Trending: The butler does it... and for peanuts

Who'd wait on the rich for less than the minimum wage? Plenty of people, says Liam O'Brien. It turns out you can get the staff these days

The cost of the British monarchy has long been a bugbear for ardent republicans. The Queen is thought to deprive the taxpayer of around £36m each year, though anti-monarchist groups claim the figure is closer to £200m. To their credit, the Windsors have made an effort to reduce their lavish spending in recent years – there have been fewer trips on the royal train, for instance – but some of the penny pinching seems a little mean-spirited.

Eyebrows were raised when Buckingham Palace announced last week that it would be recruiting a trainee butler, but those brows arched demonstrably higher when it was revealed that the candidates will be expected to work 45 hours a week for a salary of £15,000 – far below the London living wage of £8.30 per hour.

He or she will have to serve meals, undertake messenger duties and bring the Royals their breakfast trays and newspapers. There's no real guide on what they're looking for, and much of the official job description is incredibly anodyne and corporate. They need to "communicate confidently" and "work effectively and flexibly", the advert says.

And despite such small reward, the reprimands should they put a foot out of line will be severe. One footman poured whisky into the corgis' water and was given a demotion and a corresponding cut in his salary. However, 24-year-old butler-school graduate Ben Wyld, from Eastbourne, still wants the job. Currently first-class cabin crew at British Airways, Wyld wants to be a butler, "like something you might see on Downton Abbey".

A sprightly sort, he was so badly behaved at school ("I wasn't a great fan"), that he was banned from going to normal classes with his friends and finished his education at 16. But a spell at Jane Urquhart's butler school in London held greater appeal. He learned that he should call his boss his "principal", how to open a door properly and how to polish silver.

And how to do the different bed prep. "The English turn-down, the Abu Dhabi turn-down, the European turn-down, the American turn-down. And how to engage with your principal, how to ask them a question." And what kind of question might he ask? "What kind of turn-down do they want."

Wyld seems well-equipped for the more ridiculous aspects of the industry. But he's also prepared for its heartbreak. He compared the butler lifestyle to that of Stevens in Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day. In the book, Stevens's discretion and stoicism produce an emotional paralysis that to the average reader comes across as a waste. Wyld has been told that "you can feel very secluded, and you might feel very alone on some days," but he's fine with that. In fact, he's dismissive of more contemporary employers who "allow their butlers to turn up in a polo shirt".

"I'd love to get into a private family," he says, claiming that "a lot of people" use a stint at Buckingham Palace as a "stepping stone" for something better. Getting into traditional families is difficult, but "if you're talking entry level, you're looking at £20-25k, and for a butler you can pay between £30-60k". Colin Gaunt, 43, now works as a private butler with a wealthy American family in London, but he's proud of the training he received at Buckingham Palace. A Middlesbrough lad, he tried for a job with the royals at just 17, and was accepted two years later. He said the payment for the lowest butler rank isn't as derisory as it seems. "When I was 19, it was £5,000," he said. "I felt like I'd won the lottery. Everyone scoffs, but you get your uniform, meals and accommodation. Your money is just your beer money. It's not as if you have to fund a mortgage and a car. You have the palace on your CV and that's very prestigious."

Outside the palace walls, the butler's job is changing. "Some butlers do 12 hours, six days a week, and that's not unusual. You're like a one-man band," says Gaunt. "People want a butler and a valet and a cook in one person, so you do three people's jobs." In return, certain older functions are no longer required. At the Rick Fink school in Witney, Oxfordshire, learning how to buy cigars has been excised from the curriculum, though pupils still have to know how to arrange a humidor.

But the biggest change is in the clients. Russian and American families adore British butlers, and even though Americans have their own ways of being served, they will request that they be waited on in accordance with British tradition. For anyone who dreamt of re-enacting Downton Abbey or Upstairs Downstairs, though, it presents a quandary. "There's a lot of new money in London, new rich people – but there are still old-school families who've always had staff and know how to treat them," says Gaunt. "But there's a question: do you get an OK salary, or do you work with a billionaire and earn lots of money."

And since that "OK" salary appears stalled at just £15,000, there will surely be a great many hot-footing it to the nearest available new money.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Ruby On Rails Developer

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Web Developer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This an exciting opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Lift Engineer

£28000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Lift Engineer is required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: 2nd Line IT Support Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company (Microsoft World W...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible