By Hand and Foot
Once Almost Extinct, Butlers are Making a Comeback in the Homes of Wealthy Americans
From the Print Edition:
Linda Evangelista, Autumn 95
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The Class of '95 is composed of seven Englishmen, one Swede, one Canadian, one Malaysian and three Americans. (The latter category includes--egad!--a female. Yes, the role of butler is so updated that even women are joining the ranks, albeit at a trickle. Hudson must be spinning in his grave!) And they come from all walks. Among the aspirants: Anthony Seddon-Holland, portly and courtly former security guard with thick black hair and handlebar mustache; Donald Aitken, tall, lean former banker and golf club manager who cuts the figure of a senior corporate executive; Nicholas Clayton, dapper, quick-witted former dental technician; Murdoch MacKillop, droll, pensive type--former chief steward on a globe-drifting yacht who hopes to put down roots as a butler; Johan Bergman, immaculate, square-jawed, fiercely intent young man who wears a watch fob and wire-rimmed glasses, will seek a position with a family back home in Gothenburg, Sweden, where his wife is a social worker.
Bergman seems the embodiment of the contemporary butler--innovative, savvy and hell-bent on doing things right. "I've wanted to be a butler ever since I was 13," he says. "I like working in the house. Growing up, I was always in the kitchen making sandwiches with my mother while my father and brother were working on the car. I'm not at all mechanically minded. I enjoy striving for perfection, creating an orderly home. That's what butlers do. I will always strive to be the best butler, not second best. I love competition."
Each student paid a tuition of $5,000, a pittance considering their glowing futures. Unlike the butler of old, who received paltry wages and limped into retirement a virtual pauper, today's model can expect to receive between $40,000 and $60,000 in annual income, plus benefits, room, board, a car and private medical care. To ensure job security, Spencer only places his butlers with the severely wealthy.
He tells his students, "You'll never have the kind of employer who looks at the stock market and says to his wife, 'Oh, the shares have gone down; darling, sack the butler.' "
Classes are held in a hotel conference room in suburban London. On this particular morning, the day after the Dunhill expedition, an ardent, feisty little gent named Donald Weedon--Spencer's longtime able assistant--is grilling the students on all that they have absorbed to date. A key to the school's success is reinforcement. Lessons are repeated so often that they become permanently entrenched in mind, body and spirit. Like a prizefighter, Weedon is pacing back and forth, punching out quick, terse questions and waiting for the correct response with a steely glare.
"Anthony, give me three on napkins."
"Always wear gloves when folding them, fold extra ones for silver trays and if someone drops a napkin, pick it up and give him a fresh one."
"Excellent. Tom, show me how to crumb down." Using a candy box as a makeshift crumber, Tom demonstrates the proper stroke for removing crumbs from a table.
"Lovely. Raymond, what are three things a butler never does?"
"A butler never buys drugs or procures women for his employer, and he never becomes sexually involved with anyone in the household."
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