Butlers are as crucial a part of the English stereotype as crumpets, cricket and country lanes. But one of its leading lights says the industry needs some new blood. Anthony Seddon-Holland is The Man when it comes to butlers. He has more than 20 years' experience as a hotel head butler and trainer and has established teams at more than 50 five-star hotels around the world, including The Ritz and Claridge's.
He is also the managing director of the British Butlers Guild, an organisation dedicated to the promotion of the ideals, ethos and traditions of the British butler. Seddon-Holland comes from three generations of professional butlers. You could say he was born to it.
And Seddon-Holland looks set to perpetuate his high standard when he takes over at York's newest hotel, the five-star Cedar Court Grand Hotel & Spa, which opens tomorrow. It's one of only a clutch of hotels in the UK to have butlers. Presenting itself as a hotel "inspired by the golden age of travel and luxury", it is the perfect destination to train a new breed of personal service providers.
A former British Army rifleman, Seddon-Holland has worked all over the world, including India, Bali and Jamaica. He has worked as butler to a Russian oligarch and on the Las Vegas strip after starting as an under-footman (deputy butler) in an English stately home.
The butler department at The Grand, says Seddon-Holland, will be small at first, but it will expand. "In the sense of a five-star luxury property, the butler is a one-stop shop for guests," he says. "They will help them check in, they will help them organise a trip to the theatre, unpack their suitcase, everything."
You have to be a pretty special person to do it, he says. "You need to be flexible, be good with people and to be a good communicator." Far from being a servile or demeaning job, Seddon-Holland says it's a very important one. "I did a radio interview a few years ago in which someone asked me whether I felt like I was lacking in self-respect. I don't see being of service to people as being demeaning. People don't say the same about policemen or nurses. These are all service industries."
It's this attitude, according to Seddon-Holland, which may put young people off entering the industry. "We do have an image of being middle-aged and crusty, but that's far from the truth," he says. "It has a negative image it doesn't deserve."
There is a lot of job satisfaction to be had for someone entering the profession and, in some hotel chains, the possibility of fast-track management roles. And no two days are ever the same, he says.
The new butlers at The Grand will receive on-site training from a man who has trained some of the most respected butlers in the world and has done his bit to set the UK standard for butlers. Seddon-Holland's stints abroad and around Las Vegas are testament to the possibilities being a butler can present. But being a butler in a hotel rather than in private service can offer more job security and better working conditions. "I used to work for the third richest man in Russia," he says. "He got four hours' sleep a night and I had to go to bed after him and get up before him."
As an in-service butler, Seddon-Holland got used to working 21-hour days. "If you're in a hotel, you can do shifts and you get to meet different people. If you're in service, you never get to go home. The challenges are different and the rewards are different, but you are covered by laws which say how often and when you can work."
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* Academic qualifications aren't necessary, but most butlers have at least basic training or qualifications in hospitality or catering. See www.cityandguilds.com/ 4315.html for details
* You can study for a City & Guilds Level-2 diploma for butlers. See www.accreditedqualifications.org.uk/qualification/ 50015138.seo.aspx for details
* Visit the British Butlers Guild website for details on training, www.britishbutler guild.com/index.htm
* The Butler-Valet School in Oxfordshire offers short courses and bespoke courses in how to be a butler. Visit www.butler-valetschool.co.uk for more details
* The Cedar Court Grand in York is still recruiting trainee butlers. For more information, visit www.cedarcourtgrand.co.uk/ work-at-grand-hotel-york.aspx