Symon says butlers in high demand

Last updated 05:00 16/12/2012
Symon Kerslake
ON DEMAND: Symon Kerslake is a modern day butler.

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Symon Kerslake makes origami out of toilet paper wherever he goes. And he compulsively measures tables when setting them so people have enough space.

He's a modern version of Mr Carson from Downton Abbey, part of a 21st century butler revival.

"It's an increasing profession," Kerslake said.

"People around the world are crying out for professional butlers."

Last month it was revealed internet pirate-accused Kim Dotcom and his wife Mona each employ a butler at their Coatesville, Auckland, mansion. They were recently allowed $20,000 a month from their frozen assets to pay them, after applying to the High Court at Auckland.

Kerslake worked as a corporate butler at the British High Commission for 12 years before moving to Australia where demand for residential work is growing.

He cooks, sets tables, polishes silver, dusts, valets, chauffeurs, opens doors and plans functions but he also drives children to sports practices, takes the dog to the vet and cleans the toilets.

"I've always wanted to be a butler," Kerslake said.

"I never thought I could be one in New Zealand."

His favourite task is formal dining. "I study the dining table and notice when they haven't been set correctly.

"I measure it - doesn't everybody? - so everyone gets the right amount of space, so the plates fit well and you're not clunking silver all over the place."

He folds toilet paper into origami so it looks nice.

"Everyone knows when I've visited."

Working for high-flying business people, sports professionals and celebrities, only a handful of private residential butlers or "house managers" call New Zealand home.

Luxury hotels such as The Langham and Sofitel in Auckland and Touch of Spice in Queenstown employ personal concierges or staff with butler training.

The British High Commission and Dutch embassy in Wellington have a butler, and Government House in Auckland has a similarly skilled "house steward".

Kerslake, 46, was working in bars and nightclubs when approached for a position at the commission in Wellington.

"I was lucky. It had a cottage as part of the salary package. I wore a suit all the time so I certainly learned how to cook very cleanly.

"You want to look your best all the time in case the commissioner popped in."

Kerslake's new role is more relaxed and he gets around in polo shirts and chinos.

He works for a business couple in Melbourne at an "arty" refurbished 1888 mansion. Kerslake is single, and admits it's difficult to hold down a relationship.

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"It can be lonely. You're working 50 to 60 hours one week, to seven days a week or three days another week."

His main job is cooking for the family and for functions.

The Australian Butler School puts students through a rigorous four-week course before matching them with prospective employers based on talents and personalities.

About a third of the butlers are female, with employers increasingly preferring their attention to detail. Butlers can typically earn up to $65,000 in a city in Australia or $50,000 in New Zealand. With experience, they can earn $120,000 in Australia.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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