Mary Pop­pins 2.0

Nan­ny­ing for the su­per-rich

The Daily Telegraph - - News Review & Features -

‘Ba­si­cally, my job was to help them for­get that they had kids’

The salary sounds like a dream come true, but as Rebecca Reid found out, nan­ny­ing for the su­per-rich isn’t as ful­fill­ing as it first seems

If you could make £100,000 a year in a job that in­volved lux­ury cars, travel and rent-free liv­ing, you’d con­sider it, right?

That was the con­sen­sus when an ad­vert for a nanny made the head­lines this week. The job, posted on child­care.co.uk by an un­named woman, was to care for four home­schooled chil­dren who live be­tween Lon­don, Bar­ba­dos, Cape Town and At­lanta. The suc­cess­ful can­di­date would also have ac­cess to the fam­ily’s suite of cars (Porsche, Range Rover, Maserati) and meals cooked by a Miche­lin-starred chef. It sounded too good to be true. But where, once, child­care for the smart set con­jured up im­ages of Mary Pop­pins and re­quired lit­tle more than the abil­ity to wipe snotty noses, the modern “supernanny” has a much more de­mand­ing role. Look be­yond the perks, and a dif­fer­ent story emerges. The new nanny must, con­tin­ued the ad, have a de­gree in child psy­chol­ogy, self-de­fence train­ing and be “per­fect” in every way.

Herein lies the truth: potato-print­ing just won’t cut it. The su­per-rich want high-fly­ing su­per­nan­nies; think MSC from Oxbridge, the abil­ity to ski, horse ride and suc­cess­fully coach lit­tle Amelia or Otto ahead of school en­trance ex­ams.

When Gwyneth Pal­trow ad­ver­tised for just such a nanny in 2011, the suc­cess­ful can­di­date needed to pos­sess a clas­si­cal ed­u­ca­tion, be flu­ent in at least three lan­guages, play two in­stru­ments, be pas­sion­ate about sail­ing and ten­nis, and en­joy art his­tory or mar­tial arts. The Duke and Duchess of Cam­bridge, mean­while, hired a cov­eted grad­u­ate of pres­ti­gious nanny school Nor­land Col­lege in Bath, for Prince Ge­orge.

Un­less your CV boasts an im­pres­sive range of skills, you won’t stand a chance. Don’t know Man­darin? Don’t bother ap­ply­ing.

Pro­vid­ing you are qual­i­fied, how­ever, you could be for­given for think­ing a job like this might be a good way to travel and set your­self up fi­nan­cially. But there is no money in the world that could com­pel me to go back to work­ing for the su­per-rich.

I fell into nan­ny­ing in 2010, when I de­cided to have an im­promptu gap year after my (better than ex­pected) A-level re­sults and moved to Lon­don to work. “Find a nice, sen­si­ble fam­ily in Clapham,” coun­selled my mother. But I wanted to see how the 0.01 per cent lived.

My first in­ter­view was at a west Lon­don man­sion that looked like a ho­tel. The lady of the house was a glam­orous Russian-brit with Vic­to­ria Beck­ham’s waist­line and pneu­matic boob job. When she said one of my morn­ing du­ties would be to straighten her six-year-old daugh­ter’s hair, I laughed. She was not jok­ing. The role would also in­clude con­sult­ing on low-gi meals, and ac­com­pa­ny­ing their chauf­feur to school. Nei­ther she nor her hus­band could be wo­ken be­fore 10am. After school, there would be Ku­mon maths and both chil­dren had personal train­ers. It seemed lu­di­crous, but among this set it is per­fectly nor­mal. As last year’s Chan­nel 4 doc­u­men­tary Too Posh to Par­ent re­vealed, £1,000-an-hour Lego ther­a­pists and potty train­ing ser­vices are all on the cards.

Then she showed me the nanny’s room. It had an iron­ing board-like bed and bars on the win­dow. I got a call the next day say­ing that she was sorry, but they were go­ing with a girl who had just got an MA from Ox­ford.

A few weeks later, I found a job look­ing after two chil­dren in a Chelsea town house. I was thrilled but quickly re­alised that, along­side my nan­ny­ing du­ties, I was also a prize.

