‘He did stuff in the car you would not be­lieve’

From princesses on shop­ping sprees to celebri­ties hav­ing sex in the back of the car, chauf­feurs have seen it all. Just oc­ca­sion­ally, the se­crets spill out … David Batty re­ports

The Guardian - G2 - - Food -

In the early hours of one morn­ing, nearly a decade ago, chauf­feur Jayne Amelia Lar­son found her­self try­ing to ex­tri­cate the son of one of the wealth­i­est men in Los An­ge­les from the back of her car. The then chauf­feur had been driv­ing the twen­tysome­thing party boy up and down Santa Mon­ica Boule­vard in her Lin­coln Town car as he tried to pro­cure a “transvestite pros­ti­tute” for his girl­friend who, he said, “wanted to con­vert a gay guy”. Af­ter sev­eral hours, he threw up on the back seat and fell into a drunken slum­ber, then woke up and tried to uri­nate in the car.

“He’d been in re­hab again and again,” says Lar­son, re­call­ing the in­ci­dent that took place just weeks into her new ca­reer. “An­other driver I later met had been his fam­ily’s driver, and said the kid re­peat­edly did stuff in the car you would not be­lieve, like he went to the bath­room there be­cause he was just so wasted. And I don’t mean in a clean way; I mean in an aw­ful way.”

Even­tu­ally, the chauf­feur­ing firm she worked for di­rected her to one of the city’s wealth­i­est neigh­bour­hoods. But as she drove her client through the gates of a huge man­sion, he pan­icked. “He kept say­ing: ‘No­body loves me. Please don’t wake my par­ents. They hate me!’” As the car pulled up, an older man, whom she pre­sumes was a mem­ber of his par­ents’ staff, stepped out from the dark­ness and helped him from the car. “The guy shushed him, and said: ‘You’re home. It’s OK now.’ It was just so weird and ter­ri­ble and odd.”

Lar­son’s ex­pe­ri­ence is not as ex­tra­or­di­nary as it might seem. Be­hind the tinted win­dows of lux­ury cars, chauf­feurs have an in­sight into a world few peo­ple will see – the pri­vate, in­ti­mate space of the rich and fa­mous. In a pro­fes­sion where per­sonal re­fer­rals are im­por­tant, dis­cre­tion is taken se­ri­ously. But when driv­ers break this code, the re­sults can be ex­plo­sive.

I spoke to chauf­feurs in the UK and US who re­called dis­turb­ing in­ci­dents in­volv­ing VIP clients, from scor­ing drugs to hav­ing sex on the back seats. Last month, the for­mer per­sonal driver to the mul­ti­mil­lion­aire and Con­ser­va­tive donor Christo­pher Mo­ran told the Sun­day Times that he had been aware that there were “at least a hun­dred pros­ti­tutes” op­er­at­ing from the Chelsea Clois­ters apart­ment block owned by his for­mer boss. Tony Heaney, who drove Mo­ran’s Rolls-Royce for 25 years, told the pa­per he used to check the bins in the flats for con­doms to tot up “ex­actly how many girls were work­ing there”. The re­tired chauf­feur told the pa­per he was up­set af­ter Mo­ran al­legedly failed to thank him when he left the job. Mo­ran de­nied he knew the ex­tent of the prob­lem and his man­age­ment took a “zero tol­er­ance” ap­proach to sex work in the build­ing.

Har­vey We­in­stein’s ex-chauf­feur also went pub­lic with al­le­ga­tions about his for­mer em­ployer, say­ing the dis­graced mogul had sex in the back of his car with a wo­man who begged the pro­ducer “not to hurt her” (We­in­stein has de­nied the al­le­ga­tions). Jac­ques Chirac’s for­mer driver, mean­while, wrote a book claim­ing his boss had been a se­rial phi­lan­derer.

