Opera legend Dame Kiri te Kanawa revealed that she is playing real-life Australian soprano Dame Nellie Melba in Downton Abbey.

Dame Kiri is the first actor to play a real person in the hit ITV series.

At the launch of the fourth series of Downton Abbey in London today, Dame Kiri told TV Times: “I was trying to stay true to the character because, as Julian [Fellowes, Downton creator] says, she’s the one true living character to have appeared in the series.”

Dame Kiri, 69, revealed she extensively researched Dame Nellia, who died in 1931. “I was very interested in her anyway. I reseearched how much she earned in a year. Her wage in one year was about £3million in today’s money.”

Dame Kiri caused a surprise at the Downton launch when she performed the two arias she sings in the series.