‘Mavis’ and ‘Lorna’, those delightful Bowling Ladies, recently heckled Anthony Lugo-Sharpe at the Topp Twins performance at Baycourt. Asked what he did for a living, Anthony replied ‘private butler’.
“You’re a private butler? Who do you buttle for, the bloody Queen?”
After asking the audience if anyone in the audience had a private butler – they didn’t – ‘Lorna’ declared there was no such thing.
Turns out, there is. In the 21st Century, does a private butler really exist outside of ‘Downton Abbey’? “Absolutely”, says Anthony. “We’re everywhere.”
He believes everyone should have a private butler, and is keen to disavow the belief that only the aristocracy and celebrities have them. “Those who have a busy lifestyle in the executive world, they might need a bit more organisation; that’s where we come in.”
Anthony’s days are never the same, and it’s not just cooking, cleaning, and ironing shirts. “I hand-made all the bricks and then built an adobe house, spent eight months planning and ran an 8000-seat wedding for an Asian royal family, oversaw a large construction project for a major international pop star, and planned and ran several US presidential events.” Whatever somebody else’s wishes are, a private butler is able to do it.
Although not common in New Zealand, many private butler schools are popping up overseas in the wake of British drama series ‘Downtown Abbey’, with nearly 200 agencies opening in New York this year.
“Those people don’t actually know the industry,” says Anthony. “It’s a quick money spinner and a lot of fly-by-nighters.” Some schools run courses churning out ‘private butlers’ in as little as four weeks. Anthony raises an eyebrow, as well he should. According to him it’s not a simple thing to become an international calibre, properly qualified private butler.
“I was headhunted by the Queen and Queen Mother’s personal butler and chef of 25 years, Josephine Ive, the principal and trainer of Magnums Butlers International, a renowned industry veteran in the world of luxury service.
“I then spent three-and-a-half years training one-on-one with her.” He’s not prepared to make public his list of clients, but it’s impressive and includes A-list Hollywood actors, royals, and high-ranking politicians.
To Kiwis gearing up for a summer, where the only dinner table etiquette is making sure the tomato-shaped plastic bottle is full of sauce, the lengths a private butler goes to when setting a table may seem bizarre.
“Everybody has their placing at a table. If you have a 100 guests, you need to put the correct people in the correct place.
“It can take three to four weeks to correctly plan and seat that table,” says Anthony. But in some societies and cultures, an entire diplomatic mission can be blown by the wrong table setting, or the wrong table seating.
Anthony once catered a “small gathering” for 600 in the USA with a Moroccan theme. Moroccan crockery. Moroccan spices, Moroccan food. Moroccan belly dancers. “We filled a plane up with all the food, all the entertainers, everything we needed, and flew them over from Morocco.”
That’s how the other half lives.