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Windsor Castle: A Royal Year

Wednesdays, Feb. 15 – March 1 at 8 p.m.

For the better part of a millennium, Windsor Castle — the awesome fortress, family home, treasure trove and burial ground for the royal dynasty that took its name — has been at the heart of British history. But there is another side to the castle that tourists never see. It is the real Windsor, a beloved home to not only the royal family, but the more than 400 people who live and work there year-round — housekeepers, chefs, farmers, horse trainers, clockmakers, military knights, clerics and more. Windsor Castle: A Royal Year provides an insider’s look at this grand landmark, where crown and community live and work side by side.

For the first time ever, Queen Elizabeth allowed cameras to chronicle a year in the life of the world’s largest inhabited castle, with Prince Philip as the frequent guide. This unprecedented access gives viewers an upstairs/downstairs look at the castle from the perspective of the royal family and the devoted staff who live and work within the castle’s 900 rooms. Viewers also see many of the luminaries who pass through the castle gates, from Sir Edmund Hillary to Eric Clapton to a slightly overwhelmed David Hasselhoff.

Windsor Castle plays host to a unique collection of events — the pageantry of Garter Day, the glamour of Cartier Polo and the tradition of Royal Ascot. Viewers watch as the castle prepares for international attention when President and Madame Chirac spend two days there, attending an official state dinner and an abridged production of Les Miserables. Equally important to the queen are the more “homey” events that create the structure of castle life, including the annual cattle judging contest and Christmas caroling. Then it’s back to the world spotlight as Prince Charles and Camilla tie the knot at Windsor.

Throughout the three episodes of Windsor Castle, the guide is the Ranger of Windsor Great Park, none other than Prince Philip. Whether he’s on the polo field, in the private Windsor Chapel or on the vast Crown Estate, the charming and droll 83-year-old prince takes the viewer on a journey that no tourist has ever seen. In exclusive interviews, the prince reveals how the young royal couple made Windsor a family home for their four children, even installing a solar powered swimming pool in the Georgian Orangery. Viewers witness the grandchildren, young Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, watching their cousin Prince Harry playing polo. Sounding like any doting grandfather, Prince Philip explains, “In our early years, the whole of the year was dominated by school holidays. So in practice, what we did was come here for the Easter holidays and we still do. In many ways it works quite well because our children, knowing the routine, tend to come back for the holidays and the grandchildren get brought with them. And so it forms a nice kind of annual structure.”

Although set in a world of almost unimaginable opulence and splendor, Windsor Castle: A Royal Year is ultimately a portrait of the unique community lucky enough to call Windsor home. As one castle worker says, “One of the lovely things about Windsor Castle is that it’s alive and working. I can’t imagine Windsor Castle any other way.”


The Banquet   (Wednesday, Feb. 15 at 8 p.m.)
Event planning at the castle requires a team of more than 300 people to ensure that everything runs smoothly. Queen Elizabeth’s housekeeper, her grooms, fender smiths and flag men, picture restorers, military knights and priests all play a critical role in preparing for events, including state visits. Six months of planning have gone into preparations for the arrival of France’s President and Madame Chirac to mark the centenary of Entente Cordiale. In addition to an official state dinner, guests will be treated to an abridged version of Les Miserables, performed in the Waterloo Chamber (diplomatically renamed the Music Room for the night). As protestors gather outside the castle and disrupt traffic, delays could upset all of the hard work and planning.

Four Seasons   (Wednesday, Feb. 22 at 8 p.m.)
Rituals and events mark the calendar year for the castle and its staff. With Easter, the royal year begins in earnest, as the queen conducts her engagements from the castle. Two of the year’s largest events take place in June. The Order of the Garter ceremony, an annual celebration of Britain’s oldest and highest order of chivalry, draws former politicians, national heroes, long-serving representatives of the crown and crowds of spectators. The biggest event in the racing calendar, the Royal Ascot, takes place on the impressive castle grounds. From horse racing to waging bets on the color of the queen’s hat, this event brings together the demimonde and high society for a celebration of pomp and horseflesh.

The Ranger   (Wednesday, March 1 at 8 p.m.)
The ranger for the 15,000-acre Great Park of Windsor Castle is none other than Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. With more than 50 years of service, Prince Philip is the longest-serving ranger in the castle’s history. The grounds have a pageantry of their own. The greatest event in the British polo calendar, Cartier International Day, takes place on the stunning grounds. This year the star attraction is Prince Harry, who leads the royal team. But nothing is grander than a royal wedding, as Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles celebrate their nuptials at Windsor Castle. With 35,000 daffodils, 19,500 canapés, over 2,000 well-wishers and 800 guests for the prayer and dedication at St. George’s Chapel, the staff is hard at work. As far as Prince Philip is concerned, though, his main duty as ranger is to be a custodian for the future. The real strength of Windsor Castle will always lie in its people, who enthusiastically share their love and passion for the castle.


Visit Windsor Castle: A Royal Year online at http://www.pbs.org/opb/windsorcastle/


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