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By Hand and Foot

Once Almost Extinct, Butlers are Making a Comeback in the Homes of Wealthy Americans
Jolee Edmondson
From the Print Edition:
Linda Evangelista, Autumn 95

(continued from page 3)

"Mr. Leigh is expecting you, sir."

"I'll fetch it immediately, sir."

Later, students pair up for role-playing. Hypothetical potential disasters involving unsavory characters are dealt with. Among the classic offenders: the Drunken Guest, the Pilfering Guest, the Prying Guest. "A butler must never be caught off guard or overwhelmed by a surprise event," counsels Weedon. "He must always be prepared."

There'll be a grand graduation luncheon at the Savoy at the end of all this. Diplomas will be handed out and jovial impromptu speeches made. Spencer will negotiate all arrangements with prospective employers, endeavoring to secure the very best for his fledglings. And he'll always be on call to butlers urgently seeking his wisdom. But even after his students have become ensconced in formidable homes, he will continue to be the hard taskmaster. With a sly glint in his eye, he concedes, "We frighten them a bit so that they'll do it properly."

A number of his graduates have gone to the States and reported back on how amiable and generous Americans are. "They think it's going to be a piece of cake," Spencer notes with a smile, "but I say to them, 'They'll eat you up and spit you out for breakfast if you make one false move. Don't ever take advantage. Ever! On anything!' "

One Spencer alumnus, who fancies cigars, works for a London-based ambassador. His duties include looking after an immense and exquisite humidor--a gift to the embassy--containing 360 fine cigars. No one would know the difference if one was purloined now and then. But early on, Spencer thunderously admonished, "Never, ever, take one for yourself! If you ever do you'll be found out and you'll be crossed off my register. You'll never work again."

Of course, the butler heeded his teacher's grave warning. "The delightful thing," says Spencer, "is that every Christmas that young man receives from his boss an absolutely gorgeous box of the finest Cuban cigars. It's such a treat for him--he used to smoke those cheap little Dutch things."

Christmas is a bountiful time for Spencer's well-placed butlers. Gifts from employers have included Rolex watches, membership at exclusive fitness clubs and flying lessons. One of the more extravagant Yuletide gestures came from a Houston couple, so very fond of their Man that they presented him with a key to his own luxury flat in their penthouse building. Attached to the key was an American Express card--he was to furnish his new apartment at their expense.

Not that all butler-boss relationships are blissful. There is the random horror story. Another Spencer grad found himself in the stormy employ of an American soap diva. In the evenings, after a long day at the studio, she was given to seeking solace in the bottle, and throwing objects--usually aimed at him. When he quit, he tried collecting the $7,000 she owed him in groceries, to no avail.

Also, butlers must cope with the eccentricities unique to the impossibly rich. Not long ago, a woman in New York phoned her butler with the instructive, "We're going to Milan." "Yes, Madame. When?" he replied. "Now," she shot back. Several hours later, when they were having tea on her private jet, he gently inquired as to why she was taking this trip when the eight pairs of shoes she had ordered from Milan were due to arrive via Federal Express the following day. "I know," she answered blithely, "but I wanted them today." The same woman often confronts her butler about overlooked discounts at the supermarket.

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