Chauf­feur­ing can be well paid. The an­nual salary for per­sonal chauf­feurs for ex­ec­u­tives and su­per­rich fam­i­lies in Lon­don av­er­ages be­tween £35,000 and £60,000, ac­cord­ing to Irv­ing Scott, an up­mar­ket house­hold staffing agency. Driv­ers, it says, can ex­pect bonuses for com­mit­ment, longevity and loy­alty, with dis­cre­tion and pro­fes­sional se­crecy also fi­nan­cially re­warded. Other agen­cies ad­ver­tise jobs such as a £35,000-a-year per­ma­nent role based in Knights­bridge, Lon­don, that in­cludes main­tain­ing the client’s “large col­lec­tion of su­per­cars and other lux­ury ve­hi­cles in­clud­ing a Rolls-Royce, a Bent­ley and an ar­moured Mercedes S class”; and a £40,000-a-year per­ma­nent role with a fam­ily split be­tween Lon­don and a villa in the south of France, with du­ties also in­clud­ing se­cu­rity, su­per­vis­ing con­trac­tors, keep­ing the ex­te­rior of the prop­erty empty and putting out deckchairs.

Yet for all the ap­par­ent glam­our, the ex­act­ing na­ture of chauf­feur­ing VIP clients was ex­posed last sum­mer when it was al­leged that Sir Martin Sor­rell, the for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive of British ad­ver­tis­ing giant WPP, had sud­denly sacked his per­sonal driver of 15 years in Oc­to­ber 2017. The un­named driver was re­port­edly asked, at 2am, to pick up Lady Cris­tiana Sor­rell from the ex­clu­sive May­fair restau­rant Is­abel. The driver then re­fused to re­sume work at 7am, ex­plain­ing he would be too tired to drive safely if he only got two or three hours’ sleep. The pa­per claimed the Sor­rells fired him the next day.

It is im­pos­si­ble to put a to­tal value on the UK’s chauf­feur­ing in­dus­try, which, at the top end, in­cludes per­sonal driv­ers, lux­ury ho­tel car ser­vices and small and large firms. Ac­cord­ing to Trans­port for Lon­don, there were more than 12,000 ex­ec­u­tive-class pri­vate hire ve­hi­cles – Mercedes E, S and Viano se­ries – less than five years old in the cap­i­tal in June 2017. Paul Gib­son, ed­i­tor of TheChauf­feur.com, says that, in re­cent years, there has been an in­crease in the num­ber of com­pa­nies pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity chauf­feurs, with close-pro­tec­tion train­ing for ex­ec­u­tives, celebri­ties and su­per-rich clients. These chauf­feurs are of­ten at the high end of the earn­ing bracket thanks to spe­cial­ist qual­i­fi­ca­tions such as de­fen­sive driv­ing, as shown in the BBC drama The Body­guard.

One of the best known of these com­pa­nies is Cap­star, founded by two for­mer British army of­fi­cers, Robert Bas­sett Cross and Charles Bow­mont, in 2012. The Brent­ford-based com­pany be­gan with a mis­sion to re­cruit ex-forces per­son­nel, in­cluded those wounded in ac­tion in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Cap­star has evolved into a life­style and se­cu­rity man­age­ment ser­vice, help­ing clients with their pri­vate club mem­ber­ship or buy­ing fine art and jew­ellery.

Bow­mont, a Sand­hurst grad­u­ate, is well placed to un­der­stand his clients’ needs. A Swiss bil­lion­aire’s fam­ily, who re­quired a very per­sonal round-the-clock ser­vice to man­age

The busi­ness can be all-con­sum­ing, with some jobs last­ing up to 17 hours

‘Dave Ste­wart of the Eury­th­mics in­vited me to his birth­day party. I said no’

their daily sched­ule, are de­scribed as close per­sonal friends. “I’d get a What­sApp mes­sage from her go­ing: ‘Right, my hus­band can’t take the chil­dren to school to­mor­row, can you get the guys out?’”

When Lar­son first be­came a chauf­feur, how­ever, un­usu­ally, she had no ex­pe­ri­ence of pri­vate driv­ing. The Har­vard grad­u­ate had moved to Cal­i­for­nia to pur­sue act­ing and pro­duc­ing. Years later, af­ter months with­out work, she was per­suaded to start chauf­feur­ing by a friend, with the idea that she would have lots of free time to pur­sue tele­phone and film pro­jects, and earn enough in tips to help clear her $40,000 debts. Ini­tially hired by a high-end limo com­pany to chauf­feur film stars, rock groups and Hol­ly­wood moguls to show­biz events in­clud­ing the Golden Globes and the Os­cars, she soon dis­cov­ered the busi­ness was all-con­sum­ing, with some jobs last­ing up to 17 hours.

