THE Duchess of Northumberland will step down from managing her multi-million pound Alnwick Garden project to pursue a new book, skincare and clothing deal.
Her departure in 2015 – when she expects the two decade-long development to be finished – will see the visitor attraction turned into a franchise run by an outside management company.
The announcement comes as she embarks on a final £15m fundraising push to complete the garden by installing a children’s play park and lighting scheme.
Speaking exclusively to The Journal, the Duchess said after a decade of management struggles she is now ready to hand over the reigns.
“I think for us the way forward is going to be franchising,” she said. “When I first began this project I thought the most difficult part was going to be raising the money and building it and keeping a design team together who all wanted to pull the project their own way.
“But it’s not. The most difficult thing is handing over what you’ve got to management and saying ‘Now make this work’. If you have a manager who doesn’t deliver in whatever field then they’re blowing your profit that you can put back into charitable programmes and I’ve watched that in the past 10 years within the garden business.
“It’s such a specialised skill set, but I will hand over whatever I build now to outside operators.”
The Duchess has been at the helm of one of the country’s most controversial visitor attractions for 17 years.
Her contemporary transformation of Alnwick Castle’s 18th Century walled gardens, part of her husband Ralph Percy the Duke of Northumberland’s estate, has so far cost £42m and come in for staunch criticism from the gardening world’s traditionalists.
Around £16m of public funds poured into the project despite her husband’s vast wealth and that has also brought negative publicity.
However, since it opened in 2001 the garden has brought in £50m a year to the North East, created 300 jobs and various charitable and educational projects.
The Duchess, 53, said: “I have decided I am going to have finished the Alnwick Garden by May 2015. I just think that will have been a big part of my life. I have to set a date to finish it.”