If you thought Princess Diana's PR had the world's worst job, think again. How would you like to be Madonna's childminder? Emma Cook on the joys of working for the rich and famous
In theory it sounds great - that's if you're remotely interested in lifestyles of the rich and famous. If you are, what better way to get close to them - share their privacy and see them warts and all - than to work as one of their indispensable employees? If you stick around long enough, some of their celebrity status may even rub off on you.

In reality, it never quite works out that way. The singularly unequal relationship between super-star-boss and employee-nobody is often a disastrous one, as the sorry list of work casualties testifies. A month ago, nanny Tanya Shaw got the boot from her high profile employer Sara Netanyahu, wife of Israel's new prime minister. Her ultimate crime was to burn the vegetable soup. For this she was swiftly thrown out on the street wearing just her pyjamas.

Sara was apparently a cleanliness obsessive who asked Tanya to wash her hands up to 300 times a day. Demands were never that punishing for Jane Atkinson, the Princess of Wales' PR who resigned dramatically a fortnight ago. But working for a boss who never consulted her on crucial decisions, such as pulling out of 100 charities and then blaming her for the negative reaction, made Atkinson's work impossible.

The Princess also reputedly insisted that Tiggy Legge-Bourke, PA to the Prince, should be treated as "a servant and not one of the family". Looked at this way, a job within spitting distance of a famous person is unlikely to be a dream ticket. Which is why Madonna's well publicised desire to seek a British nanny is a distinctly daunting prospect. The thought of Mama Ciccone breathing down your neck every time you change a nappy makes John Major's job description seem like a tea party.

The few ex-nannies to the rich and famous who are willing to talk about their experiences certainly share this view. They may have been party to the jet set scene but actually coping with a famous couple's foibles and eccentricities, they say, wasn't worth the kudos. Sophie, who works for a well-known nanny agency in south-east London, spent 10 months with an extremely famous rock star and his model wife. Sadly, she couldn't reveal their identity - only their habits. "Slave is not the right word, but I was there for convenience sake. If the wife was on a shoot, I had to sit and wait with her little girl for five or six hours on the sidelines," she says. "Not only was it boring but really difficult for the little girl." And all the glamorous paparazzi shots as they came through Heathrow airport were, according to Sophie, a farce. "I was like the baggage lady trailing behind with the luggage. As long as she came out holding the baby when the photographers were there, it was fine." Did she always want the limelight? "Oh God yeah. Definitely. If she was going out, a make- up artist would come round for two hours and if the baby wanted to be around her she'd say: 'Get her away I'm trying to get ready.' Everything was so over-dramatic. If she was annoyed the whole house had to know about it."

In classic showbiz style, the parents would shower their offspring with all the toys money could buy, but didn't seem too interested in spending a lot of time with her - the nanny could do that. "They'd both lie in bed till late morning and expect me to deal with the baby. Then if I was planning to take her out, it would be cancelled at the last minute because they wanted to see her." Sophie began to resent the unpredictable routine as well as their attitude. "There were stupid things like flying; they would give the baby sedatives so they didn't have to handle her on the plane. I would just laugh and say: 'I'll take her. She'll be fine.' It was constantly like that - without a doubt, I'd prefer to work for people who aren't famous."

Jane, now with the same agency, had a nightmare assignment when she worked recently for a government minister. "I was excited about working for them but I wasn't prepared for what was to come. I wasn't paid overtime and there was no food in the house - I starved most of the day and the wife seemed to exist on crisps and chips. I think she was tight with her money. When I offered to shop for groceries she wouldn't let me, yet she wouldn't buy anything in for me." Although the minister worked away a lot she found his ego difficult to deal with. "He was strange - he'd bring in the paper excitedly and say, 'Look at this - I'm in the paper today. Have your friends seen this? I bet they're impressed - they'll be talking about you.'" She found their behaviour baffling and walked out on bad terms.

Initially these "career opportunities" may offer status and glamour. But the novelty clearly wanes when the employee then has to reason with an elephant-size ego coupled with paranoia and extreme levels of self- interest. Clearly, to work well with people in the public eye there has to be an awareness that the demands and pressures will be greater. As Mark Riches, a butler who has worked for "everybody except the Pope", and who now is a party planner, advises: "Famous people do expect more. You've got to be very calm, very personable, and very patient." When a distinguished Royal guest demanded some lemon barley water and Mark failed - in her eyes - to serve it correctly, he remained unruffled. "She looked at me as if I was an idiot and said: 'That won't do at all.' Then she demanded mineral water, fresh lemon, a knife, and a bowl to rinse her hands - this was her way of preparing a soft drink."

As a butler, Mark is prepared to play by their rules and accept the servile role. "Sometimes you have to pamper," he says. "It never does any harm. There's a point one doesn't cross but you can't think that anything is below you. A little bit of subservience is what they all love."

So is personal compromise the only way to guarantee a good working relationship with a famous person? Liz Brewer, PR supreme, would prefer to call it empathy. "You have to put yourself in their shoes, understand how everyone picks holes in them or worships them," she says. "You make allowances and you make far more because of who they are." She also adds that "an extraordinary amount of patience" helps.

Max Clifford, whose clients have included OJ Simpson, Frank Sinatra and Muhammad Ali, is less inclined to placate petulant egos. "The only way to enjoy it is to have control, because if they control you, it's impossible." He claims not to be cynical, yet his view of the celebrity psyche is hardly flattering. "Almost without exception, the only thing that really matters to them is themselves. The bigger the star, the more they lose track of reality, become surrounded by sycophants and create a false world around them."

Small wonder that balancing their private life and public image can be a nightmare. Dominique Vulliamy, former aide to the Duchess of York, told a newspaper last week: "In relation to other people you deal with you have to be confident, quick on your feet. But in relation to her you have to be just wallpaper. Then you go back to your office and you're running the show again."

When Sam Deeks, a journalist in Los Angeles, worked as a publicist for an American actress, he spent all his time protecting an unbearably fragile ego. "I lived in terror because of her reaction to any news about her. She'd scrutinise all the papers and if there was anything bad in there, I got the blame. If it was good, then all the credit went to her. I used to try and hide certain papers so she wouldn't blow up at me."

At least Madonna's new nanny won't have to concern herself with that minefield. Still, she may do worse than heed Clifford's advice on the subject. "If it's a long term relationship start as you mean to go on; make sure they need you more than you need them. That's the only way it can work."

Some names have been changed at the interviewees' request.