English butlers wanted: China and Russia ask for Jeeves

Shift in wealth from west to east has seen more butlers answering calls from Chinese and Russian clients.

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BELFAST // English butlers, synonymous with Reginald Jeeves in the novels of PG Wodehouse, are answering more calls from super-rich Chinese and Russian clients as wealth shifts between east and west.

The Guild of Professional English Butlers has trained 20 per cent more butlers this year than last, placing them with clients as soon as they are ready, according to Robert Watson, head of the firm in southern England, last week. The number of domestic staff registered with Greycoat Placements has trebled over the past three years, said Debbie Salter, the managing director.

"Demand is outstripping supply," Mr Watson said. "We deal with people who often are cash rich and time poor. The credit crunch did affect things for a time, but before you get rid of the butler, get rid of the Ferrari."

Sara Vestin, the director of Bespoke Bureau, Peek-a-boo & Cupcakes Domestic Staff & Nanny agencies in London, said her company trained 52 butlers this year, up from 20 last year, and they all got jobs. The highest paid placement was for a £101,500 (Dh582,000) yearly salary in the UAE, she said.

"Everyone looking for a job who is accepted on the training with us, will get a job," Ms Vestin said. "There are a lot of people looking to hire butlers and there is a shortage of them, so for us it's a win, win situation."

As Europe struggles with a debt crisis and the US tries to revive its economy, burgeoning growth in emerging markets is boosting spending on luxuries like never before, and creating opportunities for more people to look after them.

"We have been doing a lot of business in China particularly," said Robert Wennekes, the chairman of The International Butler Academy, which trains students in formal white gloves and tails at a castle in the Netherlands. "Every month for the past 15 months, I have been travelling from Amsterdam to China to service our clients there."

Mr Watson estimated that his company trains more than 1,000 butlers per year and around a fifth of those go into personal service for the wealthy, with the remainder at hotels.

Demand for placing butlers in the homes and yachts of the wealthy increased about 20 per cent this year, according to Sebastian Hirsch, the owner of Butler For You, a company registered in Berlin placing household staff across Europe. Mr Hirsch has 30 per cent more butlers on his books this year.

Butlers undergo a month-long training programme that includes instruction on food and wine service and "second guessing" what their employer wants, said Mr Watson. It costs trainees about £8,000 pounds for the live-in package.

The role of the modern butler is now closer to that of a personal assistant, helping organise an employer's diary, as well as offering advice on etiquette, with discretion a must, said Mr Watson. Discretion is vital since Paul Burrell, butler to Princess Diana, revealed details of her life following her death in 1997, Mr Watson, a former butler, said.

Greycoat Placements, also based in London, has about 20,000 people on its books - three times more than in 2008, Ms Salter said. Butler placements by the company grew about 20 per cent this year over 2010, she said.

Demand has been driven partly because of a growing number of Chinese clients needing butlers for their second homes in London, said Laura Harrall, a director at Greycoats.

"Asia is coming up pretty strong now," Mr Watson said. "We are getting lots of enquiries from these Chinese who are sitting on piles of money. They are discovering that if you spend 8 million dollars on a villa with marble flooring, you need someone to come along who knows what they are doing."