These days, butlers are fresh-faced, well-dressed and by his employers’ side all the time

BRITAIN – In the bucolic Cotswolds region, the arrival of summer is typically marked by a migration. Specifically, the return of a rarefied group to grand country houses in counties such as Oxfordshire or Gloucestershire, where preparations begin for a season of hosting guests at picnics, luncheons and events like the Chelsea Flower Show, the Royal Ascot horse races and “the tennis” – shorthand for a Centre Court box at Wimbledon.

Owners of those country estates – possibly the richest 1 per cent of the 1 per cent – of course do not handle such preparations themselves. These are relegated to butlers, whose job, like for others associated with the lifestyles of the ultra-wealthy, has evolved.

As personal assistants have been rebranded as executive assistants and childcare providers as executive nannies, butlering has become a career that involves not only polishing silver and folding napkins, but also lifestyle management.

The modern butler – also known as, wait for it, an executive butler – is still in most cases a man. But he is no longer a grandfatherly type in morning trousers who stays in the background, if not out of sight. More likely, he is fresh-faced, wears a lounge suit with a Charvet tie and is by his employers’ side whether they are at home or not.

“They’re like a private maitre d’ now,” said Mr Nicky Haslam, 84, a British interior designer and social fixture. “In the old days, the butler was in the house all the time. Now, if the family is on their yacht, the butler goes with them.”

This was not the case as recently as the 1990s, when butlers for the most part reflected the archetype popularised by characters like Hudson, from the TV show Upstairs, Downstairs (1971 to 1975); Carson, from Downton Abbey (2010 to 2015); or Stevens, from Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Remains Of The Day.

Among that ilk was Michael Kenneally, a mischievous Irish butler employed for decades by Sir Tatton Sykes, at his country estate, Sledmere, in the county of Yorkshire.

His antics were legendary. If children were visiting, he would sometimes accessorise his formal uniform with a curly-haired wig or glasses with plastic eyeballs on springs. His piece de resistance was riding through the dining room after dinner on a bicycle with a port tray balanced on the handlebars, a trick that was noted in his obituary in The Telegraph.

When he died at age 65 in 1999, his funeral drew a crowd of about 300 people, and he was buried alongside members of the family that had employed him for 40 years. On the headstone marking his grave, the epitaph simply read “The Butler”.

The profession’s evolution in recent decades is a signifier of a societal shift in Britain: What rich people want has changed because who rich people are has changed.

That group’s make-up has shifted from being primarily aristocratic families, the type long associated with traditional butlers, to include a new breed of self-made, high-net-worth individuals who have built fortunes in industries like technology and media, and who see butlers less as part of the furniture and more as a flashy accessory.

Mr Graeme Currie, 53, exemplifies the modern butler, a role that he said requires “sparkle, darling, sparkle.” He has been employed by some of Britain’s highest-profile families and was the head butler for 10 years at Weston Park, an estate in the county of Staffordshire that is the ancestral home of the Earl of Bradford and can now be booked for private events.

these days, butlers are fresh-faced, well-dressed and by his employers’ side all the time

Graeme Currie outside at Weston Park, where he served as head butler for a decade, in Staffordshire, England on May 10, 2024. PHOTO: THE NEW YORK TIMES

This summer, Mr Currie – who has tawny hair and, often, a light tan – is planning to travel to various destinations in Europe to buttle at vacation houses. In his spare time, he breeds toy poodles, some of which have competed at dog shows like Crufts.

Mr Currie is the sort of person who can whip up an espresso martini blindfolded and comprehend the precise level of froth someone might prefer for a coconut milk cappuccino. He developed such skills in part from a career in hospitality that has included jobs on the Queen Elizabeth 2 ocean liner and at ritzy London hotels such as the Dorchester and Claridge’s and restaurants like the Ivy.

“The difference between me and an old-fashioned butler is that I’ve had the experience of people paying for dinner and of always being critiqued,” he said.

Seasoned butlers like him can make around £100,000 (S$172,000) a year. The job’s starting salary is closer to £40,000.

For butlers with full-time positions, various costs – food, lodging and even fancy uniforms – are subsidised by employers. And those who work in Europe are typically afforded the same mandatory benefits granted to other workers, such as a minimum of 20 vacation days. Many develop schedules with their employers that include regular time off on the weekend or midweek to account for other days when they are expected to work long hours.

these days, butlers are fresh-faced, well-dressed and by his employers’ side all the time

Graeme Currie lays a table cloth at Weston Park, where he served as head butler for a decade. PHOTO: THE NEW YORK TIMES

Mr Currie was drawn to the profession for a reason that many butlers are: He is passionate about taking care of people.

“I’m very good at remembering who people are and what they want,” he said. “You’ve to have a whole repertoire in your brain because people ask for things they have never asked for before.”

That repertoire can vary wildly depending on a butler’s location, said Mr Niels Deijkers, managing director of the International Butler Academy in Simpelveld, the Netherlands.

He recalled a story he had heard from an executive butler who was with a family on a yacht.

“The client pointed towards the coastline and said, ‘Tonight, I’d like to have dinner on top of that mountain. Please arrange it,’” he said, explaining that the butler contacted a restaurant in the area, which “set up a table for six and flew in everything with a helicopter”. Mr Deijkers estimated that the dinner cost “around US$300,000 (S$405,000)”.

Mr Andrew Gruselle, 53, has encountered similar demands in his time working on Lamu Island, off the coast of Kenya, where he has managed grand beachfront properties with staff that included cooks, housekeepers and pool attendants.

