Prince Charles’ former butler shares his wisdom.
From new job descriptions to tackling social media, things have changed for the modern day butler and life isn’t quite like Downton Abbey ’s Carson. The Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall’s former butler Grant Harrold, who founded the Royal Butler School, shares his 10 top tips for aspiring butlers today.
1. ROLE: The role of butler is now often referred to as ‘house manager’. This is a descriptive title which summarises the modern day role of the butler. An ability to manage other staff, household budgets and finances, jobs which are closer to that of a PA or private secretary may also be required alongside the more traditional role of ‘gentleman’s gentleman’. Applicants should ensure that they are suitable for a position, and it is suitable for them, before applying for it.
2. APPLICANTS: As society steadily becomes more accepting of gender equality and eschewing of the stereotype, the role of butler in the modern age is as open to ladies as it is to gentlemen, not forgetting those who prefer not to be defined as either. The abilities and character of the applicant are the priority, not the gender. Generally the butler plays an important role in the house and life of their employer, so be prepared to be flexible in order to fit in with their way of life.
3. DRESS CODE: Unless stated by their principal or wearing location / activity-appropriate clothing, butlers always wear a suit, shirt and tie. They should never wear tails outside formal events, nor should they wear top-hats, cravats, bow ties, dress shirts or anything else which parodies the traditional butler image. This suit, in well tended condition, should be worn to interviews. Good personal grooming is also very important.
4. CHARACTER: The character required for the role of the modern butler are simple. Honesty, loyalty and discretion are of paramount importance. Natural intelligence and initiative are valued, and all of these are more important than experience or learned skills.
5. CV: It is vital that (and this applies when applying for any job) although applicants will naturally highlight their best abilities, no lies are told on the CV or application form, and this rule extends into the actual role. It is unlikely that you would pretend to be able to drive a car if you had never driven before, so don’t mislead a prospective or current employer when it comes to your skill set or you could find yourself in very hot water and out of a job.
6. REFERENCES: References are essential. If an aspiring butler has no experience then we recommend searching for a work experience position whereby they would receive board and lodgings, but no salary. This should then generate genuine experience and – crucially – a reference. If this isn’t possible, then character references from ‘upstanding members of the community’, rather than your pals down the pub, will help with the application.
7. INTERVIEWS: The interview process may start with a telephone conversation, which could lead to a series of interviews with existing staff before finally meeting the principal. As with most job interviews, do a little research on the employers, understand the role for which they are advertising, and prepare answers to questions which you think may be asked. Remember to keep all responses positive. Good eye contact, a firm (not crushing) handshake, and good posture will all give the best first impression at an interview.
8. THE JOB: Be upfront about anything which is making you feel uneasy, or your ability to perform a job. Good and honest communication with employers and colleagues can avert awkward situations and disaster from striking. This is particularly true during the first few weeks of employment, and at this early stage you will not be expected to know everything so is the perfect time to absorb the rules and running methods of the house. If in doubt, always ask!
9. BOUNDARIES: Always remember that you are an employee. Living closely with others can lead to great and long-lasting friendships with your employers and fellow staff, but never lose sight of the reality and your position in the household. Don’t be over familiar with your employers or their guests.
10. AMBASSADORS: The majority of companies hope their staff will represent them on and off-duty, and this is equally true of private households, and the need for discretion can be even more pressing. The use of social media should be strictly limited to when off-duty and never feature employers or any aspect of their lives. The British are known worldwide for social protocol and etiquette, and upholding these values both privately and publicly is part of the role of the 21st century butler.