Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mr. Jagger, Your Tea is Served

Boris Roberts has known people in pretty high places.

He drops names and titles like the King of Spain, the King of Greece, the Prince of Japan and Mick Jagger.

But they're not his friends.

Because Roberts is a master butler.

We interviewed Roberts, a distinguished-looking man with a gentile British accent and manner and bright red master butler jacket, because once a month
he hosts an afternoon tea and a talk on etiquette at the Grand America (click here for more information).

He explained he always maintains a professional distance with his clients. Even after his service has ended.

He related the story of a butler colleague who went to a function also attended by a previous employer, the late Princess Margaret.

She asked him to dance. Most unusual, Roberts said, but "you do as you're told."

The two started dancing and talking and the butler asked, "How is you're mother?"

She said, indignantly, "Do you mean the Queen?"

"He slipped," Roberts explained. He should have said "Her Majesty."

The dance abruptly ended.

A butler needs to exercise discretion and tact.

There was the time another butler friend and his employer went shopping at Nieman Marcus. The employer selected a turquoise shirt and a pair of pink pants.

The butler held his tongue.

And then employer asked, "What do you think?"

"Sir," the butler asked, "Would you like a frank and honest opinion?"

He said, yes.

Only then could the butler, tactfully, explain the error of his fashion ways.

What's a butler to do, Roberts asked hypothetically, if he's called to the master's bedroom and finds the man of the house and his mistress, both in the buff?

Simply address the man and look right past the woman, he said, as if she doesn't exist.

Has that ever happened to you, I asked.

A thoughtful pause and then a grin.

"Not exactly."

I didn't ask for details. That might've been impolite.

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