The Next Big Thing in Asia: Butlers

Public demand for butlers has surged in recent years, and the profession is becoming increasingly popular among would-be domestic workers

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Call it the Downton Abbey Effect: ever since the class-conscious miniseries made its world premier in 2011, everybody has wanted to live like a Crawley — or, at the very least, serve one. Not only has public demand for butlers surged in recent years, but the profession is becoming increasingly popular among would-be domestic workers. Just months after the television show first aired, Bloomberg reported that demand for butlers began outstripping supply, even as the Guild of Professional English Butlers reported a 20% increase in new trainees.

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Now the trend is sweeping across Asia, as emerging economies birth a host of newly minted millionaires clamoring for the sort of high-end personal service that only a butler can provide. But don’t think these nouveaux riches are just playing at aristocracy. In Asia, the demand for butlers may be driven by cultural expectations as much as new wealth, according to the Wall Street Journal. “You can have tens of millions of dollars in London and still wash your own car, but Asians have ah yis in their house or a driver once they reach a certain class,” former butler Tony Sharp told the Journal. “It shows status to have people attending to your household needs.”

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The needs of rich Asian households are similar to those of Downton — opening doors, packing bags, serving guests and managing staff — but there are some notable differences. A majority of butlers in Asia are women, for starters. And, while Lady Grantham might crinkle at the notion of a “weekend,” contemporary butlers don’t. They expect to return home to their own families at the end of their work shifts. Perhaps that’s why so many luxury hotels now offer butler services; while even the superrich may not be able to rely on 24-hour home-butlering, they can count on round-the-clock hotel service.

The growing demand for butlers is a blessing for people like Jim Grise, a 52-year-old San Francisco–based domestic who told the San Francisco Chronicle that he realized he wanted to be a butler at age 5, when he first saw Batman on television. Downton Abbey may be having a similar effect on a new generation — and it may not be a bad career move. While a four-week course at the Australian Butler School will cost you $5,000, an extraordinary butler can receive a base pay of $100,000 per year.

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