THE stars of Downton Abbey are household names throughout the country.
But two faces making an appearance in the Christmas Day special of TV’s biggest show – the majority of which was filmed in the Highlands – are just as famous in their home village.
Newtonmore shinty star Danny MacRae and pony centre owner Ruaridh Ormiston donned false beards to portray the roles of pony ghillies.
They will feature in the special episode as the Downton clan head north to Scotland for their holidays in the two-hour show being screened on 25 December.
But Ruaridh was initially left embarrassed when the producer’s first called, admitting: “I had not heard of Downton Abbey when we were first contacted to do the work.
“I had to go and buy the DVD’s of the previous series so that at least I knew the story and would recognise the actors.
“They got in touch because they needed deer ponies, and we at Newtonmore Riding Centre are one of the few who have them.
“We filmed scenes at Inveraray Castle and Glen Shira in Argyll in September and we were part of a deer stalking party.
“We were delighted the ponies, half-sisters Alice of Caimbe and Briagh of Caimbe, were to be stars. But the producers also wanted two people to play ghillies.
“One of the ponies, Alice, belongs to Danny’s wife Gillian as it was a gift to her from me on her wedding day as she has been a help at the centre for years.
“But Gillian couldn’t be a ghillie, as it is a male role and a female doing that part is a no no to the Downton people. So Danny got the part.
“We were both given false beards for the roles and we were in make-up for about an hour and a half each day.”
Dad-of-one Danny, 28, a hero as striker for Newtonmore Camanachd Club who have won the Premier Division Championship for the last three years, added: “I never thought I would be on a popular show like Downton Abbey.
“Gillian was originally due to be taking part rather than me, but then the producers said they wanted two men.
“She was a wee bit upset, but she will get over it,” he joked.
Danny added: “It was good fun getting made up and going back to the old days. I don’t think the other Newtonmore shinty boys know much about the show, but I presum they will watch it.
“They might give me a bit of stick, but that’s fine.”
Although Ruaridh had never heard of Downton, he too will be sitting down on Christmas Day to watch it.
He said: “I am normally busy outside and don’t watch much TV, but I will make sure I get to see this.”
His animals, including the ponies and cattle, are no strangers to television and film, however, having featured in a number of famous movies and shows, including Highlander and Monarch of the Glen.
And one of Downton’s stars was no stranger either.
He added: “We had worked with the Dowager Duchess - Maggie Smith - about 30 years previously when making Michael Palin’s film “The Missionary” at Glenbogle/Ardverikie.
“In that one my father even had a speaking part but unfortunately we did not this time.”
“On this occasion the ponies were the stars on the day and the people who had not met Highland Ponies before they made a big fuss over them and gave them loads of tot bits whilst out on location in Glen Shira.”
“My father also featured in the Errol Flynn film Master of Ballintrae, in which he was even Flynn’s stunt double.”