‘But what does your job actually involve?’ is a question I’m constantly being asked by people.
Essentially, I’m responsible for the art collection and the house open days at Goodwood but, in practice, it is far more wide ranging.
Goodwood has been the home of the Dukes of Richmond since the late 17th century, when the first Duke bought the house as a place to stay when hunting with the Charlton Hunt. As the most fashionable foxhunt in the country, it drew the cream of society – so Goodwood quickly became a place renowned for its hospitality and the sport it offered. That tradition continues to this day, with each of the sports stemming from a personal passion of one of the dukes.
My year at Goodwood tends to revolve around those sports and the ‘Goodwood season’: the quieter months in the winter when I get down to the nitty-gritty of inventory work, the salvage plan, training guides, and planning the year ahead; the spring when we open the house to the public (we are open for sixty days a year) and I put together our summer exhibition and we finish off decorating projects; the summer when it’s all-steam ahead and the house is filled with guests during the main events (the Festival of Speed, the Qatar Goodwood Festival and the Goodwood Revival); and the autumn when we have the last days' horseracing and everyone begins to breathe again.
The Duke of Richmond is also a well-known photographer (professionally he is known as Charles March) and we usually have an exhibition of his work at least once a year, which I will project-manage. That has taken us to such far-flung places as Russia (St Petersburg and Moscow), USA (New York and Los Angeles), and Italy (Rome), as well as several shows in London. This has been a fun diversion into the tipsy-topsy world of contemporary art, although at times it has been challenging as we deal with cultural differences and international logistics.
I don’t really have a typical day at work, but it can often comprise working with our repairs and maintenance team on a decorating project (such as hanging pictures or changing picture lights), responding to general enquiries, helping the marketing and PR teams, posting on Instagram, or giving a house tour. I probably have the best office view in England, looking out from the first floor of the house, through the columns of the balcony and across the park; on a sunny day I can see the sea glinting on the horizon. Aside from my day-to-day job, I help host the Duke of Richmond’s guests at our main events, including the horseracing (we have 19 days' horseracing a year). This year, I’m helping manage the Cass Sculpture Park, a charitable foundation on the Goodwood estate, of which the duke is a trustee – so another diversion into contemporary art.
And last, but by no means least, we are launching my new book which I’ve spent the last five years working on, timed to coincide with the start of the Goodwood season.
James Peill's new book Glorious Goodwood, A Biography of England’s Greatest Sporting Estate is published by Constable on 6 June.