In his typical uniform of loose cotton shirt and seersucker Bermuda shorts, Mr Gruselle has performed a range of duties: serving trays of fresh mango or papaya for breakfast; arranging water-skiing excursions; recommending fabric shops; securing reservations at the Peponi Hotel, a Lamu hot spot; and wrangling six donkeys to stage a makeshift Nativity scene at Christmas.

“When someone comes out here,” he said, “you have to be very careful that they are looked after properly and that it’s a seamless experience for them.”

Lady Carole Bamford, 78, expects nothing less of the head butler at Daylesford House, her country estate in Gloucestershire, one of several homes she resides at with her husband, Lord Anthony Bamford, the billionaire owner of the British construction company JCB.

Events held by the couple at Daylesford House are among the most coveted invitations in the Cotswolds. Earlier in 2024, Lady Bamford, who is the founder of Daylesford Organic, a popular British lifestyle brand, hosted various lunches with themes inspired by plants grown on the estate, such as snowdrops and tulips.

Leading the preparations for those lunches was, yes, Daylesford House’s head butler, whose resume reflects those of traditional butlers, in that he has been with the Bamfords for more than 20 years.

“He was with the queen for about eight years before me,” Lady Bamford said.

But his job also involves many duties expected of modern butlers too.

Lady Bamford recalled a recent lunch where the menu included lamb, purple sprouting broccoli, a cheese board, panna cotta and rhubarb bellinis.

“Who makes the bellinis?’” I asked.

“Well, the butler,” she said. NYTIMES

OTHER NEWS

18 minutes ago

Jayson Tatum unoriginally quoted Kanye West after doing his best post-title Kevin Garnett impression

18 minutes ago

E-scooters to be legal on SA roads within months

18 minutes ago

Raiders projected offensive depth chart heading into camp

18 minutes ago

Thousands of NATO troops join drills in the strategically sensitive Baltic Sea region

18 minutes ago

Tesla must face owners' lawsuit claiming it monopolizes vehicle repairs and parts

21 minutes ago

Club Q shooter who killed 5 people in Colorado Springs pleads guilty to 50 federal hate crimes

22 minutes ago

Fisker files for bankruptcy protection in wave of EV startups, moment of déjà vu for its founder

24 minutes ago

Video: Doctor issues dire bird flu warning saying CDC is 'flying blind', comparing outbreak to 'early days of Covid'

25 minutes ago

Kylian Mbappe's broken nose: Plastic surgeons say star striker may need surgery in coming weeks to avoid permanent changes to his face

25 minutes ago

Plastic surgeon charged in death of wife who went into cardiac arrest while he worked on her

25 minutes ago

Rory McIlroy feels 'resilient' after US Open loss, taking a few weeks away from golf

25 minutes ago

NHS still faces winter crisis this year if Labour is elected, warns Wes Streeting

25 minutes ago

Nigel Farage and Lee Anderson set to win seats in new Ipsos MRP poll

25 minutes ago

Africa Cup of Nations new dates threaten Premier League Christmas schedule

25 minutes ago

Rishi Sunak ‘fighting the wrong campaign’ as he puts his hopes in Boris Johnson

25 minutes ago

Apple ends its buy now, pay later service

25 minutes ago

Mets point to Grimace appearance as starting point for hot streak

25 minutes ago

From relegation to Euro 2024, Germany's Mittelstaedt enjoying his meteoric rise

25 minutes ago

Why Longer Heat Waves Are So Dangerous

25 minutes ago

Prima Facie by Suzie Miller review – Jodie Comer narrates with charisma and firepower

25 minutes ago

Nottingham Forest balancing the books as Sheffield United open talks to sign experienced defender

25 minutes ago

Copa America Power Rankings: Yes, Messi, but don’t sleep on Colombia

25 minutes ago

Sir Ian McKellen's West End show is ALSO cancelled tomorrow

25 minutes ago

2024 MLB draft: Who will Guardians take with No. 1 pick? Two-way SEC player, power hitters, more on the board

25 minutes ago

Ole Miss makes massive change to 2025 college football schedule by cancelling high-profile non-conference matchup

25 minutes ago

Heat and humidity fuels thunderstorm threat in Ontario Tuesday

25 minutes ago

Uber, Khosla, Nvidia invest in $200 million funding round for autonomous trucking startup Waabi

27 minutes ago

Montana canal siphon splits open, flooding area and threatening local farming industry

30 minutes ago

Russia ramps up deportations of Ukrainian children with ‘summer camps’: researchers

30 minutes ago

Fisker files for bankruptcy protection in wave of EV startups, moment of déjà vu for its founder

30 minutes ago

Steve Cohen is set to make a big push into investing in AI

30 minutes ago

Apple has ‘very serious’ non-compliance issues with key EU digital law, Margrethe Vestager says

30 minutes ago

What a Labour-run NHS looks like: One in 20 Welsh patients waiting A YEAR for treatment, new data shows, compared to just 0.5 per cent of those in England

30 minutes ago

Jose Mourinho names the three Euro 2024 stars he will watch with 'sadness'... including two former Premier League favourites

30 minutes ago

Hungary striker Martin Adam - who went viral for being an 'absolute unit' - breaks silence as he responds to social media comments

30 minutes ago

Video: Lala Kent reveals the man she lost virginity to looked like 'the offspring of The Rock' as she dishes details on the first time she had sex

30 minutes ago

Video: Charlotte Crosby flaunts her impressive figure in a barely there yellow bandeau bikini and heels

30 minutes ago

Video: Lady In The Lake trailer: Natalie Portman is an obsessed 1960s housewife on the run from a 'secret life' in the Apple TV+ series

30 minutes ago

Prevention task force recommends intensive counseling for kids with obesity

34 minutes ago

"We need loyalists": Far-right Freedom Caucus chairman in MAGA civil war over tepid Trump support