Mary Poppins 2.0
Nannying for the super-rich
‘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