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Interview: Lord Carnarvon on celebrating his great-grandfather's discovery of Tutankhamun

Author: Vicky Mayer

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100 years since the archaeological find of the century, Lord Carnarvon is celebrating his great-grandfather’s work - while guests aboard new Viking Osiris discover Tutankhamun for themselves.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the tomb of King Tutankhamun. On 4 November 1922, George Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, and British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the untouched tomb of the 19-year-old pharaoh in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings.

The astonishing find made both men instant global superstars, as Tutankhamun fever swept the world.

Sadly, the 5th Earl never got the chance to enjoy his fame and fortune, dying only five months later in Cairo, having contracted blood poisoning from an infected mosquito bite.

But his legacy lives on, and today you can see behind the scenes of his historic discovery at The Egyptian Exhibition – six rooms of antiquities and private photographs of the Earl’s archaeological adventures – at Highclere Castle, his ancestral home in Hampshire.

The family are understandably very proud of the 5th Earl and his great achievement, and today his great-grandson, Lord Carnarvon, is on a mission to bring the story of his adventurous forebear to life.

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The hunt for Tutankhamun

Like many aristocratic gentlemen of his day, the 5th Earl liked to escape the British winter for warmer climes. During his lifetime he made no fewer than 16 trips to Egypt, usually leaving home in November and returning in April. But unlike his peers, many of whom were simply following the sun,the Earl had a dream: to find the elusive tomb of young Tutankhamun.

Basing himself beside the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, the Earl often stayed at the luxurious Winter Palace hotel. Eventually, he even built a house near to the archaeological site so that he and Howard Carter could be closer to their work.

‘My great grandfather loved Egypt and its people,’ says Lord Carnarvon.

‘He loved going there in the winter months and was a great supporter of the country. He got on well with all the local politicians and dignitaries and used to host parties for them at the Winter Palace. And because he spent so much time in the country, he developed a real insight into ancient Egypt, too.

‘He was an adventurer who was able to pursue hobbies for much of his life. Like other men of his background, he liked cars, but his real passion was photography. Starting at the age of 11 with his first camera, he took photographs all his life, especially of everyday subjects and people.’

The 5th Earl of Carnarvon

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The 5th Earl took his passion for photography seriously, building a darkroom at his house in Luxor, where he spent many happy hours processing images of his archaeological work and of the local staff who helped him.

More than 100 years on, these evocative photographs paint a historic picture of life on the banks of the Nile at the turn of the 20th century.

Interestingly, these incredible images were nearly lost to us because the Earl’s son, Henry, didn’t like to talk about his father’s work in Egypt, fearing that his premature death had been caused by frequent overseas trips or even by the curse of Tutankhamun.

‘My great grandfather’s photos lay undiscovered in Highclere Castle for 62 years because my grandfather didn’t want to see them,’ says Lord Carnarvon. ‘When we found them, they were still in perfect condition and so vibrant.’

The 160 black-and-white photos are an amazing historical treasure trove, capturing daily life on the banks of the Nile, with its traditional feluccas and the fishermen who sailed them.

Equally compelling are the street scenes of Luxor and the workers who toiled daily in the digs at the Valley of the Kings. Sweetly, the Earl’s dog, Susie, also pops up in many shots. A selection of these amazing photographs can now be seen on Viking’s new Nile ship Viking Osiris and can also be found in Lady Carnarvon’s new book - The Earl And The Pharaoh.

One hundred years may have passed since the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb but, as the present Lord Carnarvon acknowledges, it’s far easier now to visit the burial chamber in the Valley of the Kings than it ever was in his greatgrandfather’s day.

Visitors no longer have to clamber down stone stairs into the burial chamber – instead, a gentle slope allows them to walk in safely.

The burial chamber, though striking, is quite simple, and you’ll find the king’s famous golden mask, jewellery and sarcophagi on display more than 300 miles away at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. When the eagerly awaited new Grand Egyptian Museum opens on a site overlooking the pyramids, these incredible treasures will take pride of place in a special display.

Lord and Lady Carnarvon with the Viking Osiris

Meet the godfather

In honour of his great-grandfather’s love for Egypt and his historic legacy, Viking recently appointed Lord Carnarvon as its first godfather, for its custom-built Nile river ship Viking Osiris.

At a glamorous onboard ceremony in August this year, Lord Carnarvon was joined by his wife, Lady Fiona Carnarvon, and Viking’s Chairman Torstein Hagen, as they christened the ship.

‘It was a great honour to be asked to be godfather to Viking Osiris,’ says Lord Carnarvon. ‘In the centenary year of my great-grandfather’s discovery of the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun, no doubt he and my great-grandmother, Lady Almina, would have been delighted to board Viking Osiris, had it been sailing in their day.

‘The 5th Earl of Carnarvon was one of the great explorers and excavators of his time, and today guests on Viking Osiris can follow in his footsteps and share his love of the glories of ancient Egypt.’

The 5th Earl of Carnarvon’s legacy is safe in the hands of his family, and 100 years on from the amazing discovery of the tomb, Tutankhamun mania continues.

If you would like to see the boy king in all his glory, read on for full details of Viking’s incredible Egyptian voyage aboard new ship Viking Osiris.

The new Viking Osiris, which will sail a 12-day 'Pharaohs & Pyramids' itinerary on the Nile. Credit: Viking

Get on board

12-day Pharaohs & Pyramids cruise aboard Viking Osiris, round trip from Cairo via Luxor, Qena, Esna, Aswan and Edfu, departing 22 May 2023, from £5,905 per person.

This itinerary includes a three-night stay at a first-class hotel in Cairo, where you can visit iconic sites such as the Great Pyramid of Giza, the necropolis of Sakkara and the Mosque of Muhammad Ali. Guests will also be able to visit the new Grand Egyptian Museum before flying to Luxor to visit the temples of Luxor and Karnak.

The ship then sails an eight-day, roundtrip voyage on the Nile, featuring Privileged Access to the tomb of Nefertari in the Valley of the Queens and the tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings, and excursions to the Temple of Khnum in Esna, the Dendera Temple complex in Qena, the temples at Abu Simbel and the High Dam in Aswan. The journey finishes with a flight back to Cairo for a final night in the city.

Included in the fare is a return economy scheduled flight from London or selected regional airports, return internal flight from Cairo to Luxor, 4 nights in a Cairo hotel, an 8-day cruise with river-view stateroom, all onboard meals including wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner, shore excursion in every port of call, Wi-Fi (connection speed may vary), gratuities, evening entertainment and enrichment talks.

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About Vicky Mayer

Vicky began her career working on young women’s magazines before moving on to TV and entertainment titles. Her passion, though, has always been travel, so as Editor of World of Cruising, she combines her love of magazines with the chance to shout about cruise holidays around the world.