Two brothers from Ashington have landed a role in the highly anticipated fifth series of Downton Abbey.
Four-year-olds Zac and Oliver Barker - who are triplets along with their sister Megan - have been starring in the popular ITV drama since it came back on our screens last Sunday (September 21).
“We’re immensely proud and delighted that we had the opportunity to do it,” mum Clare Barker told the County Times.
“It was a bit surreal and still is because the kids had done nothing of the sort before. It was a bit like going into the unknown, we didn’t know what to expect but it was quite exciting.”
The opportunity for the boys came about after an agent specialising in casting twins and multiples for TV and commercial roles contacted Clare and her husband Damian after seeing a picture of the children.
“I’m a member of TAMBA, the Twins and Multiple Birth Association - they’re a nationwide charitable foundation that help people with multiples and premature babies - and every quarter I get a little magazine from them,” added 39-year-old Clare who grew up in Horsham.
“There’s a double page in the back of the magazine where you can send pictures in of your multiples on milestone moments and I sent a picture of them last September, the day after they turned three, when they started pre-school in their school uniform.”
Subsequently they were offered the chance to sign up their children for media roles but because the family were about to move house, as well as settling the children into school, they declined.
“Then she called me again in January and said this major drama has been in touch saying what they wanted and all she could think of was the boys.”
Following the successful audition at Ealing Studios in London, they were told just a day after that they had been cast for the shared role of Master George Crawley, the young son of the late Matthew Crawley and Lady Mary, and spent a total of 20 days filming at Highclere Castle between February and August.
Clare continued: “I don’t want to be one of these pushy parents so right at the beginning I said to them if they ever say ‘no we don’t want to do it’ or ‘we want to go home’ that’s when we stop.
“I’m not going to force them to do something they don’t want to do but luckily it never came to that.
“There were never any arguments and some days they would even say ‘let Zac do it today’ or ‘let Oliver do it today’ and it was never an issue. It was almost too good to be true.”
The family enjoyed the luxury of being picked up by a car that took them to the castle on filming days, were given their own trailer on site and Zac and Oliver were given handmade and tailored clothes as well as their own hair stylist.
The family also had to contact West Sussex County Council to be issued a children’s entertainment license.
But Zac and Oliver, who were three during filming, took it all in their stride seeing the whole experience as just a fun game of dress-up in a castle - despite rubbing shoulders with various award-winning actors.
“The one person I did get very ‘oh my goodness’ about was Maggie Smith,” revealed Clare. “That was like being in the presence of royalty, she was a bit of a legend and she was lovely, very professional and polite.
“Everyone was very complimentary and they really looked after the kids and that’s something I really noticed. They really fussed over them and made them feel special and that helped as well.”
As well as making an appearance in every episode of the series, Zac and Oliver are also part of the Christmas special.
But Clare has said there are no initial plans to get the children into more television roles although may consider them for another series in Downton Abbey should it happen.
“I do feel very proud,” Clare smiles. “I know there will be some people who will judge me for letting the kids do this at such a young age but I think if anyone would have been given this opportunity to do it that they wouldn’t have said no.
“I’ve taken thousands of photos so they’ll remember it all and it’s something that none of us will forget.
“We were all involved in it and it was a lovely thing for me, Damian, Megan and the boys and I think we’re very lucky.”
You can see Zac and Oliver in the next episode of Downton Abbey this Sunday (September 28) at 9pm on ITV1.