Thanks to Downton Abbey, there is a worldwide craze for butlers

Butlers: we’ve all wished we had at least a handful, but few among us who aren’t super-rich or the President know what it’s like to have their sweet, velvety hands remove our suit jackets at the end of the night. Downton Abbey is changing the butling landscape somewhat, though, by making it cool for the super-rich to employ members of a once-moribund profession. That’s right: the Downton Abbey butler craze is real.

Since DA premiered in 2010, worldwide demand for butlers has shot up higher than Matthew getting thrown from his car when the under-speeding milk truck hit it. Part of the reason for that, beyond the show’s influence, is the widening-chasm between the have-nots and the super-haves: the number of millionaires in the world, already at a record high, jumped by 10 percent in 2012, and is higher still today. And all those rich people have got to have someone pressing their silk shirts and answering their gold-plated front doors for them.

Enter the butler. Where in 1980 there were just “a few hundred butlers” left in all of Britain, today, there are about 10,000–and oodles more abroad. And, for those of you keeping tabs at home, a butler’s employer is referred to as his (or her) “principal.” As in, “My principal is a frequent sharter,” or “When I get called to the principal’s office, he expects me to discpline him. C’est la vie, I suppose. More pilfered claret, friend?”


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Of course, different butlers mean different things in different parts of the world. Having one is a status symbol everywhere, but in places like China and Dubai, where widespread astronomical wealth is a relatively recent phenomenon, butlers are like luxury cars: They’re one of the things you get to let your friends know you’ve arrived. And foreigners tend to pay better for those who butle, too. Your basic British or American butler can expect to start off at around $30,000 per year, and to have to work his way up to Head of Household status, Mr. Carson-style, over a period of years. But your Chinese and UAE-types can expect to make about twice that amount as a starting salary, and to become HoH immediately, depending on experience.

Years of subservience do have their benefits, though. It’s not uncommon for butlers to make six-figures once they’ve become established in their households. What is far less common in today’s modern era than in Downton’s is the idea of a butler sticking with one family for his (or her) entire career. Says David Katz, butler expert for GQ magazine,


…There’s a certain pride in those that do [stay with one family]. But because of the great demand, like with any great market, there’s been a lot of jumping around lately. And this kind of bugs some of the older butlers. They see guys staying with people for two to three years and then jumping to be paid more or have an easier life.


Katz also pointed out something that the younger generations tend to have more difficulty with than the servants of old, and that’s keeping one’s ego in check. “You have to believe in service as something beautiful, in itself,” he says, “and you hear [your teachers] often say ‘We serve but we’re never servile.'” Those ideas might not jive with everyday notions of contemporary America…but, then, if you’re truly concerned about suppressing your own ego in order to wait hand and foot upon someone else, you might not be cut out for the butler industry in the first place.

If you think you’ve got what it takes to try a career in this very specific, potentially quite lucrative area, there are a number of options for you. If you haven’t got a lot of service experience, you might give International Butler Jobs & Training a look. IBJT trains butlers and helps rich folk looking for butlers pair up with recent graduates; they’re kind of a dating service, in that regard.

And, if you think you’ve got bank enough to hire a butler for your primary or secondary home, you might consider enlisting the services of, which promises that it “knows that [its] clients expect the highest level of service from their household staff;” or, which looks kind of like a private detective’s web site, but assures visitors that it’s been in this business so long, it’s “slowly matur[ed] like a fine Claret! Or cheese :-)”

As for Downton Abbey, its fifth season premieres tonight on PBS.

(Photo credits: Downton Abbey butler via ITV; US Government)

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