There is a correct way to interrupt coitus, says Rick Fink, who runs a butler school at former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill‘s weekend mansion outside Oxford, England.
“A firm knock on the door, listen for any noises and wait for an order,” Fink, 73, tells his students, dressed in traditional green aprons. “Then address Sir, not the lady or any other companion, until spoken to.”
Demand for the buttling arts is rising in London, where Russian oligarchs and hedge-fund billionaires are employing servants in displays of status unrivaled since Victorian times. Across Chelsea, Mayfair and Knightsbridge “gentlemen’s gentlemen” are decanting claret, ironing creases out of newspapers and even standing ready to pilot airplanes.
“The old-style butler and old money are both few and far between these days,” said Sarah Dawkins, who runs the Guild of Professional English Butlers. “What we’re seeing is the ranks of the super-super-rich coming through, and that is a whole different ballgame.”
The best butlers earn as much as 70,000 pounds ($138,870) a year, twice as much as the average compensation for a software programmer in London, and get free board and lodging.
The number of butlers registered with Greycoat Placements, the servants’ employment agency that is part of Empresaria Group Plc, has almost doubled to more than 5,000 over the past five years, Managing Director Stephanie Rough said.
While there are no reliable figures for the number of butlers in the U.K., the London-based Work Foundation estimates there are about 2 million people in domestic service in the country, the most since the Victorian era.
Hedge Funds, Russians
Supply is responding to demand, Rough said in her office a few hundred yards from Buckingham Palace. Hedge funds that employ butlers are a “growth area,” and there’s been more demand from Russians, she said.
“Butlers are hired to simply get things done,” saidSebastian Hirsch, who’s been working for four years at a London- based investment firm that he declined to identify. “But they’re also used to impress clients and friends as a status symbol. For the newly wealthy, like Russians, who want an entrance to society, having a butler is the right choice.”
Hirsch said one of his butler friends flies his boss to destinations around the world in a private plane.
“Butlers are educating people as they know a lot more than we do” about how to behave in high society, said Anatoliy Zaslavchik, head of corporate finance at Kiev, Ukraine-based investment firm Sincome Inc., who has had an English butler for “years.”
Three Times Wealthier
Inner London is now three times wealthier than the rest of Europe, according to the European Union’s statistics office. The wealth of the city has almost doubled in the past decade, driven by the “commuter flow” of non-residents, including the very rich, the agency said in a February report.
Rich expatriates want locally trained butlers and household help to create the true atmosphere of an English stately home, according toSh4dow Security, which finds security and domestic staff for wealthy families.
However, a mansion and a butler do not an aristocrat make.
To address this, Greycoat has started an advisory business for the newly wealthy. The company also offers tips on how many staff to employ in what capacity and how to treat them.
It’s just not done, for example, to invite servants to sit with you during a meal, offer them the use of your car or swimming pool when you’re out of town, or to say “thank you” for every task performed, Greycoat said.
A Way of Behaving
“The employer will invariably step over the line at some point, and it is up to the employee to keep that division,” Rough said. “It’s the one big thing we teach.”
Traditionally, the butler is the head of the household, responsible for the hiring and firing of other domestic staff.
Modern butlers have the additional task of mentoring their employers in the rules of English etiquette, such as referring to the “lavatory” when the boss uses the word “toilet,” or remarking upon how much better linen looks on a dining table instead of paper napkins.
“There is a way of behaving in certain circles, and the newly wealthy may not fully understand those ways,” said Dawkins of the butlers’ guild. “Employers look to the butler not only to serve but to show them what should and shouldn’t be done.”
At Ditchley Park, 70 miles northwest of London, Fink, a butler for more than 50 years, teaches the old-fashioned style of service. Students pay 7,900 pounds ($15,600) for a four-week course, and required reading is “Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management”(first published in 1861).
Samuel Tebby, a 21-year-old former ballet dancer, believes the course is worth the money, especially if he can land a place at Buckingham Palace’s three-year butler trainee program.
“Working for the queen, you don’t get paid that much money,” he said. “But afterwards, if you’ve got Buckingham Palace on your CV, you’re really in demand.”