mr Carson and housekeeper Mrs Hughes.
It has been nearly two years in the making for this multi-million dollar venture by NBCUniversal International Studios and Imagine Exhibitions.
WHAT Downton Abbey: The Exhibition
WHEN From June 17 onwards, for a limited period of five weeks
WHERE Marina Bay Sands
TICKETS $15 for children, $30 for adults. Sales begin from Tuesday (June 6) at www.marinabaysands.com/ticketing
It is a five-year tour, with hopes of an extension, that kicks off in Singapore before travelling to the US and beyond.
"We know there are plenty of fans in Singapore. Singapore also has a fantastic venue that is able to host us, one that provides an amazing contrast between the futuristic buildings of today and the Edwardian period in England. It is a great launchpad to other international territories," said Mr Dominic Burns, 48, the senior vice-president of brand management and commercial at NBCUniversal International Studios.
Fans can also look forward to meeting with cast members Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan, Kevin Doyle, Sophie McShera and Michael Fox when they grace the red carpet event on June 21.
Among the people involved in the exhibition is Downton Abbey costume designer Anna Robbins, who took over the role in 2013 and designed costumes for the fifth and sixth seasons.
The exhibition will see 56 costumes, at least half of which are originals from the TV show.
On selecting the collection to be displayed at the exhibition, Ms Robbins, 38, said: "I wanted to get the right range and represent the costumes across all the seasons. It needs to represent all the characters and the special occasions. It's also a case of giving a visual spectacle with the right colours, textures and tones."
Her favourite section to curate was evening wear because of the "colours and craftsmenship".
Ms Robbins casts her net wide and sources for materials all across the globe, from vintage fairs in London to vintage stores in Paris and Scotland.
Some date from as far back as a century ago and as such, are extremely fragile. The heaviest of costumes can weigh at least 2kg.
One costume that Ms Robbins regrets not being part of the exhibition is Lady Rose’s fairy-tale, heavily-beaded wedding gown which had tulle so fine it was damaged during filming.
For Ms Robbins, caring for the costumes so that they are able to withstand the transportation and shipping processes was crucial.
“The costumes are secured from top to bottom, with mannequins secured in place so there is no movement when the crates are at sea. Every costume is protected in a customised silk bag to guard against moisture and dust,” she said.
It is hoped that the exhibition, affectionately dubbed the seventh season of Downton Abbey, reminds fans of what they loved so deeply about it.
“We hope fans leave satisfied, with smiles on their faces and maybe even tears in their eyes,” said Mr Burns. - NOOR ASHIKIN ABDUL RAHMAN