But the de­mands of her celebrity clients paled in com­par­i­son with those of the Saudi roy­als Lar­son worked for af­ter driv­ing for a cou­ple of months. She was one of 40 driv­ers hired for seven weeks, with no days off, who were to be on call 24/7 for Princess Zaahira (not her real name), her chil­dren, the fam­ily’s se­cu­rity and their en­tourage and staff – in­clud­ing nan­nies, per­sonal as­sis­tants and do­mes­tic ser­vants. Lar­son sub­se­quently wrote a play and a book, Driv­ing the Saudis, about her ex­pe­ri­ences.

Among the most chal­leng­ing of Lar­son’s tasks was find­ing 27 bot­tles of a par­tic­u­lar brand of hair-re­moval cream late one night, af­ter a 12-hour shift. She went to 20 shops all over LA County and grabbed ev­ery bot­tle she could find. “But when I got back, I was dis­missed by the princess’s sec­re­tary, who said: ‘Oh, it’s too late.’ On an­other oc­ca­sion, she was charged with pick­ing up one of the princess’s best friends at a plas­tic surgery clinic in Bev­erly Hills. Lar­son had to wait for hours out­side be­fore a nurse dis­charged the fiftysome­thing pa­tient, but the wo­man, who was re­cov­er­ing af­ter hav­ing but­tock im­plants, promptly lost con­scious­ness. A flum­moxed Lar­son then had to re­cruit a group of nearby valets to help her lift the wo­man into the back of the SUV.

“Within a few days of not eat­ing, not sleep­ing, of chaos, of the com­plete con­tra­dic­tion of orders on a minute-by-minute ba­sis, I just re­alised that the goal here is to sur­vive,” she says. “The royal fam­ily and the up­per ech­e­lon of the staff liked to keep chaos around them to keep you on your toes. And the ser­vants were happy to let you do stuff that they would oth­er­wise have been asked to do by the fam­ily.”

Due to her gen­der and in­ex­pe­ri­ence, Lar­son was at the bot­tom of the peck­ing or­der of the fam­ily’s en­tourage and the fleet of driv­ers. She says the princess’s hair­dresser bul­lied and ver­bally abused her af­ter she was as­signed to drive him, of­fended to be rel­e­gated to a fe­male driver of the least lux­u­ri­ous car in the mo­tor­cade, a Ford Crown Vic­to­ria. Yet she in­gra­ti­ated her­self with Princess Zaahira by re­count­ing tales from the royal en­tourage’s nightly ex­ploits at casi­nos, which tra­di­tion and decorum dic­tated that a Saudi princess could not at­tend. “I would do these lit­tle pan­tomimes for her,” says Lar­son. “She’d laugh and laugh. I’m sure it was be­cause my ac­cent was hor­ren­dous, but also be­cause she was ap­pre­ci­at­ing that I got a bit of the nu­ance of all the char­ac­ters, es­pe­cially the hair­dresser. I felt as if I was float­ing on a lit­tle cloud around her.”

She was as­signed more lux­u­ri­ous cars and felt she was get­ting some­where un­til the rel­a­tively pal­try $1,000 tip she re­ceived at the end of the seven weeks dis­abused her. “It was about a fifth of the amount that the other – male – driv­ers re­ceived, af­ter I had done far more work.” Her ba­sic wage was also un­der­whelm­ing, given her long hours. “A friend of mine fig­ured out it was about $11 [£8.60] an hour, and I re­mem­ber him say­ing: ‘Well, that’s not that bad.’ And I said: ‘For an 18-hour day?’”

Gerold Wun­stel, a chauf­feur who has driven Eu­ro­pean gov­ern­ment min­is­ters in his na­tive Ger­many and Hol­ly­wood stars in Los An­ge­les dur­ing his 24-year ca­reer, says those new to the busi­ness can get car­ried away by their prox­im­ity to VIP clients. “You think you’re part of the en­tourage,” he says. “You’re just the bloody chauf­feur. Dave Ste­wart, of the Eury­th­mics, in­vited me in to his birth­day party. I said no, be­cause I’m not his friend, I’m a pro­fes­sional. You’re not sup­posed to min­gle with Elvis Costello or who­ever’s in­vited.”

