Personal Column: Nanny to the stars

Rachel Waddilove, 58, from Devon, has worked all over the world as a nanny and maternity nurse for a string of celebrities, most recently Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Martin and their baby Apple
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The Independent Online

I was 21 when I first worked as a nanny in London. It was the 1960s and I was looking after three children under the age of three for a theatrical family in Kensington. There were lots of well-known actors visiting the house and it was a new experience for me. I'd been brought up on a farm in Kent. I found it glamorous.

I grew up in a house full of children. I was the eldest of six siblings and it was a child-oriented household. I loved babies, so working as a nanny and maternity nurse was a natural progression. I've worked all over the globe for famous and wealthy families.

It can be a strange world. Last year, I was working in a stately home in the north of England filled with beautiful, priceless antiques and artwork. Another time, I lived with a Japanese couple on a yacht in Monte Carlo. Sometimes I've wondered what on earth I was doing there.

I have met many celebrities: Jude Law, Kate Moss, Barbra Streisand, Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro are just a few names. On one occasion, I was sitting next to somebody quite famous at supper and we were chatting away then I suddenly realised who she was. I said: "Gosh, I'm sorry, I didn't realise it was you!" She just laughed and said it was refreshing. Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin are a lovely couple and great parents.

I'm pretty unfazed by celebrity. As mothers, we all go through birth. It is a great leveller. The feelings, emotions, pain and trauma of birth touch every mother. What I have seen is that life is different for the children of famous parents, compared to other children. They are not as free.

I aim to look after the baby, the mother and the father when I take on a maternity job, which usually involves living with the family for six-week periods. I help with the feeding, washing, sleeping and generally creating a routine for the baby. I also arrange the flowers that arrive, make tea for visitors, wash the baby clothes. Anything but clean the house.

I love my babies. I become very attached, particularly when they're bottle-fed. I always have them at night-time and bring the baby to mummy in bed if they're breastfeeding. Becoming attached emotionally is a natural consequence. But because I'm a mother and a granny, I'm constantly aware that these babies do not belong to me. When I first started doing the job I would get terribly attached. I still have a good cry when I leave.

The attachment of a nanny can be difficult for the mother. If you have a mother who is at work a lot, the child will be more drawn to the nanny than the mother. I would always look out for this and make sure it is discussed with the parents if it happens.

It is an intimate experience when you're working at the heart of a family and you get to know people well. With experience, you learn when you should be around and when you should leave the family to be alone. The downside of the job is being away from my own home. I'm a real home girl.

I longed for my own children. I married in my early 20s and it was wonderful to have each of my three babies. I certainly didn't want anybody else to look after them. Today, I have four grandchildren and my children often say: "Mummy, can you come and help?" and I have to tell them that I'm working.

Life as a nanny has changed. Girls today get weekends off, their own cars, and they often get their own flat with their own telephone line. Thirty years ago we'd live in with the family and work three weekends out of four. As a top-of-the- range nanny I was paid £15 a week. A top maternity nurse today earns between £100 and £175 a day.

Children do seem to be less disciplined than 30 years ago. I see a lot of over-indulged children. Often this happens when mothers work and they feel guilty about not being there so they overindulge their child materially. And there should be more parenting classes for young couples with children.

I believe that if babies are started into a structured, sensible routine in the early weeks of their lives, you're putting down boundaries that will last. Things may have changed in the nanny world over the past 30 years, but I will always have a passion and love for new-born babies.

'The Baby Book: How To Enjoy Year One', by Rachel Waddilove, Lion Hudson, £7.99. Rachel Waddilove was speaking to Danielle Demetriou