Yo, Jeeves

The butler is back and in thor­oughly mod­ern style, says Sandy Mitchell

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Liv­ing -

Over­worked? Stressed? Un­able to en­joy life? What you need is not a hol­i­day or a ther­a­pist but the house­hold luxury that al­most ev­ery successful mag­nate seems now to have ac­quired: a butler.

“We have had many peo­ple ask­ing us for but­lers,” re­ports one Lon­don agency while, at a ri­val busi­ness, the wo­man at the “butler desk” — ma­hogany and buffed to a mir­ror-like sheen, no doubt — can barely con­tain her glee at the “enor­mous in­crease in de­mand”.

Clients are a mix of pri­va­tee­quity or hedge-fund deal­ers, en­trepreneurs and celebri­ties whose de­sire for an un­flap­pable ma­jor-domo is fu­elled by their in­creas­ingly high dis­pos­able in­come.

But the men (and women) em­ployed as but­lers are not the same as in the class­bound old days ofWode­house andWaugh. To­day’s butler has been dusted off and given a rad­i­cal makeover, even down to the job ti­tle. “More mod­ern houses call them ‘house man­agers’, though they still do tra­di­tional tasks such as over­see­ing house moves, wait­ing at ta­ble, valet­ing and pack­ing,” says Stephanie Storey of the agency Gr­ey­coat Place­ments.

“But they are multi-task­ing, too. In the big­ger, more flash houses they have to be com­puter-lit­er­ate to deal with new tech­nol­ogy. There’s the stereo sys­tem, the heat­ing, the swim­ming-pool and the se­cu­rity sys­tems.” (In the coun­try homes of twitchy East Euro­pean oli­garchs, dot­ted with closed-cir­cuit tele­vi­sion cam­eras, the butler of­ten lurks at the cen­tre of the sur­veil­lance web.)

What has changed too are the at­ti­tudes to em­ploy­ing but­lers. “The snob­bery has gone out of hav­ing a butler,” in­sists Ge­ordie Greig, edi­tor of Tatler. ‘‘It is seen as a nor­mal part of the new ser­vice-in­dus­try cul­ture and you cer­tainly no longer need a grand cas­tle to have one.’’

He also notes a telling dif­fer­ence in the tone of these new do­mes­tic set-ups. “ Up­stairs, Down­stairs for­mal­ity is dis­ap­pear­ing for the gen­er­a­tion un­der 45. The butler is much more likely to be wear­ing a black polo neck than a striped waist­coat.” Per­versely, that some­times causes fric­tion.

The new self-made mul­ti­mil­lion­aires, even City boys, of­ten work in a cul­ture of Gap T-shirts and flat cor­po­rate struc­tures. When they try to bring that in­for­mal­ity home with them, they risk re­volt from do­mes­tic staff schooled in top ho­tels with fierce hi­er­ar­chies. “Some clients want the butler to call them by their first name and they want to use the butler’s own first name, but the but­lers can find that very dif­fi­cult,” warns Storey. (Jeeves would sooner have had his teeth knocked out with a ham­mer than al­low the name Ber­tie to pass his lips.)

The younger gen­er­a­tion of but­lers has ad­justed per­fectly to this new so­cial or­der and no one could epit­o­mise this flex­i­ble breed bet­ter than Mario Hin­ter­dor­fer, a mul­ti­lin­gual 33-year-old Aus­trian, cur­rently em­ployed in a pri­vate house­hold in Lon­don. “The old-fash­ioned butler would al­ways be in the back­ground, but the pro­fes­sion has changed 100 per cent,” he ex­plains in silksmooth Euro-English. “Mod­ern but­lers don’t just stay in the back­ground. They are all-rounders who travel ev­ery­where, of­ten on the pri­vate plane. They go shop­ping with the wife, they take care of the pri­vate of­fice and they change the light bulbs,” says Mario, who doesn’t wear a uni­form at work.

His “own­ers”, as Mario refers to his em­ploy­ers and those of his nu­mer­ous butler friends, are not bil­lion­aires but just “nor­mal rich peo­ple”. “They want to be re­laxed when they get home and find food is on the ta­ble and the iron­ing is done,” he says. For pro­vid­ing this ser­vice, a butler in Lon­don can ex­pect to earn £35,000 to £40,000, with ac­com­mo­da­tion in­cluded.

Some as­pects of the job re­main re­as­sur­ingly un­changed. This be­came ap­par­ent dur­ing a re­cent lunch party at the neoPal­la­dian coun­try home of a cou­ple in their late 40s, who have each made a for­tune in new tech­nol­ogy. Such was the spell­bind­ing level of luxury that even the ta­ble set for the small chil­dren (few of them old enough to read) had el­e­gant hand-writ­ten menu cards. After the chil­dren got down from lunch it was the se­nior butler who was called on to play with them out­side the din­ing room.

The whole re­mark­able per­for­mance was only let down by the vul­gar be­hav­iour of some of the vis­i­tors, as I dis­cov­ered when we ar­rived home and asked the chil­dren what they had got up to after lunch. “We played hide-and­seek but that man [the butler] found me straight away,” com­plained my youngest. “What did you do after that?” I asked. “I bit him,” came the re­ply.

Not a word was said at the time by the butler, of course. “Be­ing 100 per cent dis­creet. That is one rule that hasn’t changed,” purrs Mario.

Start your seven-DVD Jeeves and Wooster col­lec­tion with In Court After the Boat Race free in­side The Daily Tele­graph to­day and Will Ana­tole Re­turn to Brink­ley Court? free in­side The Sun­day Tele­graph to­mor­row. Claim five more DVDs all next week. Not avail­able in Ire­land.

Ser­vice with style: Mario Hin­ter­dor­fer (top) is typ­i­cal of the new breed of butler, a role that has changed greatly since the days of Jeeves and Wooster (above)

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