Wun­stel, who most re­cently worked as the se­nior driver for the LA Phil­har­monic, re­calls how a rich Saudi busi­ness­man he chauf­feured around San Fran­cisco and the Napa val­ley wine re­gion chal­lenged this. “We hit it off be­cause he was ed­u­cated in Switzer­land and Lon­don, and spoke flu­ent Ger­man,” he says. But the client’s love of mar­i­juana tested their re­la­tion­ship. At the be­gin­ning of the job, Wun­stel drove the man to Haight-Ash­bury, where San Fran­cisco deal­ers hung out. “I had to tell him not to tip the drug deal­ers,” he says. Af­ter four days, Wun­stel re­fused to go to the area again. “I had to say: ‘I’m re­ally sorry but it’s too dan­ger­ous,’” he re­calls. “‘I’m a new guy in this coun­try. I just got a green card. If the po­lice stop me with some mar­i­juana, I’m in big trou­ble.’ Which wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily true, but I was not his drug mule.”

His worst-be­haved client was a bil­lion­aire. “I picked him up from a pri­vate air­field and he took a he­li­copter in­stead of walk­ing 200 me­tres to the car,” says Wun­stel. “With a stretch limo you have a di­vider, so you are sup­posed to not hear any­thing, but you hear every­thing. He had sex with a model while I was driv­ing. No class, no manners. He gave me a $100 tip, but that’s not the point.”

Wun­stel has driven stars in­clud­ing Bill Mur­ray, Ge­orge Clooney and Eminem. But he says driv­ing celebri­ties can be more has­sle than it’s worth. “You have to be at the of­fice four hours be­fore be­cause you don’t know when they are touch­ing down in their pri­vate plane, and you don’t get paid ex­tra. And, you know, some celebri­ties do not tip. The more ex­pe­ri­ence I got, the more I re­alised I just like to drive ‘reg­u­lar’ peo­ple, such as bor­ing lawyers or real-es­tate guys. You go from one meet­ing to an­other and work 10 hours in a stretch, and you get paid.”

Ervin Gjoni, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of EG Chauf­feurs, based in West­min­ster, in cen­tral Lon­don, agrees. Chauf­feur­ing roy­alty from the Gulf states, such as the UAE, Kuwait or Saudi Ara­bia, is much more de­mand­ing, he says, with some clients send­ing lists of up to 50 cri­te­ria their chauf­feurs must meet, cov­er­ing their dress and groom­ing. One of EG’s chauf­feurs, Manny Qor­rolli, says a typ­i­cal day in Lon­don might start at 2pm and might in­volve shop­ping in New Bond Street and Har­rods for up to three hours apiece, go­ing to a May­fair restau­rant and then to a shisha bar on the Edg­ware Road un­til around mid­night. He might work up to 60 hours a week, but some Gulf roy­als have given him £500 tips for a fort­night’s job.

For Lar­son, the ex­pe­ri­ences she gained as a chauf­feur have changed her be­hav­iour. She says: “One of the first things I do if I’m in a pri­vate-hire car now is ask: ‘How long have you been driv­ing to­day?’ I know that if that guy has been driv­ing 10, 12 or 14 hours, he’s ex­hausted. But I also make a point of hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion, even if I’m not in the mood. Be­cause I know that when­ever any­body had a con­ver­sa­tion with me, for a mo­ment, I felt like not just a lowly chauf­feur. I’m also much more care­ful in a car now, be­cause I know that the chauf­feur could po­ten­tially be clock­ing every­thing I’m say­ing or do­ing.”

Some Gulf roy­als tip up to £500 for a fort­night’s job

Gerold Wun­stel ‘You’re not sup­posed to, but you hear every­thing’

Clients want se­cu­rity chauf­feurs with close-pro­tec­tion train­ing Charles Bow­mont ( left) of Cap­star

Manny Qor­rolli and Ervin Gjoni of EG Chauf­feurs

Jayne Amelia Lar­son ‘The princess and the top staff liked to keep chaos around them’


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