The thankless task of caring for a Hollywood babe

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Indy Lifestyle Online
It may seem the perfect way to sneak into a glamorous lifestyle, but, writes Louise Jury, being nanny to a celebrity's child can be a nightmare.

Nannying for a celebrity sounds like fun, and a passport to the stars. The actor Robin Williams even married his.

But, as demonstrated by the bitter fall-out between Demi Moore and her former nanny, Kim Tannahill, the domestic lives of the rich and famous can be fraught with difficulties.

Miss Tannahill claims the star of Indecent Proposal was exploitative, prone to massive mood swings and addicted to prescription drugs. She is claiming more than pounds 500,000 for violation of her civil rights, which include accusations of false imprisonment and stalking.

In return, Miss Moore and her Die Hard action hero husband Bruce Willis allege that the nanny who cared for their three children, broke confidentiality clauses and fiddled expenses. They want damages in return.

The courts have to decide whether Miss Tannahill really was the nanny from hell, a failed actress out for revenge, or whether Moore and Willis were nightmare employers.

Whatever the truth, Hilaire Gomer, co-author of The Good Nanny Guide, says film stars generally have a terrible reputation as employers. "The nanny has to be tremendously strong-willed and mature to work for them," she claims.

"You're paid more to work for these people, but, boy, do you have to be there a lot of the time, and you get a lot of quick changes of plan. Needless to say, many actresses think they're God on earth and aren't as considerate or kind as they should be, and don't look at the job from the nanny's point of view.

"It is just as applicable for someone like Demi Moore to give lots of notice that she's going out, as for any other employer."

Properly trained nannies are bound by confidentiality clauses, crucial for celebrities, for whom any domestic detail might provide a salacious tabloid headline. As a consequence, most nannies, anxious for their references, refuse to talk, even anonymously.

But Amanda Suttie, who trained as a Norland nanny, recalls a brief stint early in her career working for an American pop group. It embodied all the worst of celebrity childcaring.

Miss Suttie, who formerly owned the Canonbury Nannies Agency in London, and now lectures and writes, tells how she was once telephoned and asked to help out for a few days with an American pop group on tour in London.

"They'd gone through about five nannies already. When I got there it was just unbelievable. We were in a little apartment and they said I had to sleep with the baby in my bed, not in a cot. They had no toys, and the baby was on a strange macrobiotic diet and couldn't have any milk. It was absolutely awful."

On the last night, she was invited, with baby, to the concert at Earl's Court, and went, believing it was the only way of escaping. "It was the last day of my duty, and it meant I could leave the baby with them and go home. Otherwise they didn't roll in until 6am."

Yet perhaps it is Hollywood and rock that cause the problems. Television people are just fine, she says. "I never had any problems when I ran my agency in Islington. I had quite a lot of television personalities and people who were very well-known - MPs and so on - but they were fine. They were ordinary professional families."

Yet a friend who worked for the Jordanian royal family had a very strange life, Miss Suttie adds. "It was very hard when she went on holiday on her own, because she was used to travelling first class. She travelled and lived in a completely unrealistic way for years, and when she left it was difficult for her."

In the wake of the trial of the British au pair Louise Woodward in America, many nanny agencies are unhappy about discussing their work, other than to stress that an au pair is very different from a nanny.

But Angela Hovey, managing director of Occasional and Permanent Nannies in London, says she would certainly never get a young nanny to work for a high-profile family, because of the extra pressure - just as she would not put a young nanny in sole charge of children with both parents at work.

Judith Kark, principle of the Lucy Clayton College, which trains nannies, says a nanny who is star-struck by parents or their famous friends is useless. "The nanny has to realise she is not there to associate with the star, but with the child."

Yet the story of celebrity nannies is not all bad. Nicola Horlick, the City superwoman, has called her 45-year-old nanny, Joan, "the real heroine of my story". Anne Diamond, the television presenter, has said that her success would have been impossible without a series of excellent nannies (apart from the one who attempted to sell family secrets to The Sun).

"I couldn't work without one," she told The Independent. "A lot of women wouldn't be able to get to the top of their profession without a good nanny behind them. A great nanny is an asset to the whole household." Hollywood take note.

John Lyttle is away