From Batman’s Alfred Pennyworth to Downton Abbey’s Carson, the British Butler is a character that has been immortalised in pop culture countless times.
Though the British model of home service has been around for centuries, it continues to rise in popularity in affluent households all over the world.
Sara Vestin Rahmani founded the British Butler Academy to meet the growing demand.
“Anyone trained in the British method has the potential to become very good,” Vestin Rahmani said to Business Insider. “In Britain we have this old-school hierarchy and military tradition that’s really important, especially because the royal family is very prominent. Other markets and other countries are fascinated by that.”
Vestin Rahmani and her team of 25 butler instructors aim to recreate that model in homes across the United Kingdom and the world. Courses are taught in central London year-round, catering to private, wealthy individuals who want to have their staff trained in the British tradition. They’ll also travel to other countries, including the United States, to troubleshoot with staffs of five-star hotels, restaurants, and even superyachts.
“We teach British butlering, but we’re a modern trade, so we’ll bring it into China, the Middle East, and America,” Vestin Rahmani said.
Butler trainees go through a rigorous training program that includes 20 different modules: etiquette, silver service, valet, wardrobe management, and pet care, just to name a few. They also learn to behave with tact towards their employers, many of whom draw significant media attention in countries all over the world.
“People who hire butlers — often the media are interested in them, so discretion and paparazzi security are very important,” she said.
Though the British tradition is globally known, Vestin Rahmani says that being British isn’t the only thing that makes a good butler.
“The most important thing is that they need to have service at heart. They’ve got to love to serve people — as long as you work as a butler you’re basically giving up your life for the sake of the contract,” she said.
Reuters photographer Olivia Harris traveled to the Norfolk countryside last July to take a closer look at what goes on during a special intensive session of the British Butler Academy that runs in the summer.
Anyone can apply for the intensive 14-day summer course, though only about 1 in 4 applicants will be accepted to the program. It costs about 3,000 pounds for two weeks in Norfolk, where trainees live in residence and practice their skills in situations that mimic real life.
“If they’re lucky or do really well we can find them a job,” Vestin Rahmani said.
Here, head butler trainer George Telford leads trainees in carrying punch and canapes during the intensive summer course.
Telford discusses the proper way to carry a cake stand with trainees.
“Each time we have meals, everything must be set up to perfection,” Vestin Rahmani said.
Telford knew he wanted to be a butler when he was just 11 years old, according to Vestin Rahmani.
“He’s worked his way up from nothing and has built a great career as a butler,” she said. “He represents us really well, also this industry that we’re very proud of.”
Posture is very important for a butler’s image.
Trainee Dwayne Cross learns how to use a feather duster.
Trainee Ben Mandeng serves a glass of champagne to Vestin Rahmani.
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