David Oakes is a British actor who plays Prince Ernest (Prince Albert’s brother) in the new ITV drama Victoria. David is no stranger to playing historical characters, having previously starred in The White Queen and The Living and the Dead. He gave us some insight into his experiences filming the series, his personal connection to Queen Victoria and shares memories of visiting her summer home, Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.
Where David’s love of history started – visiting Osborne and the impact of Queen Victoria
Back in 1995 when I was 11, I went on an adventure (read: school trip) to the Isle of Wight. Part history project and part reward for completing primary school, we spent a week seeking out Isle’s treasures. The Needles, odd coloured sand, a donkey called Josephine… and a couple of amazing and unique historical buildings, which are the jewels in the Isle of Wight’s crown.
Apart from Josephine, Carisbrooke Castle is perhaps most famous for housing Charles I. He was in prison there for 14 months prior to his execution. Two hundred years later, the island gained another royal inhabitant – this time out of choice!
Osborne House was Queen Victoria’s rather audacious holiday home. It was designed by her husband Albert in the style of an Italian Renaissance Palazzo – he liked to get his hands dirty with a little bit of architectural design work.
To this day, I remember being stunned by Osborne. I’d been dragged around old houses before by my parents, but somehow at Osborne the ceilings seemed taller, the carpets softer, and the whole place sung with heritage, purpose and beauty.
Suddenly, to my young eyes, Victoria and the industrial revolution didn’t seem so far away. History suddenly seemed relevant. Canal boat holidays had taught me that what had happened in the Victorian era shaped modern Britain. She was the people’s monarch. By sharing photographs of her and her family she made monarchy seem human, not divine.
Despite being and English Heritage member, for my sins, I haven’t revisited the Osborne since this first trip. But luckily, a job presented itself that gave me an oddly suitable alternative.
On playing Prince Ernest in ITV’s Victoria
I play Prince Ernest, the older brother of Prince Albert. He is a cad, bounder, socialist, philanthropist, explorer, composer and bon vivant. Basically the opposite of Albert, who was more reserved. And he lived almost as long as Victoria herself.
He was loved within his Dukedom and integral in the unification of Germany. He had operas performed in New York, and supposedly had more sexually transmitted complications than you could wave a mercury-lined stick at. What a charmer!
What it’s like to work on a period drama
It’s a joy to be in a period drama. Getting the chance to wear the clothes, walk down lavish hallways and grow a moustache; to follow in the footsteps of the great – and the less great – makes the eleven-year-old in me very happy indeed. Our production, costume and makeup designers (Michael, Ros and Nic respectively) have made spectacular near replicas of the original palaces and fashions, and the whole production looks divinely regal.
Our story in this first season reaches 1840 – Osborne won’t be inhabitable for nearly a decade, but this series has given me the chance to run around real properties like Harewood House, Raby Castle, Beverley Mister and Wentworth Woodhouse. I also spent a great deal of this year living at Buckingham Palace – or at least a replica built in a disused Yorkshire aircraft hangar!
Victoria will be shown on Sunday nights at 9pm on ITV.
See Victoria’s home for yourself
Osborne was Victoria’s seaside residence on the Isle of Wight, where she and Albert raised their children. Explore the Indian-style plaster work of the opulent Durbar room, where Victoria entertained European royalty, or get a glimpse of family life in the nursery and miniature Swiss Cottage where the royal children played.
Osborne House is open from 10:00-18:00, 7 days a week, until 30 September, and from 10:00-17:00 throughout October.
Entry is free for English Heritage Members.
Ticket prices for non-members are: Adult: £15, Concession: £13.50, Child: £9, Family: £39.