THE giant Christmas trees are being decked with Victorian decorations, the cook has been baking fruit cakes and soaking puddings for weeks and present shopping is under way.

Meanwhile Lady Fiona Montagu is turning on her computer to check through her many seasonal ‘to do’ lists.

Christmas at Palace House, Beaulieu, is a serious affair and a time consuming one, not least for the Lady of the house.

There is more to the New Forest house than the Christmas market in November and a Victorian-style Christmas experience offered in the public part of the house.

Lady Montagu also organises parties for local school children, children from the estate, staff, family... the list goes on.

“As ‘Lady of the Manor’ I find Christmas quite exhausting!” she admits.

“On the day itself I think ‘thank goodness that’s all over. Whoever I’ve forgotten to get a present for, it’s too late. I’ll have to get them a New Year present instead.’ In fact, my cards never say ‘Merry Christmas’ because I have around 350 to do and I never know if I’m going to get them done in time. They say ‘wishing you a joyful festive season’. That way if I get them out by New Year I’m winning!”

Lady Montagu may find Christmas exhausting but it’s clear that she loves it.

“There’s never a dull day at Beaulieu!” she enthuses.

She talks with infectious enthusiasm about the children’s parties she throws – which may feature Father Christmas arriving in a floodlit vintage Rolls- Royce to hand out gifts – a candlelit carol concert for staff and shopping for stocking fillers.

But it is obvious that it all takes a lot of organising.

One of the things that is clearly troubling her, and which comes up several times during the interview, is just how to entertain the older children at the parties she throws.

“Children are so sophisticated these days,” she muses.

“You have to find something so the older ones aren’t bored.”

As well as entertainment, Lady Montagu also oversees the buying of Christmas presents for the 150 or so children who come to the parties at Beaulieu. She used to actually buy them herself but, she says, now that she’s closer to 70 than 60, she doesn’t have the energy for it anymore.

Her assistants do the shopping, but she is still very involved.

“One year a little boy came up to me with these big weepy eyes and said ‘Father Christmas gave me this last year,’” she says in the voice of a heartbroken five-year-old.

“I said, ‘he is so busy that sometimes he forgets, but I’ll just see if I can grab him before he leaves,’ and went off to the cupboard of spare presents.

You’ve just got to be so efficient!”

One person who Lady Montagu does do all the shopping for is her husband, Lord Montagu, who is now 84 years old.

“My husband likes a very big Christmas stocking,” she says with warmth.

“At Christmas time he becomes a total child and likes lots and lots of presents. But he’s quite easy – he likes things to eat.”

Lady Montagu personally buys around 200 presents – they typically have between 25 and 40 house guests at Christmas – and likes to do much of her gift shopping at The House of Lords gift shop.

“It’s very good stuff and it’s completely exclusive to the House of Lords,” she says. “You can only get in there if you’re a member. I go with my husband and he leaves me in the shop.

They’re always ecstatic with the size of my order.”

Lady Montagu admits that sometimes she does pine for a quiet Christmas, but says that because her husband loves it to be such a big family affair that isn’t about to happen.

“I do have a fantasy that one day for Christmas I’ll be in a magnificent hotel somewhere in the Alps with fantastic room service – but I don’t see that happening before my husband goes to that motor museum in the sky.”

And while she does sometimes find Christmas rather tiring it is, in part, down to her that Christmas at Beaulieu has become such a large affair.

“Some of the parties did exist before I came but they’ve grown, partly because my husband is very sociable and partly because I do love everyone to have a good time.”

There is a blending of private and public at Beaulieu which is particularly pronounced at Christmas time.

Lady Montagu says that some of her friends are surprised that she is comfortable with this but she knew what she was getting herself into – and she enjoys it.

Of course, a house like Beaulieu is very expensive to maintain which was the chief reason for opening it, and also establishing the National Motor Museum in its grounds, but it has other benefits.

“My husband first opened his home to the public when he was 25. He has said it was quite a shock when he first did it, but that he would really miss them if we stopped. The people who wander round the house are so nice. We do tours through the private side.

I have to remember when to keep my door shut. We get such nice letters from people to say they’ve enjoyed it.”

For Lady Montagu, sharing her home at Christmas and putting on parties for local people is part and parcel of the philanthropic work she does throughout the year.

She is trustee of the Countryside education Trust and chairman of the World Servers Foundation that she recently set up with a friend, which aims to take practical steps to make the world a better place.

She is also involved with many other charities, including The Hunger Project.

And despite finding the Christmas arrangements somewhat exhausting, she has another big event on the horizon – her 70th birthday party which will be a big charity fundraiser.

“I’m a great Elvis fan,” says Lady Montagu, who is wearing a black Elvis T-shirt under a red blouse.

“I was in the car singing along to Blue Suede Shoes on the stereo and I thought ‘that’s it, I’ll have an Elvis party’.

“It will be in April 2013 and I’m going to raise money for the Countryside Education Trust and the National Motor Museum which has an educational side. There will be three Elvis impersonators. I won’t be selling tickets, but I’ll ask for donations and you can get Gift Aid on that!”

It seems that Lady Montagu really does like nothing better than throwing a big party and doing a bit of good at the same time – whether it’s raising money for a favourite charity or giving presents to local children.

nThe Christmas celebrations at Beaulieu run from December 17 to January 3.

Admission is included in the normal ticket price for Beaulieu and includes admission to the National Motor Museum.

Tickets are priced £9 children, £17 adults with youth, senior and family tickets available.

For more information, call 01590 612345 or visit