The Earl of Devon and his former Baywatch actress wife are to divorce, three years after she described the shock of seeing her “hippie, feminist husband” transform into a “patriarchal” aristocrat.
Allison Joy “AJ” Langer, married barrister Charles Courtenay in 2005 after meeting him in Las Vegas, where he was on a rugby tour.
They set up home in California but moved into Powderham Castle near Exeter when Courtenay’s father, the 18th Earl of Devon, died in 2015.
Langer, who appeared in the second series of Baywatch and also starred in the US drama My So-Called Life, became the Countess of Devon and found her move to Britain to be a culture shock.
“I may have underestimated the realities for myself. It was the same for my husband, who had been my hippie, feminist husband in California for 10 years,” she said.
“I was like, ‘where did my hippie, feminist husband go?’ And all of a sudden these patriarchal things start coming out of his mouth. I’m like, ‘who are you? Where’s my Charlie?’ So it’s a lot of recalibrating.”
The couple moved to Britain with their two children, Joscelyn, now aged 16, and Jack, 14. They announced their separation this week, saying in a statement: “After much care and consideration, Charles Courtenay, the Earl of Devon, and Countess of Devon, Allison Joy Courtenay, have made the decision to separate and to divorce.
“Charlie would like to express his gratitude for his partnership with AJ and all that they have created together as parents, friends and partners both in Los Angeles and at Powderham.”
Speaking on the podcast Celebrity Catch Up: Life After That Thing I Did in 2020, the Countess said she treated the relocation – on a friend’s advice – “like an anthropological study of the culture”.
Her father-in-law’s funeral was the first shock. “It was like The Godfather, it was extraordinary,” she recalled. “It was 800 people coming into the castle, and all lined up just to shake [the new Earl’s] hand.
“I’d learnt a lot over the 12 years that we’d been together, but I think I’d underestimated the step… here I was in the middle of a really intense, very, very deep-rooted patriarchy. And so it’s been really fascinating.”
The Countess treasured the family’s “amazing” time in California, adding that it was “great for Charlie as well, who grew up in this [castle] architecture, to have some time surfing”.
But she threw herself into her new role while focusing on getting the children settled in their new home.
“Acting really wasn’t on the table because we’re three hours out of London and my kids needed community and connection, and this was so much to take on that you couldn’t really do it halfway.
“And I’m the kind of person that takes whatever’s in front of me and does my best with it,” she said. The couple opened the castle’s grounds for rock and pop concerts, and allowed visitors to the main house to bring their dogs.
They also welcomed gay marriages. The 18th Earl caused a storm in 2008 when he refused a request to host a ceremony for two men, saying it was “objectionable” to his Christian religion. Devon County Council revoked Powderham’s licence for hosting ceremonies, losing the family up to £200,000 a year in revenue.
This was regarded as ironic by some observers, as the 9th Earl was gay. The Countess said that she and her husband had adopted a more modern approach.
“There was a past history of blatantly covering up our gay ancestors here, and we’ve had the gift of being able to take off the label of ‘flamboyant’. We have some gay relatives at Powderham that were amazing characters with really interesting stories.
“And we’ve been able to open that up and be a really welcoming space for same sex marriages.
“You know, the countryside is actually very gay.”