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The actor, who stars as the Earl of Grantham in the hit historical drama, is doing his part for the U.K.'s vaccination program in the sleepy English town of Midhurst, West Sussex

By Phil Boucher
February 09, 2021 02:30 PM
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Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville helping out as a COVID vaccination marshall
Credit: Hugh Bonneville/Facebook

Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville is playing the most important role of his life.

The actor, who stars as the Earl of Grantham in the hit historical drama, is volunteering as a marshall at a COVID-19 vaccination center near his home in Midhurst, West Sussex, where his job is to welcome people and put them at ease ahead of their injections.

"I get to wear a high-vis and be very bossy and go: 'Oi!'," Bonneville, 57, jokingly told BBC News about his volunteer role, adding "No, it's just to welcome people - as I'm about to do. 'Good morning sir, welcome.'"

Bonneville's COVID1-19 duties start around 7:30 am at the Riverbank Medical Centre in the sleepy south of England town.

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Elizabeth McGovern and Hugh Bonneville
| Credit: Focus Features

After collecting a disinfected yellow reflective gilet and name badge reading "Hugh," he greets guests wearing a cowboy-style hat and puffy winter jacket.

As the U.K. has focused on vaccinating the elderly and high-risk before anyone else, his role is as much about treating apprehensiveness and nervousness as it is telling patients to "mind the step" or "take a little adventure tour up the ramp" leading into the NHS center.   

Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville helping out as a COVID vaccination marshall
Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville receives his COVID vaccine
| Credit: Hugh Bonneville/Facebook

"For some people, it's the first time they've been out of their house in, you know, a year," Hugh told the BBC. "We've had people who've been grateful for the outing as much as anything and this sense of a glimmer of hope, so it's great to be part of this team effort."

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While most of the locals don't recognize Hugh behind his facemask, the actor has had to endure a few light-hearted comments about his high-profile roles in Downton Abbey and Paddington.

"You get the odd, you know, 'marmalade sandwich' thrown at you," says the actor, who recently told PEOPLE NOW that he'd love Meryl Streep to star in a Downton movie sequel.

Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville helping out as a COVID vaccination marshall
Hugh Bonneville with some of his COVID vaccine team
| Credit: Hugh Bonneville/Facebook

Despite this, Hugh is happy to do anything he can to assist the U.K.'s hugely successful vaccination program, which has so far provided stage one inoculations to more than 12.8 million people at a rate of around 600,000 injections a day.

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"It's tangible," Hugh told the BBC about the difference the program is making to his local community both physically and mentally. "It's palpable."

He continues, "It's not relief because it's not over, but there's the sense of hope, and to be part of that is really lovely."