Focus: Meet Jo Vickers and family: one daughter, one driver, a nanny, a cook, a couple of PAs...

We are spending more and more money on buying free time. Just one hour of it costs £35.50. Simon O'Hagan reports from the busy front line
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Jo Vickers had lost count of the number of parking tickets she had been given when she realised life would be a lot simpler if she had a driver. She already had a housekeeper and a nanny, not to mention a PA and other people helping her at the business she runs but, hell, in today's high-pressure world, who wants to waste time trying to find somewhere legal to stick the car?

Jo Vickers had lost count of the number of parking tickets she had been given when she realised life would be a lot simpler if she had a driver. She already had a housekeeper and a nanny, not to mention a PA and other people helping her at the business she runs but, hell, in today's high-pressure world, who wants to waste time trying to find somewhere legal to stick the car?

Now Ms Vickers feels liberated. She can work in the back of the car, make phone calls, read the papers and be dropped off and picked up when and where she wants. On top of that her driver takes her seven-year-old daughter to school in the morning and collects her in the afternoon.

Between the driver, the nanny, the housekeeper and her office staff, everything is done for Ms Vickers that she hasn't the time or the inclination to do herself. "They'll even change the light bulbs," she says. The only shopping Ms Vickers does is to buy clothes, and the time she saves by delegating to other people means that she can spend three or four hours at the gym each week. Naturally, she uses her driver to take her there.

Jo Vickers is not royalty. She's just a very busy woman with a public relations company to run. If Ms Vickers – whose firm, Vickers PR, numbers Sir Richard Branson among its clients – can free time by spending money, then it's money well-spent. Her attitude is typical of many professional people for whom time is the biggest luxury they can think of. Like Ms Vickers, more and more people are shelling out for a few precious moments they can call their own.

Quite what the cost of those moments adds up to is probably not something we have ever bothered to sit down and work out. But thanks to a report last week from Abbey National's online bank Cahoot, we now know that an hour's free time costs the average person no less than £35.50.

From ordering a takeaway meal or hiring a cleaner to taking a taxi or having your weekly shopping delivered, Britons spend £43bn a year getting someone else to do the job. For the childcare generation – those aged 35 to 44 – the cost of the hour rises to an average of £42.62, and it's a lot more than that for those whose lifestyles combine big earnings with maximum busy-ness. The truth is that working is an expensive business and the harder you work the more it costs to sustain the support system your life demands. Childminders, nannies, cleaners, gardeners, masseurs, ready meals, holidays ... the list goes on.

TenUK is one of a number of concierge services to have sprung up in recent years in response to people's need to farm out labour, almost, it seems, at any price. Its founder and chief executive, Alex Cheatle, began with two employees in 1998. Now he has 100. You pay a monthly fee, from £50 to £150, and TenUK will take a big burden off your shoulders.

"What you have to remember is that the idea of what's considered extravagant is changing all the time," Mr Cheatle says. "My grandmother thought buying a washing machine was a luxury. My mother wouldn't have dreamt of having a dishwasher." But taking advantage of labour-saving machinery is different from employing human beings, even if that is in some ways a throwback to an age when people who would have regarded themselves as merely middle-class thought it normal to have a cook and a maid.

None the less, some of the tasks that TenUK's clients sub-contract to it do sound a bit extreme. "I must say I'm always a bit surprised when we are rung up and asked to walk the dog," says Mr Cheatle. "I think if I had a dog, I'd see walking it as a pleasure." Then there are emergencies such as having to collect a client's dress shirt from his home, get it dry-cleaned and have it delivered to his office – all in two hours.

Marie, another London businesswoman with a young daughter, says she recently bought a car for her nanny, not just so that she could go and do the shopping but so that she could bring Marie's two-year-old to her office during a quiet hour or two – time that would otherwise be wasted while the mother made the journey to her home and back.

In an age when work-life balance is at least a theoretical goal for millions of stressed-out employees, the need to delegate to this extent sounds like a case of priorities gone haywire. Marie admits that it is time she slowed down, even if it means making less money. Alex Cheatle doesn't see it like that.

"All the research shows that people enjoy work far more than they used to," he says. "For many, it's the most important thing in their lives. You also have to remember that people only delegate things they don't want to do themselves. No parent would ever ask us to find a nanny for them. What we do is put them in touch with the best nanny agency.

"The other thing is that you're not actually losing control by buying in services. You only delegate to someone you know can do a better or quicker job than you can do yourself. People always say to me, your clients must be under so much pressure, but actually they're not. They just want to create free time for themselves when they can."

Free time? What's that?

'I'd really love a butler'

Nina Richards founded Wizard, a company representing leading cosmetics firms, in 1996. Aged 36, she lives with her husband in Battersea in south-west London and works in Mayfair.

People are good at different things. I would far rather other people did things for me that I'm no good at myself. Delegating is about quality of life.

We have a cleaner for our house in London and another who comes twice a week to our house in Kent. So that adds up to a few hundred pounds a month. In Kent, we pay £70 for a gardener to come one day a week. I probably spend £60 a month on dry-cleaning.

I would clean the house myself if I had time, but quite honestly my energies are better expended elsewhere. Who wants to spend two hours cleaning the oven? I don't have a driver. I ride to work on my scooter, and someone brings me coffee. I'll order out for lunch.

I'm lucky in that I have wonderful staff who will do a lot for me. Every day is busy. I'm in at 8.30 and don't get back home till 7.30 in the evening. I might pick up some food on the way home and I do try to cook, even if it's something quite simple. I think it's important to do some things for yourself, otherwise you end up just being lazy. But bulky shopping and household items I have delivered.

What I'd really love is a butler.

Your drink would be ready when you got home, the bath would be running. But that's just a dream.

Comments