NINE TO FIVE

Name

Karen Bent, 33

Occupation

Butler

Salary

pounds 18,000

Address

Worcester Park, Surrey

A female butler? Can't be many of them around

There are four of us, actually, here at the Lanesborough Hotel in London, all from the north. Guests are bowled over at having a lady butler.

What do you wear?

The same as the men - a black bow-tie, grey waistcoat and tails - except we wear a pin-striped skirt rather than trousers.

So what do you do? Wander around with a silver tray?

Not exactly - we unpack luggage, organise the laundry, even pop out to buy underwear from Marks & Spencer... We are allowed to do anything for a guest as long as it's legal.

Ooh la la! Would you like to expand on that?

Well, once I suggested and organised a surprise birthday party for a businessman who was staying here with his wife. He got really upset that his wife hadn't made her normal fuss of him in the morning, then as he went round the city he discovered that each meeting had been cancelled. He was really fed up. But we'd arranged to empty all the wardrobes and fill his bathroom and corridor with 30 to 40 of his friends and family. I've never seen a man cry so much. He said it was the nicest thing that had ever happened to him.

You're lucky you didn't give him a heart attack.

I am a trained first aider.

That's OK then... what else?

Last week an American gentleman showed me a speech he'd planned and asked what I thought. I tactfully told him it was awful and pointed out the things that would not go down well here, then I made him rehearse it. He told me afterwards that I'd been a pain in the arse. I've been called worse.

Do guests ever get over-familiar?

Occasionally - I just laugh it off and leave the room. Besides, I'm married.

Is the lucky man a butler too?

No, Steve is a head chef in the City. We married eight years ago; I told him life with me would never be boring. Often we work different shifts so have to communicate by writing notes to each other.

No patter of tiny feet then?

No. Two years ago I got breast cancer. Of course you think why me? Then I thought someone's got to get it. I carried on working during the chemotherapy. The other butlers and the hotel were fantastic. It was a difficult time though - my father died six weeks before and we lost one of Steve's relatives and it all happened as we moved into our new house which hadn't been touched since the Seventies. We've decorated it since, in bright, warm colours which reflect our characters. When you have an experience like this you don't take things for granted and you appreciate what you have.

PETER CROSS

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