A first-class butler will not only provide you with an introduction to the finer things in life, but also a pathway to the upper echelons of London society. Here’s how to find the best butler to suit you …
WORDS: Kat Hopps
What would you say is the most quintessential British profession? The nanny? The shopkeeper? Surely, it must be the butler: astute, respected and dependable; the embodiment of British etiquette and discretion. Although the role has long since fallen out of fashion in modern-day Britain, butlers are increasingly sought-after by wealthy individuals from the US, China, Russia and the Middle East.
‘The profession is more popular right now than ever before,’ says Robert Wennekes, CEO of the International Butler Academy. ‘The Downton Abbey effect has been enormous.’ These days, having a personal butler is what gives families real kudos.
World class butlers don’t come cheap these days with annual salaries rising from £30k up to £100k-plus for ‘super-butlers’ who are expected to be on call 24/7. So what exactly should one expect for such eye-watering fees?
‘Today’s modern butler is a combination of PA, house-manager, in certain cases even a nanny, bodyguard or a pilot,’ explains Wennekes, although it’s still the small touches that elevate the role from that of a high-level personal assistant, whether it’s delivering the morning breakfast tray, taking the dog for a walk or serving a high-class dinner party.
British-trained butlers are especially coveted by wealthy individuals looking for that special touch says Sara Vestin Rahmani, Director of The British Butler Academy, an elite worldwide company that places British-trained super butlers and household staff for high-net-worth and celebrity clients across the globe. She currently has 800 butlers in her employment, all trained in the very British values of decorum, history and discretion.
‘The British butler represents the British psyche, something that is refined, grand and traditional, so what people are hiring isn’t someone just to serve them food and wine — what they’re actually hiring is a lifestyle,’ she says.
‘A good butler has a little black book filled with great connections,’ explains Vestin Rahmani. ‘If they don’t know the answers there is no such thing as no, they will find out.’ This means informing clients about how to get into the best London schools, private members’ clubs and gyms – even introducing them to business connections or the right social circles.
The modern butler as a hyperconnected networker is a world away from the taciturn, dour image of the past. These days there is no longer a typical person, age or sex for a butler.
‘Our tagline is ‘your life tailor-made’ so if you want a Chinese, Russian or Arabic-speaking butler who has estate management experience or negotiating skills, then that’s what you will get,’ says Vestin Rahmani. Candidates must be flexible and willing above everything else – big personalities and know-it-alls need not apply.
‘The most important character trait we’re looking for in would-be butlers is flexibility because they will be working for people who are wealthy – and wealth means freedom, and freedom means constant schedule changes,’ says Wennekes. Vestin Rahmani agrees, adding that individuals must be willing to ‘work 24/7 if necessary to ensure their boss’ requirements are met.’
Other essential qualities include discretion, intelligence, stamina, loyalty and a genuine love for the job. The latter is especially important when it comes to the more unusual requests from employers. Vestin Rahmani says some people are looking for clubbing buddies or even action heroes. ‘One client’s job spec was quite extreme – he wanted someone to jump out of a plane with him and go skydiving.’
With so much choice, and without an internationally recognised qualification, it’s essential to ensure all bases are covered when looking for a butler. Good references and qualifications matter, of course, but look for the extras: intense training in real-life stately settings, bespoke meetings with candidates, and a strong relationship between agency and student – the former should know the latter’s character and motivations in order to match them with the right employer. ‘You need somebody you feel comfortable with, who understands you, who knows your needs, your wishes and wants,’ says Wennekes.
For candidates with impeccable standards, consider employing someone from a former professional background. ‘My favourite are ex-military because they’re used to protocol, punctuality, etiquette, and they don’t mind taking orders,’ says Vestin Rahmani.
Above all, it’s the ability to be able to anticipate what needs to be done next: the individual must have the initiative and the confidence to make decisions, in order to ease the client’s worries. ‘What people want from a butler is someone who is going to be an extension of them, to represent and guide them,’ she says. The butler therefore is effectively there to do the thinking for you. ‘That’s the beauty of them,’ she concludes, ‘you don’t need to use your brain so much because they know what’s needed.’
Where to find London’s best butlers
The British Butler Academy
Great for: unlimited consultancy and access to London’s elite social clubs and circles
bespokebureau.com; 020 3167 0925
The International Butler Academy
Great for: exceptional standards of training for students
Butler for You
Great for: the opportunity to peruse candidates in advance on its website
butlerforyou.com; 020 7060 1981
Great for: access to the right people thanks to a global concierge team of 2,000 lifestyle managers
quintessentially.com; 020 3432 4303
Great for: a comprehensive job listings section used by people in-the-know