Henry Fitzalan-Howard is still getting to grips with returning to the ancestral pile, Arundel Castle. ‘I don't know whether I’m just getting forgetful in my old age, or if it’s genuinely true, but if you give me a set of keys and a half an hour, I'll take you to a door that I swear I've never been through,’ he says.

Henry, 36, and his family – wife Cecilia and their three daughters, aged five, three and seven months – moved back to Arundel from London last summer. While he’s never gone long without coming back – and indeed, Henry and Cecilia were married from the castle in 2016 – this move heralds the dawn of a new life in many ways. Their oldest daughter has started school locally, and Henry is running his insurance company from offices in town.

Life is busy for the Earl of Arundel – having three children under five doesn’t allow for time for relaxation and reflection – but it sounds like the kind of jolly domestic muddle familiar to many of us. Just on a rather grander scale.

Arundel Castle has been Henry's home since he was fourArundel Castle has been Henry's home since he was four (Image: Getty)

Henry spent his childhood at Arundel Castle with his parents and four siblings from the age of four. His father, Edward Fitzalan-Howard, inherited the dukedom in 2002. ‘It hadn’t been lived in full-time since the 1950s, so for my parents it was a heck of a thing to take on,’ says Henry. ‘And although it’s very busy in the summer, in the winter it is very quiet and massive. The East Wing, where we lived, was pretty much derelict and very cold when we moved in, so it was a big project. But when you’re a child, you just sort of crack on with everything. I suppose it was only later in life that I really came to appreciate just how crazy the whole thing was. I certainly look back on it now as an adult and think how lucky I was. As a child you take your life for granted, but it was an idyllic childhood, and I was very privileged to live here.’

Of course, part of that privilege means having to share it with other people. Last year, just under 200,000 people visited Arundel Castle over the summer months. Obviously, admission fees keep the place going, but it’s more than that, says Henry. ‘A place like this is made to be shared.

‘Duke Henry, who was around in the Victorian era, designed the stately home part of the castle so that the East Wing was a private residence and quite separate from the state rooms. When we were kids, that didn’t stop the odd tourist from wandering into the kitchen, saying they hadn’t understood the signs. I think around 20 per cent of the time that was true, and the other 80 per cent were just interested! But it was fun having visitors around, and it still is.’

Henry, Earl of Arundel, still gets lost in the castleHenry, Earl of Arundel, still gets lost in the castle (Image: Chesnut Tree House)

As a young man, Henry followed his father into motor racing. Starting with karting, he progressed to cars and competed in Formula Three for two years. ‘I was teammate to some people who've subsequently gone on to Formula One, so I got to see that life close-up,’ he says. ‘But the truth is, after those two years, I’d had my time. I just wasn't good enough to be a Formula One superstar.’

After working in various private equity and corporate finance roles, Henry co-founded Noble Insurance Group in 2019, around the time of the birth of his first child. ‘The company is exactly the same age as my daughter,’ he laughs, incredulous even now. ‘My wife was in the hospital bed when I got the call to give us the go-ahead. When I handed in my notice and said I was leaving to do this entrepreneurial thing, a lot of my colleagues thought I was absolutely mad.’

Henry took over from his cousin, Lady Sarah Clutton, as honorary president of children’s hospice Chestnut Tree House when she died in 2016. Lady Sarah donated the land used to build the hospice, initially for a 125-year lease, with a peppercorn rent of a bunch of mixed lilies and one new pound coin to be paid on her birthday each year.

Henry says: ‘I didn’t know much about children’s hospice care back then and I’m still learning, but I've had the opportunity to spend much more time at Chestnut Tree House. I remember my first visit vividly. The feeling I had that first time is the same as every subsequent visit – I am always uplifted by the pure humanity on display. It’s everywhere, from the medical team and all who work there to the kids themselves. It is a happy place and so full of life.’

Henry and Cecilia Fitzalan-Howard at a Gala Dinner hosted for the charity Chesnut Tree House at Arundel Castle.Henry and Cecilia Fitzalan-Howard at a Gala Dinner hosted for the charity Chesnut Tree House at Arundel Castle. (Image: Chesnut Tree House)

This year, Chestnut Tree House is working with Wild in Art to stage a public art trail in Chichester and Arundel. Thirty huge owl statues will appear in the two locations during July and August, each individually designed and decorated by an artist. Arundel is an artists’ town anyway, with a well-established Gallery Trail running as part of Arundel Festival every August. The castle, too, has important works by Gainsborough, Van Dyck and Canaletto.

Henry says that the ancestral interest in art has not come down the bloodline to him. ‘My wife is an artist – she loves painting, and I’ve been trying to persuade her to put herself out there that bit more. I have absolutely no ability. But I can give a tour of the castle’s paintings now. And unless someone's a complete expert, they usually don't find me out too easily.

‘The Big Hoot will be a wonderful addition to the town. We already punch above our weight in terms of the ratio of permanent residents to tourists, but this will drive even more visitors to Arundel. But my real hope is that it will raise awareness of the wonderful work of Chestnut Tree House.’

Arundel Castle is set in 40 acresArundel Castle is set in 40 acres (Image: Getty)

For now, family and the day job take up most of Henry’s time. But, as son of the Duke of Norfolk and the heir to Arundel Castle, there are weighty responsibilities in his future. ‘My father is still going strong,’ he says. ‘He’s 67 going on 40. We are obviously different people, but we're very much aligned on pretty much everything. I try to get him to do all the work, basically! But I suppose it's a role I'm gearing up to and I do take a very keen interest. The castle is a very important piece of heritage in terms of the building, the grounds, the chattels and the art that are within it. And the estate is almost equally important in terms of management of the land and the farms, the park which lots of people come and enjoy each year. These are all things that are dear to my heart.’

In the past 18 months, the Duke of Norfolk has, in his role as the highest-ranking duke in England, and hereditary Earl Marshal, organised both the Queen’s funeral and the King’s Coronation. ‘It was a busy and stressful period for him, how could it not be?’ says Henry. ‘But he did a remarkable job.’ Henry himself was at the Queen’s funeral and says: ‘It was an incredible event to witness. I will never forget seeing the Queen’s coffin moving up the nave and feeling the sense of history.’

For now, he’s enjoying revisiting his own personal history – back in the town he loves. One of their favourite things to do as a family is walk in Arundel Park and he’s enjoyed exploring the town’s restaurants since they’ve been back. ‘I do like the curry house,’ he says. ‘But since we’ve been back, I’ve been trying to get to most of the places in town. There are so many great independent shops and restaurants here.

‘And while some things have changed, there’s a sort of solidity to Arundel. It will always be a small town with a big village feel. It’s the people that make a place – and the 3,000-4,000 people who live here take great pride in our town.’

The Big Hoot

The Big Hoot will see 30 owl sculptures come to nest in Chichester and Arundel from 10 July to 1 September. Over the eight weeks, people of all ages will be able to discover unique pieces of art in various locations across these two beautiful places.

Follow the outdoor and fully accessible trail to find each owl – each one of which tells a different story including the Sussex Life Stained Glass Owl by David Cutts.

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