I think I need some lessons from Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham. I never know what to do with a butler.
Increasingly these days, luxury hotels offer round-the-clock butler service for guests who check into suites and penthouses and some, such as the new Cafe Royal in London, provide complimentary personal butlers for all guests.
I've never had a Carson at home, so when greeted by an immaculately dressed hotel butler offering to do whatever I wish ("as long as it's not illegal", as one butler explained), I am often at a loss.
A marvellous butler at London's Connaught Hotel, for instance, was eager to unpack my suitcase, press my clothing, send out laundry, shine my shoes, organise my dinner plans, sort out my IT, light a fire, prepare a cocktail, run a bath, make a spa appointment, even arrange the loan of a corgi, I suppose, if I really wanted one.
I would love to say I retired to the suite's personal library while the butler unpacked, lit the fire and mixed me a Sidecar; however, not having been raised at Downton Abbey and being an independent type, I'm not so keen on having a stranger go through my luggage, especially when it doesn't contain La Perla lingerie and Christian Louboutin shoes, which is what I imagine people who use butlers fill their suitcases with. (If I was really posh, I wouldn't care if the butler knew I wore Marks & Spencer knickers.)
Butlers are so eager to help, though, that I usually find some errand for them, such as pressing, to keep them happy. I've sworn to myself that next time I'm in a luxury hotel, I'll bring some darning for them to do.
But I'm usually so grateful for the smallest service that my middle-class roots show, and I have to say that sometimes, just sometimes, I find all the fuss a bit annoying. That's being Australian for you.
There are butlers, male and female, everywhere these days. Hotels have jumped on the bandwagon, offering bath butlers to pour you a bubble bath, soap butlers offering assortments of soaps for delicate skins, tanning butlers to bring you suntan lotion and clean your sunglasses, and even sorbet butlers to cool you down on hot days. The Rosewood Hotels offer fragrance butlers, who will bring you a complimentary silver tray of fine fragrances to sample, and the Ritz-Carlton Lodge at Reynolds Plantation, Georgia, has a barbecue butler to teach you the art of grilling.
True British butlers belong to a guild and are an honoured profession, expertly trained. More like personal assistants, they centralise the many functions of a hotel into one person. Discretion and unflappability are essential skills.
Cruise ships often enlist butlers for their suites and some of the luxury cruise companies, such as Silversea, provide butlers for all guests. These are useful butlers, on call for 24 hours. They are adept at dispensing seasickness remedies and providing comfort in the middle of the night if the seas get rough. Once, on a cruise around Cape Horn, I was attended by a good-humoured female butler who got cheerier as the weather became more turbulent. Now that I think of it, she was more psychotherapist than servant.
The most delightful butler I've yet met is Andy Fraser, the jolly tartan butler at Edinburgh's Balmoral Hotel. Yes, he is dressed in a kilt, but he is more than merely picturesque. He can organise genealogical searches for guests and then arrange for authentic bespoke tartans to be made up at Kinloch Anderson, venerable Scottish kilt-maker.
Andy can also arrange the hire of kilts, if you're in Scotland for a formal event, and will consult on all the elaborate details of dressing, such as how to tie the laced shoes and the length of kilt.
"If the kilt drops below the kneecap, it's a skirt," he tells me. So hoist those kilts, boys!
I wasn't at the Balmoral long enough to have my Tulloch tartan sorted, but Andy's on call if you just want to have a chin wag about Scottish traditions and find out more about sporrans and dirks (the knife Scots tuck into socks).
He is much more fun than a pillow butler. By the way, what exactly do they do?
- FFX Aus