How to land your dream job! Behind the scenes with a real-life butler

Alongside rising uncertainty, countless cancelled plans and more time spent staring at the four walls of your house than you’d care to remember, the last two years of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have also given the jobs market a proverbial kick-in-the-backside, with many companies required to shift the parameters of their roles to fit the ever-shifting safety requirements.

With all this extra COVID-induced time on people’s hands, many employees have taken the opportunity to reflect upon their current roles and ask themselves key questions, such as: ‘Does this job make me happy and fulfil my ambitions?’, ‘Where will this job take me in five years’ time?’ and, perhaps most importantly, ‘Am I doing this job because I want to, or because it is something that I am expected to do?’

Having this conversation with yourself can be the first step towards realising that there is an immense range of satisfying career opportunities out there, many of which cannot be found through the traditional routes. One such opportunity which may not have crossed your mind? Becoming a butler.

Here we speak to John Pettman, Founder and Managing Director of London-based Exclusive Household Staff, to discover his top tips on how to enter and get ahead in this prestigious career path.

Describe your route to becoming a butler

My own route in was pretty unusual. After six weeks on a City & Guilds general catering course in Broadstairs in Kent, I was called over by my lecturer who asked me: ‘How would you like to work for Buckingham Palace?’ He was a semi-retired page working for the Queen. Then during my college education, the master of the household called me and asked if I could go and work at Sandringham. It was just before my 17th birthday and I was serving breakfast, lunch and dinner to the whole royal household!

Upon finishing college (a term early), I was headhunted to work for the British Ambassador in Paris, where I spent 4 years.  I then worked privately for a few families abroad before moving back to the UK and managing a 28-bedroom manor house with a 200-acre estate, supervising all of the staff there at the age of 22. At 31 (2012), I founded my business, Exclusive Household Staff , followed by the Exclusive Butler School in 2017, and Exclusive Nannies in 2021, which utilise my 20+ years of experience in this field.

How can I become a butler myself?

There are a number of routes to take. You could go to catering college as I did – there are lots of these all around the UK and will give you that base of cooking and serving which can be transferred to positions in private residences, hotels, restaurants, yachts and so on. As a non-profit part of my business, we run an Academy at Broadstairs College alongside their 2-year course to help upskill the students in restaurant service.

The second route is through work: you could try and get a job somewhere like Buckingham Palace or an Embassy, or you could go and work for a five-star hotel. Particularly in the Middle East, there are a lot of butlers looking after guests at these hotels, sometimes even on a one-to-one basis.

Finally, there are also residential butler training courses available: we actually run one three times a year. This is only two weeks long but trains students as far as possible up to the standard I’ve been taught from my work at the Palace.

What are the key qualities you need to succeed as a butler?

The number one thing is discretion, I never name previous clients or their guests, as that needs to stay confidential.  Appearance is also very important, it is an unwritten rule, but you’ve got to look smart. With some clients, their decisions for hiring people are 50% based on that first impression, before you’ve even spoken.

 You need to enjoy talking to anybody at any time, and be confident in any environment. You need to treat everybody the same, from the Queen down to other household staff. . You are in someone’s home, where they let their guard down, so you’ve got to be a certain type of person: honest and trustworthy.

How is the salary?

Your entry-level butler could earn around £25,000, and it goes up to £40-50k+ with more experience. The top butlers are earning £70k+ but they don’t always start at that. They might start on £50,000 and are now on £100,000 because they’ve proven their worth and the family can’t live without them.

Finally, is it just men that can be butlers?

Absolutely not – we have seen a huge surge in female butlers over the past 10 years. Donna, one of our company butlers, was one of the first female butlers at Buckingham Palace. She has travelled the world and had an amazing career. I would say, however, that it is a single person’s game. It is pretty hard to have a family around with the demands of this job.

Want to discover more?

The role of being a butler is varied, interesting and hugely rewarding for the right person. If we’ve piqued your interest and you’d like to look for the latest butler openings, take a look at our Villa Recruit jobs listings today.

By Georgia Tindale