Modern-day Butlers: an insider’s view
"I am firmly committed to the Palace and can't see myself moving away anytime soon."
The rise of newly-rich millionaires across Russia and China, along with the international success of Downton Abbey, has meant that the traditional butler is now seen as something of a status symbol across cultures that wouldn’t have understood the concept the first time round.
This time round, though, the role of butler has changed from the archetypal image of silver service and decanting wine to a more non-specific role of freeing up their employer’s time to carry out their personal and professional affairs, as well as managing complicated systems like high-tech security and supervising the paying of bills for an estate.
But what is it actually like to work as a modern day butler? Thomas Lambert recently secured a job working for the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, after taking up a place as a trainee at Blenheim Palace. It doesn’t get much more ‘high society’ than that, so OX caught up with Thomas to find out more about this famous but largely forgotten profession.
How did you decide that household management was the career you wanted to pursue?
I wanted to work in household management because I have always been interested in great houses and the families that live in them, so to be part of running and maintaining a house, especially one as significant as Blenheim Palace, is the perfect career for me.
How has the role of a butler changed over the years (or centuries)?
Whilst the role of a butler has changed in many ways over the centuries, the fundamental principle has always remained the same - to serve the family or individual that employs you. However, as the demand for domestic staff has dwindled over the previous century, the butler (and in my case, the under butler) have taken on other responsibilities that usually would have been reserved for other members of staff - for example, the head butler and I do many of the duties that would have been done by a valet (pressing shirts, polishing shoes etc).
What is unique about working at Blenheim Palace?
Blenheim is one of the most formally run households in the country, only the royal households and perhaps a few other great houses still operate in such a traditional away, so one of the most unique things about Blenheim is that it is still being run in essentially the same way as it has been for centuries.
What happens in a normal day at the Palace?
Depending on the time of year, our days can be very different. During the shooting season, when Their Graces are in residence for a lot of the time, we spend our days serving the Duke and Duchess and their guests. For us, these days revolve around the different meals. The guests will have breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner with us - all of which have to be quickly prepared for when they have gone out shooting. On these days we start at 7am and finish between 11pm and 1am. When we don't have guests in the Palace we spend our time ensuring that the Private Apartments are always ready for Their Graces. So we spend this time doing a lot of silver polishing, cleaning and general household tasks.
What has been your most proud achievement since starting out?
One of the first lunches that I ever served at Blenheim was attended by His Royal Highness, the Duke of Gloucester. To be able to serve a member of the royal family was a huge honour, as I am very much a committed monarchist - so that is probably one of my proudest moments.
What has surprised you the most about your job?
The most surprising thing has definitely been the variety of tasks that we have to do. At one moment we can be serving members of the royal family dinner and the next we can be mopping a floor or cleaning out a sink. I should say that obviously serving VIP guests is incredibly exciting, but I still enjoy my job when we are doing the more mundane tasks (see above!) because it is those that really keep the place running smoothly - and that is the most satisfying feeling.
What do you plan to do in the future?
Although I have only been at Blenheim for 10 months, I am firmly committed to the Palace and can't see myself moving away anytime soon. It is a tradition (or a goal!) for butlers and under butlers to stay in their posts for their lifetimes and as each butler retires, the under butler takes the helm and uses the skills that they learnt in their career as the butlers assistant to keep the household running. This is certainly my ambition.
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