So farewell then, Mary Poppins

Last week's kiss between Prince Charles and Tiggy Legge-Bourke made man y people wonder less about the role of the modern royal and more about the role of the modern n anny.

Profound shivers must have passed through many an old-fashioned nursery last week when the Prince of Wales was photographed kissing his sons' 29-year-old nanny, Tiggy Legge-Bourke, on the ski slopes at Klosters. No mere peck on the cheek, this was an arms around the shoulder, eyes closed, affectionate kiss. But did it indicate, as some tabloids suggested, a romantic involvement? Or does it merely reflect a change in the role of the nanny?

Once upon a time, a nanny knew her place. In her heyday, between 1850 and the Second World War, the classic British nanny achieved a delicate balance between loving mother- substitute and disciplinarian within the nursery, and higher ranking servant whenthe parents were present. Nanny always knew when to withdraw. Boundaries between upstairs and downstairs, between mother and surrogate, were clearly observed.

Or so the theory goes. But even Mary Poppins, that consummate British nanny whose spoonful of sugar is now a symbol of nanny love and common sense, ended up upsetting the social order by marrying the children's widowed father.

Jane, once employed by a single father and now working for a nanny employment agency, understands. She says: "When a mother is absent through death or divorce, a growing affection is a harmless consequence of a difficult situation. You obviously get a lot closer than you would if the mother was there as well.

"After all, the father is trusting you with his most precious possessions. You are working in a home environment, you're a stand-in mum and everyone should be able to express their emotions physically. There was nothing wrong with that kiss at all. TiggyLegge-Bourke has not crossed any boundaries."

Jane is one of an estimated 30,000 nannies in this country, according to the organisation Parents at Work. Once the preserve of the upper classes, most are now employed by middle-class professionals; and while some agencies do offer male nannies, the vast majority are female and aged, on average, between 18 and 25. Their main contact where there are two parents involved, however, is not with the father, but the mother.

This is a different kettle of fish. The rivalries and competition that may emerge as two women vie to fulfil the role of mother to one child, natural to one, surrogate to the other, can create an emotional minefield. Neither has absolute authority and the balance of power constantly shifts, particularly in the case of the first-time mother. The sometimes guilt-ridden parent can be torn between an irrational jealousy of her stand-in and concern for the well-being of her child.

As Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy, author of The Rise and Fall of the British Nanny, points out, the influence of Nanny on a child's character was far-reaching. Today's parents do not want their children to grow up yearning for Nanny's reassuring, warm bosom, metaphor for the maternal love that children of the aristocracy were traditionally denied.

There is little chance of today's nannies forging the lifelong bonds that the likes of Churchill took to his grave. On the death of his nanny, Mrs Everest, Churchill mourned "my dearest and most intimate friend". Mrs Everest shared her bedroom with Churchill for the first eight years of his life. Such devoted proximity would not be considered by modern-day nannies but, like au pairs, those that "live in'' are often encouraged to become "part of the family'', to get close, but not too close.

Good, professional nannies - the ones that nanny-traumatised parents will do anything to keep - like their old-fashioned predecessors, know all about territorial boundaries and how to observe them. But as one lady-in-waiting has pointed out, Tiggy Legge-Bourke "doesn't count as a nanny, because she is a family friend. What's more, the princes are far too old to have a nanny''.

Whatever the reality of Tiggy Legge-Bourke's role and relationship to the royal household, public consternation at Prince Charles' display of affection belies a nostalgia for the mythologised nanny in uniform - the emotionally restrained, sexless figure who, in a nun-like annihilation of identity, gave up both Christian name and surname, adopting instead her employer's name.

"The old nannies were very careful not to take over from the parents," explains Lady Lloyd, daughter of the Earl of Airlie. Now in her seventies, she was brought up by a nanny, as were her own three children. "I am not very good at little children at all. My husband and I had to go on very long work trips, sometimes two months at a time, and I knew those children would be safer with Nanny than they would be with me. She would have died for them."

Today's nannies are not looking for jobs for life, says Louise Jenkinson, marketing officer of the Norland College: "The nanny working for one family for 30 years is a thing of the past. Today's nannies get married and have families of their own." That may be the case, but nannies are still expected to be committed and devoted. Quite how committed and devoted is a source of great tension.

"My last nanny, Mary, who was 18, set out to replace me,'' says Rosanne Wilson, a graphics designer with an 11-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son. "She built up an intense and immature relationship with my daughter and she herself was very juvenileand excitable. There was a sense that my daughter was being taken over.

``Nannies know you should be doing their job yourself. They know you know you should be doing it. Mary turned on the emotional screws and made me feel that I should be at home, rather than working. I felt paranoid and excluded. If I hadn't been sharing her with another mother I would have sacked her, but it was very difficult to find a rational reason to do so."

The maxim ``Nanny knows best'' hovers like an axe over parents: one false move - a pay rise denied, being late home once too often, refusing to purchase a mobile phone - and the blade falls. You are blacklisted by the nanny networks where wages are compared and horror stories exchanged in the parks and cafes , highlighted by the BBC's new drama, Tears Before Bedtime. And so the quest for the perfect nanny, the kind, loving, stimulating figure who must replace you, but not be you begins once again.

Since there is no national register for nannies - unlike childminders, they are not covered by the Children's Act - word of mouth is the only route for exasperated parents. Demand for top-of-the-range NNEB-qualified nannies trained at the Oxbridge of nursery nurse training colleges - Norland, Princess Christian or the Chiltern Nursery - far exceeds supply. Twenty Norland nurses leaving college last Christmas, for example, had a choice of some 200 jobs paying between £120 and £500 per week.

Still, 14-hour days with no extra pay, being paid in pence by the quarter-hour, having nothing to eat, being treated like a servant with no life of one's own, are common complaints. The fact that widowers think you are "fair game'', which was 29-year-oldJenny's latest experience, is par for the course." Jenny wanted to leave, but stayed for the sake of the children.

While nannies sometimes stand accused of being control-freaks bent on alienating the mother, many have the best interests of the child at heart. "After being a nanny for two months, the mother would return home from work with open arms," recalls one. "The daughter would scream, `I hate you, stay away from me, I just want to be with Sarah!' as the mother walked into the room. It is very embarrassing, particularly since you try your hardest to prepare the child for the mother's return."

Every story of the employer from hell can be bettered, in the eyes of the parents who trust a "stranger'' with their child, by ones about the nanny from hell. The nanny who force-fed the baby; the one who turned a three-year-old boy into a violent delinquent; the one who left a little boy crying in the playground after a fall, his nose pouring with blood; the alcoholic who stole money from the children's piggy bank; the one who refused to leave; the one who did leave, but with your husband - the list isnever-ending.

"Oh, for the old-fashioned nursery nanny!'' sighs the modern parent. And oh, for the old-fashioned parent and old-fashioned ways, sighs a 79-year-old former nanny who worked for two ministerial families. Of Prince Charles and Tiggy Legge-Bourke's kiss she is unequivocal: "I disapprove of such behaviour. I was never that familiar with my employer. I kept my place and they kept theirs. The family chatted to me but never put an arm around me or anything like that. It was easier that way."

All names of nannies and their employers have been changed.

News
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
people70-year-old was most famous for 'You are So Beautiful'
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballLatest score and Twitter updates
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
The US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

    £17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

    The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

    The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

    £30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

    Day In a Page

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'