“Rebecca is English,” I heard my em­ploy­ers say, like I was that sea­son’s It-bag. In the play­ground at one of Lon­don’s most ex­clu­sive prep schools, I no­ticed more and more “naice” English girls with pres­ti­gious de­grees. After all, “our nanny was at Bal­liol” is a great line to drop at a din­ner party.

You might be won­der­ing why some­one with an Oxbridge de­gree would want to rel­e­gate them­selves to “staff ”. But even the abil­ity to speak three lan­guages doesn’t make you im­mune to the lure of bonuses, de­signer hand­bags as thank-you gifts and use of the pri­vate jet. Paola Diana, CEO of ex­clu­sive re­cruit­ment com­pany Nanny & But­ler, has called it a “mag­i­cal life­style. It’s a dream come true. They are just girls in their twen­ties.”

That couldn’t be fur­ther from my ex­pe­ri­ence. Per­haps things were ex­ac­er­bated by work­ing for par­ents who were des­per­ately try­ing to get their daugh­ter into a pres­ti­gious school. I would come home to the father bel­low­ing, “Your favourite mu­sic is Peer Gynt, not sod­ding Ri­hanna!” I was told not to speak about any­thing cul­tural or po­lit­i­cal, lest I pass on in­ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion and scup­per her aca­demic ca­reer.

They were also sur­pris­ingly tight. I had known it would be hard work, but hoped for some kick­backs. In­stead, I found my­self scolded for boil­ing pans of water on the gas hob, rather than us­ing the ket­tle. And, after hand­mak­ing the chil­dren chicken nuggets us­ing brown bread­crumbs, the mother sniped: “It would have been far cheaper to buy Birds Eye.”

Other nan­nies for the su­per-rich have had sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences. Sarah, 28, said: “I’ve worked for bil­lion­aires who will put the fam­ily in first class and have me sit in econ­omy. I’ll be back and forth the en­tire flight check­ing on the kids. They also tell you off for hav­ing the heat­ing on in your nanny flat, or ask you to shop from the econ­omy sec­tion of the su­per­mar­ket for your own food.”

Sascha, 24, worked as a nanny for a su­per-rich fam­ily dur­ing her hol­i­days from Durham Univer­sity. “They spent the sum­mer abroad,” she says. “The wife and chil­dren would stay the en­tire time, and the hus­band would fly in at week­ends. Essen­tially my job was to help them for­get they had kids. But I wasn’t al­lowed to use TV or ipads; we had to play ‘learn­ing games’. I think their par­ents liked that I was at a good univer­sity, as if it was go­ing to rub off. That said, the dad also liked it when I wore a bikini.”

A Nor­land-grad­u­ate in her twen­ties, who de­clined to be named, told me: “For some fam­i­lies, my hav­ing gone to board­ing school is a plus; they see it as pres­ti­gious. But if they are too in­ter­ested, that can be a bad sign. A nanny can be a sta­tus sym­bol. I can’t dis­close how much I earn but it is ex­tremely gen­er­ous, es­pe­cially com­pared to others my age. My job in­volves a lot of travel and I can go two weeks with­out a day off. But I love the fam­ily I work for. Some of the ones I did trial place­ments with, treated me like I wasn’t hu­man. They wanted me to be in­vis­i­ble when they were with the chil­dren – but al­ways be on call. Many want you to prom­ise not to have your own life.”

In hind­sight, it seems mirac­u­lous that I lasted six months be­fore leav­ing in the wake of a row about my re­fusal to con­stantly work over­time with­out no­tice.

Years later, when I needed a job to support my­self through my MA, I re­mem­bered my mother’s ad­vice. I found a nice, sen­si­ble fam­ily to nanny for; no pre­tend­ing to love opera, no coun­try house and no SW1 post­code. I was un­ques­tion­ably hap­pier.

Best of luck to who­ever ends up get­ting that £100,000 a year job. I’m afraid to say, I think they’re go­ing to need it.

Some names have been changed

Prac­ti­cally per­fect: un­like Mary Pop­pins, left, Prince Ge­orge’s nanny, above, is a grad­u­ate of Nor­land Col­lege

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