Are You Being Served? A Day In The Life Of A Domestic Help Goddess
Lucy Challenger set up Polo & Tweed when she struggled to find good domestic staff after the birth of her son. Five years later, her company has a client base to die for – all of whom are looking for the crème de la crème of domestic staff. Lucy tells us what a typical day looks like at the helm of her company.
The first task of the day is to look through my emails. I have been amazed at how busy we’ve been during this pandemic. When the UK went into lockdown last spring, I, like so many others, prepared to batten down the hatches, weather the storm and come back fighting when some semblance of normality returned. Much to my surprise, once domestic staff were allowed back to work in May, our phones went crazy – and they haven’t stopped since.
While sifting through client briefs and candidate CVs my phone rings. It’s one of my ultra-rich clients whose entire household staff are having to quarantine for ten days. She needs to know – literally – how to do the laundry. She has never used a washing machine before. I explain how to understand the settings and how to separate the items. You wouldn’t believe how many calls I’ve had like this over the last months. One woman in Chelsea called for help because she didn’t know how to change the loo roll. Another believed that antique mahogany dining tables should be scrubbed clean, and someone else took a Brillo pad to her wildly expensive roll-top enamel bath and was shocked to discover she had ruined it.
With the client calmed down, it’s time to work on one of our current projects – finding 45 butlers to fly to Riyadh later this year – Covid willing – for a music festival in Saudi Arabia. Their task will be to look after the royal family, prince and princesses, royal dignitaries and their VIP guests throughout the event, so we need people at the top of their game. This is actually the second time we’ve been given this task. Back in 2019 we had just 10 days’ notice – so it’s nice to have a bit more time this year!
Unusual requests are part and parcel of what we do. I’ve learned never to act surprised no matter how bizarre the brief is. We’ve been asked to find a female butler who is also a trained yoga expert and flower arranger. An embassy tasked us with teaching their security staff the art of silver service. Some of our clients require round the clock glam squads, from hairdressers and make-up artists to masseuses.
We’ve even recruited for a dog nanny – someone whose sole responsibility is the four-legged member of the family who is in essence the principals’ baby and gets treated as one.
After a quick bite to eat I speak to one of our butlers. He is looking for a new placement as his household is moving abroad this summer. The role of the modern butler has completely changed since the days of Downton Abbey. They have to have an impressive skill set, able to do everything from welcoming guests to planning, designing and executing dinner parties and events, chauffeuring, shopping or even fixing the loo! Small wonder that it can take years, and sometimes decades, to master the art.
Some households like a traditional approach with their butler being the head of the household; others prefer them to become part of the family. Ultimately the most coveted are those who can be extremely flexible and, above all, discrete.
Over the last decade we have also seen a rising demand for female butlers, particularly in the Middle East where it would be deemed inappropriate for a male butler to serve/work for the female principal. The term lady’s maid often refers to a female butler, and the Queen of England is perhaps the most famous monarch to still employ countless lady’s maids in her service. After all, who wouldn’t like help running a bath after a long day, or helping pick out the latest fashions to buy from the couture fashion lines?
By now it’s mid-afternoon and I receive an email from another potential client in meltdown mode. This time it’s a mother who is working from home and finding it impossible to do so while home schooling her three children. Her architect husband – also working remotely – is trying to do what he can but they have reached crisis point. We agree to find her a tutor who can do online learning with the children five afternoons a week.
Education has been a running theme for us throughout the pandemic. Even when schools were fully open during the autumn term parents were terrified their children were falling behind academically. As such perhaps the most sought after candidate on our books have been nannies with teaching degrees. The salaries they are offered have been incredible.
As the working day draws to a close, I catch up with some of my staff to find out how our online training is going. Over the last 12 months we have been training up hundreds of people around the world – from America to the Middle East – who are still in lockdown and who want to take this opportunity to re-train and open up new doors for when they can return to the workplace. With the furlough scheme still in
place in the UK and around the world, many people are seizing the opportunity to take a sideways step in their career, looking to refresh or even retrain completely. It’s exciting to see students logging in to our E-Learning portal – we even had a refugee in Africa join our full House Manager course. It’s very humbling to see people from all backgrounds signing up to enhance their education and in turn change their lives.
We offer hundreds of modules in our online training courses, covering everything from serving champagne and afternoon tea, to cleaning marble, crystal and antiques and even making the perfect hospital corner. It’s not only prospective staff who are taking advantage of these courses. Some of my clients are doing the tutorials themselves, the better to instruct their staff when they return. I really think the lockdown has led to a rise in empathy. Clients might previously have thought their staff could get through the ironing in half an hour but are now discovering it takes them a lot longer than that. A newfound respect for their staff has been established – and long may it continue!
I love how we have been able to offer new career opportunities. So many people, particularly those working in the hospitality industry, have lost their jobs. It has been so satisfying to help them put their service skills to use, albeit in a different setting.
After a long, and rather intense day, at work, I thank my team, sign off and go downstairs. To hear my son shout ‘mummy’ as I walk into the room is probably the greatest reward I’ve had all day. Home is where the heart is, but it’s my passion for excellence that drives my business to success around the world.
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