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Phuket: Serving tea to the Queen

PHUKET: Paul Brown’s early life was much like any other British teenager’s, until he reached 18-years-old, when it took a rather dramatic and odd turn.

By Jody Houton

Friday 24 August 2012, 06:21PM

One evening, Paul was watching a TV episode of Upstairs, Downstairs, a British drama from the 1970s that followed the exploits of an upper class family and their house staff.

While many watched the show for its glamorous depiction of upper class family life, there were others who tuned in to follow the escapades and relationships of the down-to-earth servants. Paul remembered thinking that ‘it’ looked 'interesting', but then thought nothing more of it.

“The next few days I was looking through a local Windsor newspaper and saw an advertisement for a butler position for a ‘large Berkshire home’. I applied and then about two weeks later I received a letter from Buckingham Palace inviting me down for an interview.”

Although it was more than 20 years ago, Paul remembers it like it was yesterday, “It was one of the worst hours of my life... It was daunting, I was 18-years-old and this was my second ever interview.

“I thought no way was I going to be offered something. No way was I going to work at Buckingham Palace.”

“I was incredibly nervous. I thought I answered every question wrong, at one point he noted that I was answering a lot of questions with ‘okay’, so he told me ‘You don’t say that, you say, ‘very well sir’ and I responded, of course, ‘okay’.”

However, Paul must have done more than okay, as about a month later he was offered a position as a junior footman. And Paul’s regular life in modest accommodation came to an end.

“I was based full time at Buckingham Palace, but I also travelled wherever Her Majesty the Queen went and all of her different castles – be it Windsor, Sandringham, or Palace Holyroodhouse.

But it was a while before Paul was allowed to pour a cup of tea for Her Majesty. In fact, as an interesting aside, the Royal Family actually get their own breakfast, in a sort of self-service style.

“They are quite informal in the mornings, they would make their own tea and coffee and get their own fruit and so on. Each family dines separately in their own huge rooms and houses.”

After three short years, Paul became a Senior Footman which allowed him much closer access to the Royal Family. This, Paul recounts, was perhaps the happiest time during his tenure as a Royal Butler.

“It was great, because in that era it was still very much happy families with the Prince and Princess of Wales having just got married.”

Paul says with a smile how vividly he remembers the first time he was responsible for his own work, in the role of Senior Footman, “I was in Windsor castle. I was responsible for serving the potatoes and I was told two things: don’t shake and don’t sweat.

“Of course in being told to do so, I did both... but it was okay I’m only human, as they are really.”

Although not solely because he signed the Secrets Act, Paul shirks from answering any personal questions on the behavioural habits of the Royal Family out of loyalty to his former employers.

He does admit however that they were, at times, like any of us, susceptible to the foibles of emotion and that they too were ‘only’ human.

One particular human that Paul has an obvious fondness for is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, “She was nice, very pleasant and made everybody feel at ease. Always asking ‘how you were’.

“She always called me by my first name and I thought if the Queen can call me Paul, then everybody else can.

After six years of working for the most famous family in the UK, and one of the most famous in the world, the numerous ‘fun’ parties between the 26 chambermaids and 13 junior footmen, and enjoying perhaps one of the most luxurious views in London (the servant’s quarters is located on the top floor of Buckingham Palace) he was offered an opportunity that he found impossible to turn down.

Laguna Golf Phuket

One foggy morning in November 1991, Paul was contacted by a representative of famous Los Angeles TV producer Aaron Spelling to see if he wanted to come and interview for a position of butler.

Although Paul admits he was happy at this time, he decided to go ‘just for a holiday’. He requested what he though of at that time was a ridiculously large amount (£100,000) and was surprised when they accepted.

Paul worked as a private butler for the American TV producer – famed for producing Beverly Hills 90210, Charlie’s Angels and Melrose Place – for five years and said that he enjoyed his time, albeit that it was extremely different than his time at the palace.

“I think he liked the idea of having a butler who used to be the Queen’s butler. The duties working for Mr Spelling were rather different, I had to ensure that everything was arranged and everything was in order. He also had places in Malibu and Las Vegas and I would always go with him wherever he went.”

Paul said that far from living the stereotypical ‘wild’ L.A nightlife scene, Mr Spelling was a quiet pipe smoker, but added that Hugh Hefner did live on same street.

Although he believes that most traditional butler duties are more often performed by personal assistants than butlers these days, the value of his role will hopefully never diminish.

“A good butler is both a butler and a P.A. It’s about learning how to get things done.”

He also admits that he’s ‘a butler snob’. He scoffs at those who take the fast track option of paying USD3,000 and training for 3 months. “With all the intense and extensive training I had to do to become a butler it’s not really not the same.”

“That’s one great thing about what they offer at Buckingham Palace, they offer a great apprenticeship,” he said.

An apprenticeship that has stood him in good stead and led him to find his current employment as the Executive Assistant Manager of the The Village Coconut Island.

Around five years ago he took a break from helping others, and on the brink of his 40th birthday he decided that he had had enough of what he was doing at the time – freelance butlering in the UK – and wanted to perhaps do things that he should have done as a young man, and go travelling.

This was how he found himself in Thailand. “I was perhaps the most inappropriate backpacker ever, and packed stuff that I would never use, much too formal, but I ended up giving it away quite quickly.”

Paul believes that certain butler skills help him in his role as Executive Assistant Manager, but all-in-all, running a private house and a hotel is ‘quite different’.

“In a private house, you have to make sure everything is 100 per cent perfect, if it’s not then you don’t do it. So it’s quite a different kettle of fish.”

Paul still enjoys watching re-runs of Upstairs, Downstairs, and although it is no longer on television, Downton Abbey (a fictional series set in the Yorkshire country house of the Earl and Countess of Grantham, following the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants) is.

Paul enjoys watching the hit British TV series, and apart from the difference in the time era, believes that these shows are in fact rather accurate.

Although Paul still introduces himself as a Professional English Butler and doesn’t rule out returning to the role of a butler in a private residence in the future, he is happy where he is, at least for now.


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