Real-life Jeeves is back in fashion

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The Independent Online
EIGHTY YEARS after the writer P G Wodehouse created Jeeves, the "gentleman's gentleman" is back in vogue. This is the year of the freelance valet.

Almost extinct in recent years, the valet, that most superior of servants, has found a new class of employer. Once he would have worked only for the gentry, now "new money" pays his not inconsiderable salary.

Forget Upstairs, Downstairs - these days it is upwardly mobile professionals who pay their "man" to organise their wardrobes.

The modern valet will have 50 or so clients on his books and will spend most of his time collecting clothes and shoes from their homes for cleaning and repair, visiting as often as the customer requires.

He will shop for presents, order new clothes, chauffeur children to school and families to their country cottages.

"There is a growing trend towards the use of valets by the nouveau riche, especially those who work in the City and Dinky couples - double income no kids yet," says Vincent Burke of the London Chamber of Commerce. "The increase in valets is symptomatic of the kind of lives modern business people live: they work long hours and haven't got the time or the energy for basic chores."

Stephen Haughton, a 34-year-old entrepreneur who set up his own valet business nine years ago, holds the keys to many of his clients' homes so that he can attend to their wardrobes even when they are not at home.

His clients include Cartier managing director Arnauld Bamberger and former Jamaican diplomat John Pringle. A typical customer will be a 40-something City worker.

Hudson's, a London company running a valet service, predominantly for City workers, has taken on around 20 new clients in the past few months.

"They are successful business people who have decided they don't want to polish their own shoes, rather than sons of Lords who don't know how to," said proprietor Andy Gillett.

"Our clients range from restaurateurs to advertising and marketing high- fliers, more than half of whom are single," he added. And in a radical break with tradition, many clients are women.

Bertie Wooster received the cold shoulder treatment from his man Jeeves when he dared to wear a red cummerbund in public. While Jeeves "shied like a startled mustang" when he saw the get-up, Wooster rationalised, albeit wrongly, that "you can't be a serf to your valet".

These days, says Mr Haughton, clients are happy to respect their valet's clothes sense when he shows an understanding of their requirements.

They also pay the kind of wages - around pounds 20 an hour - which were unheard of in the days of Upstairs, Downstairs. Mr Haughton insists this is a reasonable rate. He claims his valets provide a service far beyond the abilities of most modern domestic servants.

"Many of my clients do have butlers, but it is quite galling to think that these people are employed full time and can't even sponge a suit or do up a pair of shoes quickly," he says disparagingly.

"Whatever my clients want I will cater for and they will wear whatever I lay out. A client can go to his wardrobe any time and know everything will be there for him."

Mr Haughton's first client was life peer Lord Chadlington, chairman of International Public Relations. Lord Chadlington, who splits his working week between New York and London and spends his weekends in the country with his wife and four children, says he has found Mr Haughton's services invaluable.

"I had never used a valet before but the cost has been more than repaid by the fact that my suits and shirts have lasted much longer because he has looked after them so well."

Another client, the unmarried chief executive officer of a company involved in the selling and purchasing of corporate jets, said he swore by Mr Haughton. "The speed of turnaround and attention to detail meet my very fussy requirements, but he also has a personal touch which sets him apart," he said."The reason people make money is so that they can have a hassle-free life and that's what Stephen provides."

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