Downton star makes surprise Palmy visit

ERICA THOMPSON
Last updated 15:52 27/09/2012
Hugh Bonneville
Fairfax NZ

GREAT SURPRISE: Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville with Lauren Hutchinson.

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Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville made a surprise visit to a Palmerston North high school today to meet one of the show's biggest fans.

The British actor, who plays Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham in the smash hit costume drama, flew into Palmerston North this morning to surprise local school girl Lauren Hutchinson.

The Palmerston North Girls' High student had no idea Bonneville would be making an appearance during her school assembly and turn the spotlight on her.

"We've been planning it for weeks actually," said Bonneville, who was dressed in a Downton appropriate tweed jacket. "I was just nervous that she would call in sick today or something."

Hutchinson came to Bonneville's attention because of her frequent tweets about the show on her Twitter account, @DowntonAbbey_.

"She's commented a couple of times that nothing much happens in her part of the world and no-one ever comes to visit and so I thought if there was a way that we could come and surprise her and say hello that might be nice.

"But I think she's probably very disappointed that I'm not Dan Stevens (Matthew) or Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary)," he joked.

The school hall erupted into shrieks when Bonneville walked out on stage.

He presented a stunned Hutchinson with a yet-to-be-released Downton Abbey book and a signed photograph of cast members at this week's Emmy Awards holding up a sign with her name.

"It's just insane," Hutchinson said, who was none the wiser to the special guest headed her way last night, tweeting "@hughbon needs to tell us where he is NZ".

Only a few staff at the school were in on the ruse, while Hutchinson's mother, Nora, only found out this morning when the school rang to invite her to the fake assembly.

"They asked me where Lauren was and I said she's got study period first thing so she doesn't come in until an hour later and I thought that was a bit strange.

"And then she goes, 'I'll let you in on a secret - Lauren's got a very big surprise occurring to do with Twitter and Downton Abbey and I'm going 'Oh my goodness!'

"She just loves Downton and she's always tweeting about it and so for her, this is just so amazing.

"Lauren will be the envy of all her lady relatives."

Bonneville posed for photos and signed autographs with staff and students and, unlike British comedian John Cleese, had nothing but praise for Palmerston North.

"The show's become so popular and what's been so wonderful is it's become popular with young people in a way that none of us could have predicted," he said.

"I've never done anything like this before and I just thought it might be nice to engage with the people who really matter, which are the people who watch the show."

Downton Abbey's third season begins soon on Prime.

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- The Dominion Post

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