More money than time? Rent a butler

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The Independent Online

How do you fancy your own personal assistant, on hand at all times to book a restaurant, collect your dry cleaning or send flowers to your mother?

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How do you fancy your own personal assistant, on hand at all times to book a restaurant, collect your dry cleaning or send flowers to your mother?

A rash of new enterprises have emerged to assume the dreary burden of everyday tasks such as doing your cleaning, ironing, cooking or buying birthday and Christmas presents. These lifestyle services are targeted at busy metropolitan people with more cash than time. Until recently, they were primarily offered by specialist agencies and certain credit cards; now they are available on insurance policies.

Axa Assistance is supplying its "concierge" lifestyle management service through a growing number of organisations, including its sister company insurer Axa Direct, and American Express Centurion and Platinum card-holders.

If you have a home or motor insurance policy with Axa Direct, you may have access to the concierge package. Services include gift and flower delivery, restaurant guide, messaging and courier service, hospitality and ticketing, and even yacht hire. It also offers flight, hotel and car hire, assistance for lost or stolen traveller's cheques, credit cards or passports, cash transfers, home delivery of traveller's cheques and an emergency interpretation service.

From next year, customers of insurance company NFU Mutual who take its high-net-worth buildings and contents household insurance policy will have automatic access to the Axa concierge service. The deluxe version is on the American Express Platinum and Centurion charge cards. Services range from scuba lessons in the Red Sea and best seats for the FA Cup final to entry into private clubs and prestige restaurants. The service also includes a 24-hour travel service, including flights and accommodation bookings, inter- national private banking and extensive travel insurance.

The service does not come cheap, and obviously, you also have to pay for what you get. The Centurion Card is targeted at "customers who range from captains of industry to entrepreneurs, and stars of sports, stage or film". Simon Hancox, director of client development, says: "We will try to organise anything, if it is legal or moral. We recently spent three months planning a wedding in Morocco for a customer."

Axa also recently arranged for a wealthy chief executive to give his daughter a special birthday present, a personal repeat of the scene from the Diet Coke ad where the muscular window-cleaner flexes his biceps outside an office full of admiring women. It even hired the actor from the original TV commercial.

"Luxury has a new significance in today's society," Mr Hancox adds. "The traditional image of something rare and élite is disappearing as people plump for a more pampered existence. There's more to do, more to spend, and people are happy to pay for services to ease the path to the good life."

Those with between £1,000 and £3,500 a year to spare can hire their personal assistant through lifestyle management companies such as Liberate 365, TenUK and Jennifer Juniper. Jane Ginnever, owner of Manchester-based concierge service Jennifer Juniper, says it offers members access to a "domestic personal assistant". They do not live in, but you can ask them to do anything from picking up a prescription, finding a plumber or helping you buy a car. They will even deliver a freshly-cooked meal to your fridge to be heated later.

The cost ranges from £75 to £300 a month. "Our customers are typically professionals working hard and either committed to their careers or their business," Ms Ginnever says. "We take on the routine domestic tasks, allowing them to spend time relaxing or with their family." One unusual recent request came from a professional photographer who asked his domestic PA to find a black hen for a photo shoot in Manchester. "This was one of our more bizarre requests, but within an hour we had found 400 black hens near Crewe," Ms Ginnever says.

Liberate 365 offers its Freedom service for £1,200 a year, which founder James Hickman describes as your "best friend, butler and PA rolled into one". It also has more limited lifestyle services for £480 or £120 a year. Freedom has several hundred members in the London area. "We can arrange anything from a quick European weekend break to a three-week honeymoon including skiing and a week on the beach, for no extra charge," Mr Hickman says. The service is also offered by London property company Broadgate Estates to its 40,000 tenants across the City and West End, on a pay-as-you-go basis.

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