News & Opinion

Celebrity news

Meet the Countess of ‘Baywatch’: How A.J. Langer Became a British Aristocrat

The Daily Beast

August 24, 2015

Rayanne Graff did pretty well for herself, it turns out.

My So-Called Life fans may be surprised to learn that A. J. Langer, the actress who played Claire Danes’s best buddy in the ’90s cult teen drama series, with her beaded dreadlocks and tie-dye peace T-shirts, is now mistress of all she surveys of a posh British country estate.

Yes, Rayanne Graff has left the graffiti-sprayed ladies’ loo of high school far behind.

Langer, 41, also appeared in a couple of cameos on Baywatch (once as a jewel thief and once as a woman who had killed her father, according to Deana Langer, her mother).

A.J. Langer married her husband, Charles (Charlie) Courtenay, in 2005—but is in the headlines now, as his father, the Earl of Devon, has died. This means that Charles assumes the title, and Langer is now the Countess of Devon.

If Rayanne’s apartment with her hippy mom felt cramped—full of new age tchotchkes and tarot cards—consider that in real life Langer is now mistress of the 600-year-old, 4,000-acre Powderham Estate, near Exeter.

Langer’s mother, Deana Langer, an audiologist in West Hills, California, told The Daily Beast that Langer was flying back to the U.K. on Monday with the couple’s two children to join her husband who was in the throes of “ironing things out” following his father’s death. “This is a very sad moment,” Mrs. Langer said.

Asked about her daughter becoming Countess of Devon, Mrs. Langer said, “It’s very exciting, almost like a fairytale. Charlie is amazing. We love Charlie, and we’re excited for this new chapter and excited for them.”

The couple was planning “to work together on lots of ideas” for Powderham’s future, Mrs. Langer said.

Asked if her daughter preferred being an actress over being an aristocrat, Mrs. Langer laughed and said, “She balances both things, and being a mom takes precedence over everything.”

Playing Rayanne in the much-loved My So-Called Life was “the highlight” of her daughter’s career, she added.

The couple met in Las Vegas, at the Circle Bar of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Langer unaware of Courtenay’s place in the British aristocracy. He was wearing a kilt, and was traveling with a rugby club.

The truth only emerged later, when Courtenay—a barrister and a California attorney—drove Langer to his family’s estate, “months into our relationship,” she once said, “which was good ’cause I wouldn’t have known what to do with that information anyway.”

It doesn’t sound like her place in among Britain’s posh aristos particularly fazes Langer (one would imagine the same had the bolshy Rayanne ended up with Prince William).

Langer told the Breezy Mama website in 2009: “The whole title thing…I am no expert,” she responded. “It means they have a verrrrrrry big and long family tree. It means more to some people and less to others.

“It definitely makes for interesting conversation, and an interesting story. Am I royalty now? No—I am not royalty…by marrying Charlie I can take the courtesy title of ‘Lady,’ and my children can take the title ‘Honorable.’ If Charlie becomes the Earl of Devon, my title would become the Countess of Devon and our kids would be Lords and Ladies.

“But we don’t use the titles in our daily lives, they are there and we respect the history that gave rise to them, but in our reality we’re just a normal family.”

Her husband told the site: “Royalty implies a person is a member of the royal family, which we are not. An Earldom is an aristocratic or noble title granted by the King or Queen of the time—in our case by Queen Mary Tudor—but it is not a royal title and, save for [our 2½-year-old daughter] Joscelyn who thinks she’s a princess, we’re not considered royalty.”

With Breezy Mama, Langer also went into graphic detail of the two home births of Joscelyn and son Jack.

Langer has also spoken out about suffering from fibromyalgia, and how it has affected her life.

Langer said she had tried to carry on with life as normally as possible, until the pain she was in became too severe.

“It’s what got me hooked on surfing—my favorite therapy,” she said. “Being in the water is very calming and soothing for my pain, especially in my lower back, neck and arms.”

She added: “We’re preparing to one day move into my husband’s family castle. So there’s not a lot of time to wallow or get stuck on the pain. My mom always used to say, ‘20 minutes of self-pity every few weeks.’ So that’s all I allow myself. Then I enjoy my life.”

As well as surfing, Langer also practices meditation and yoga to offset the worst aspects of her condition, Deana Langer told The Daily Beast. “I also suffer from it, but not as badly as my mother and she.”

For the first part of their marriage, Langer and Courtenay lived in Los Angeles (where he practiced law), combined with trips back to the English countryside. She appeared in TV shows including Three Sisters and Private Practice.

Last year, they moved back to the U.K., and soon now will take up full-time residence at Powderham Castle.

Calls by The Daily Beast to the castle went unreturned Monday.

Langer isn’t alone: Other American women have recently married into British high society.

Guy Pelly, best buddy to Princes William and Harry, married American heiress Lizzy Wilson last year; while Canadian Autumn Phillips is married to Peter Phillips, son of Princess Anne, the Queen’s daughter.

The Bravo series, Ladies of London, features a raft of American women, living a life of luxury (and bitching), married to rich British men—with conflict guaranteed by the presence of rich, snooty British women too.

It remains to be seen how the second series of the show, which premieres September 7, will deal—if at all—with the death of Scot Young, boyfriend of Noelle Reno, one of the first season’s cast.

The lineage of American women marrying into the British upper classes stretches further back than the tentacles of reality television would suggest.

Fans of Downton Abbey know there wouldn’t even be a functioning Downton without Cora, the Countess of Grantham, whose millions have proven vital for the estate’s upkeep, despite her husband’s faltering stewardship of Downton’s finances.

Cora symbolically stands for the 200 or so real-life “American princesses” who married into the British aristocracy at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th.

Later came the American fascination with the glamour of Diana, Princess of Wales, and her two sons. There was even a reality show, American Princess, centered around getting young American women ready for a life of British aristocratic privilege.

No such calculation appears to have been present in the meeting, and match, of Langer and Courtenay. Wannabe American princesses dreaming of being chatelaine of an English country estate, take note. Theirs seems to be one of the oldest, and sweetest stories: simple love at first sight.