The trouble with nannies

As Sienna Miller has discovered, a nanny can be a dangerous thing. Lazy, greedy, or just too beautiful to be trusted, Helen Kirwan-Taylor admits she has suffered them all
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The Independent Online

The news that Jude Law had an affair with Daisy, the weekend nanny to his three children by ex-wife Sadie Frost, only serves to reinforce my long-held views: that nannies are the enemy.

Celebrities may have slews of publicists to keep their image in check, but still many couples have had their private lives brandished across the headlines thanks to a disloyal and greedy nanny. Nannies are a different breed altogether: they're usually young, passing through and, despite what the agencies may promise, very little is known about them when they pitch up at your front door.

By and large, the nannies who get sent out to the homes of the rich and famous tend to be qualified and experienced, but the smarter the nanny, the more likely she is to know how to milk the celebrity for everything they are worth. This can be financial (making ever more ridiculous demands because, like Law's nanny Daisy, you quickly get used to the good life); it can be because they fancy you (actor Robin Williams ended up marrying his); or it can be to advance their career.

Just as dangerous is the nanny with the big mouth who ignores the confidentiality agreement she signed and promptly tells her next employer and what's more, all of her nanny chums, all the lurid details. My maternity nurse, hired at great expense from an agency, had arrived directly from Rod Stewart's house in Los Angeles. For two painful months, I was talked through every detail of their lives - and I never even asked.

My husband and I both work, we have two boys, aged 11 and nine, and over the past 10 years we have employed nannies. Though none of mine has actually slept with my husband (at least that's what I think), they have made my life hell. At one point, my husband didn't want to come home for fear of another emotional deluge from me about what the nanny did or didn't do that day.

Most I have employed have not only been indiscreet, disloyal and lazy, but also resentful of our lifestyle, which happened to be subsidising theirs. After all, how many entry-level professionals are offered free accommodation in some of the best parts of town with the use of a new BMW and with their food, taxes, insurance and telephones all paid for? Come to think of it, how many uneducated professionals with no real experience to speak of can hope to take home the equivalent of £40k at the age of 23? One of my nannies bought herself a five-bedroom house with her earnings. I reckon she had more than I did.

Our first nanny, The Australian, was beautiful but seemed to have factor 20 between the ears. I had to show her that coffee cups go in a dishwasher (not in a sink for someone else to wash up) and that children, like plants, benefit from conversation. The only thing that perked her up was her monthly copy of Glamour magazine. My husband, however, found constant positive points, mostly because she did things for a bikini that few models can. She lasted six months and had it not been for the suntan lotion brain I would have been far more worried about my husband.

Things were slightly alleviated with the arrival of the celebrity nanny who arrived straight from Noel Gallager and Patsy Kensit's household. In her last job, a multitude of staff, limousines and trips on Concorde were at her disposal. When we went to Heathrow, she headed for the first class lounge. But she was a star. Later, when we knew each other better, she admitted she had taken a huge income cut to work with me; she had also moved in, having been accustomed to her own flat and her own sports car. She was out of our league and I spent my whole time trying to impress her - but there was nothing I could do that was going to provide anything near the glamour she was used to. Although she stayed a year, she eventually left me for Nicola Horlick.

The thing about nannies these days is that they know their rights almost better than lawyers. They know the market rates down to the penny and even the most complex EU regulation is memorised along with their contract's terms and conditions. I realised this when I hired a male nanny/PA whom I later put to work on my book Home UK. On the day the manuscript was due, he deleted a whole file (it was his job to transfer, collate and save documents). Most of the entries had to be rewritten, IT experts were called, everyone came to help, except him. The only communication I had was an invoice. I refused to pay for the day that he deleted the file.

A week later, I received a summons to attend an employment tribunal. His argument was that he wanted to be paid for the hours he worked, whether or not he (a) deleted a file or (b) burnt down the house in the process. My lawyer friends advised that I should pay up and, as it turns out, he had done this all once before to a celebrity.

The all-time worst nanny we employed was our last. This time we went to the trouble of putting an ad in The Lady magazine, which is quite a risky move. But the woman we found was a former school teacher, which we thought could be useful with our older son.

My husband and I interviewed her for two hours, but with hindsight the signs were already there. She said she wanted to leave teaching because of the long hours. The fact that she got four months off a year didn't seem to matter. The pay was too low, the conditions too harsh, etc. It was agreed she would live in and the salary was confirmed at £50 more per week than we had intended to spend. As soon as she moved in and it was time to pay her salary, she pointed out that "babysitting wasn't included".

Soon enough, she was in tears. She couldn't live in, she said, it was too difficult. We should have figured out by then that tears were just part of her grand manipulation scheme, but being pleasers, we found a rental flat. At this point, she had her own car, a flat in Notting Hill with a huge drawing room and several hours during the day to go to the gym. Still, she complained that it was all too much. It became quite clear that she hated me and the family (at least she was too fat to tempt my husband). When she finally did leave (not before writing my husband a poisonous note) we decided she was the last nanny we would employ.

And what was our solution? We now employ a Portuguese housekeeper who says "no problem".