The Dowager Lady Downer of Mayo has launched a blistering attack against those who have criticised her for alleged grandstanding over a Commonwealth government grant to a bowling club in her father’s principality.
But just not in person.
A member of her household staff, Emma Hopkins, Second Lady Under the Stairs at the Downer’s summer retreat Pout House, at first appeared nervous after being sent out to address the media at the building’s tradesman’s entrance, said to be used occasionally by Lord Downer himself.
But she quickly regained her composure after reading an opening statement and then fielding at-times aggressive questioning over a photograph showing her employer presenting what appeared to be Lady Downer’s own personal cheque to the Yankalilla Bowls Club recently (pictured below).
“I can assure you that Her Ladyship would never, ever do anything improper, unethical, underhanded or even, heaven forbid, illegal,” Ms Hopkins read from a prepared statement.
“Lady Downer desperately wanted to address these issues personally before you today but she is busy directing staff on all procedures needed to successfully shut down Pout House for the winter and prepare for the grand televised return at the end of the month to Poonce Manor, the Downer’s main residence in the Adelaide Hills.
“She wants to make it quite clear that anyone with an ounce of sense would have realised that she was in no way presenting a legitimate Commonwealth cheque to the club.
“It wouldn’t have been rocket surgery on anyone’s part to see that the novelty cheque being presented by Her Ladyship was not real and could never be banked.
“Her Ladyship reluctantly went along with the publicity shot after the club’s management had created the cheque with her name and photo on it, as well as the Liberal Party logo, and wrote in an amount exactly the same as the Commonwealth grant, then gave it to her ‘out of the blue’ for a harmless publicity photograph.
“I mean, really, what was Lady Downer expected to do? Be rude?
“If anyone is upset by that publicity photograph, Lady Downer is confident that the club would be prepared to take full responsibility for it and apologise unreservedly.”
Ms Hopkins then added: “Now I hope there is no need whatsoever for any silly and irrelevant questions as I’m sure we all have much more important work to do?”
But the questions did come thick and fast.
Ms Hopkins agreed with a question from the Adelaide Advertiser that Mayo’s current federal member Rebeka Sharkie would probably have done exactly the same thing under the circumstances.
She responded to one question from The Land’s Adelaide-based reporter that she did not know what fertilisers were used to keep the grounds of Pout House looking so green and lush.
And asked by the local Yankalillia Yodel what Pout House was like inside, Ms Hopkins said that while her duties as Second Lady Under the Stairs meant much of the House was off-limits to her, she was sometimes seconded as Third Scullery Maid next to the main kitchen which she’d been told was “entirely grand”.
Asked by one undeclared reporter what it was like to work for what amounted to “Australian royalty” and the family dynasty that had “virtually built the Australia we know today”, Ms Hopkins said she was the 12th Second Lady Under the Stairs in the past 15 months and was very excited at the prospects of being offered a full-time paid job in the position once her unpaid traineeship under the federal government’s internship system came to an end.
Throughout the interview, a curtain moved occasionally at a third-floor window in the magnificent sandstone colonial home and one reporter, a striking young chap with slicked-down blond locks, a chiselled jaw, a fine physique obvious under a tapered, tight-fitting pale-lemon silk shirt and rather natty trousers and trendy, slip-on beige leather shoes, was fairly confident it was Lord Downer himself just checking on how the media conference was going.
“I’m sure it was Lord Downer,” he lisped excitedly. “I simply can’t believe I saw him! And that he in turn was watching me.”