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The superwealthy have a new worry to keep them awake on their 1,000-thread-count sheets at night: the global butler shortage.

Butlers are making a big-time comeback as the number of millionaires and billionaires steadily grows in Canada and around the world. And, while Canadians have traditionally held tight to their hardy, self-reliant image, increasingly they are succumbing to the allure of formal domestic help.

The modern butler is not the Jeeves of yore, though. He (or she) can still fold a mean napkin and answer the door with aplomb, but many modern butlers run the equivalent of a mid-sized business, managing multiple estates in different countries, reviewing contracts and supervising dozens of staff members - in addition to walking family pets and driving the children's carpool.

"The worldwide butler shortage is a serious problem. It sounds silly, but it is," says Charles MacPherson, former butler to the Eaton family who now runs a placement service in Toronto.

"The wealthy family that used to be happy with an 8,000- to 10,000-square-foot house is now living in a 40,000-square-foot home," he said.

"To manage that takes a small army of staff."

The general of that army is someone like John Binette, former butler to the Cirque du Soleil who currently works for a family in Vancouver. His average day may include planning and cooking gourmet meals, light housekeeping, having luxury cars detailed, dealing with contractors and renovators, organizing the wine cellar, chauffeuring his clients and supervising other household staff.

All while anticipating his clients' needs and discreetly blending into the background, of course.

"You have to be attentive, you have to listen, you have to understand the first time they tell you something, because repeating is not something they like to do," Mr. Binette says. "A butler's aim is to please - to do whatever is physically possible and morally responsible."

Salary for a novice butler may start at about $50,000; more seasoned butlers can command $150,000 or more in Canada, and far more in New York or London, says Mr. MacPherson, who's also vice-chairman of the International Guild of Professional Butlers and teaches at the International Butler Academy in the Netherlands.

"It's a role of diplomacy and service," says Mr. MacPherson, who taught a refresher course this week for the two dozen butlers on the Queen Mary 2. Requests for butlers, along with personal chefs and head housekeepers, have increased dramatically in Canada, he says. "There's more demand today for domestic staff than there has been in the past 100 years."

Mr. Binette started his career cooking and cleaning for a businessman who had had a stroke. From there, he worked for a succession of families in progressively grander homes. His toughest job, he says, was in a house where the staff were always fighting.

"Oh, it was every day," he recalls wearily. "You could hear them all the way from the west wing."

He offers no horror stories of screaming clients, perhaps because, after 10 years in the business, very little bothers him.

"Clients are clients," Mr. Binette says. "You take a lot with a grain of salt, and you get on with your job."

Mr. Binette is moving to Toronto this summer, and hopes to work for one family that has a 150-acre, 18-bedroom estate in Ontario plus several other houses in the region and homes in Florida. If that doesn't work out, he has four other interviews lined up with families seeking butlers.

The role of the butler has evolved continuously, from low-level servant in charge of the wine cellar and beer-making in the middle ages, to head of the household staff in the 19th century, to near-extinction in the 1960s and 1970s.

In the modern incarnation, the butler is a household manager and personal assistant rolled into one.

The current butler boom springs directly from the growth in global wealth.

The number of millionaires (assets measured in U.S. dollars, houses not included) grew 8.3 per cent last year to include 9.5 million people worldwide, according to the 2007 World Wealth Report published by Merrill Lynch and the wealth-management firm Capgemini.

In Canada, 248,000 people counted themselves as millionaires last year, up 6.9 per cent from 2005.

Mr. MacPherson says the greatest demand for butlers in Canada comes from Toronto, followed by Montreal and Vancouver. Torontonians like their butlers on the more formal side, dressed in business clothes if not a three-piece suit, while employers in Vancouver and Montreal favour the khakis-and-polo-shirt look. Despite the oil money in Calgary, he says, butlers haven't really taken off there.

"Calgary is still very traditional, old Canadian, where you have one housekeeper and the wife does everything else," Mr. MacPherson says.

Of course, just because you can afford a butler doesn't mean you have the faintest idea what to do with one.

Three years ago, Steven Ferry created the International Institute of Modern Butlers, based in Florida, in response to what he saw as slipping standards. "People were renaming their pool attendants 'butlers,' " he tsks.

Since then, he's found that potential employers often need training as well.

"They tend to say, 'Okay, we've got a butler, let's give him everything to do,' " Mr. Ferry says. "It's certainly fine for a butler to roll up his sleeves and clean toilets or muck out stables, but an honest-to-goodness butler is really a manager. They should be managing people who muck out stables or clean toilets. ... It's sort of like using a Rolls-Royce to tow a U-Haul."

Most people would be better off towing their own U-Haul, says Lynda Reeves, president of Toronto-based House & Home Media. She dismisses the current butler craze as "a stupid concept."

Ms. Reeves says she can count on one hand the number of Canadians who have enough money and property to warrant a true, Remains of the Day-style butler. As for the rest, she says, "it's a pretentious name for a housekeeper. ...

"They're trying to create an aura of elitism," Ms. Reeves says. "People have a lot of money, and that's all."

Regardless, the butler boom shows no signs of slowing. And, as butlers move into the modern era, they're trying to unload some of that elitist baggage.

Mr. Binette says many families prefer to call him a house manager because they fear "butler" will sound snobby.

Mr. Ferry says a supercilious, sneering butler has no place in today's homes, however grand. A modern butler puts everyone at ease, Mr. Ferry says. "One has to have a lot of compassion and tolerance."


The butler files

Think you have what it takes to be a butler? Charles MacPherson, former butler to the Eatons and a butler instructor, explains how to deal with three challenges:

Oops! How do you remove strawberry stains from white cotton?

Stretch the fabric taut over a bowl and pour boiling water over it. The stain should dissolve.

Yikes! You see a houseguest slipping a silver picture frame into her purse. What do you do?

Proceed cautiously. Above all, you don't want to make a scene and embarrass your employer. Approach the sticky-fingered guest quietly and say something like, "Excuse me, Mrs. Jones, I noticed you have borrowed the picture frame that was on the mantel; I'm sure you noticed it was broken and you want to have it fixed. Thanks so much, but I've already made arrangements to have it repaired."

Ka-ching! You're the butler and confidant to a beloved, glamorous princess who dies tragically in a car accident. Should you write a tell-all book?

No. Paul Burrell, the butler who wrote two books about his 10 years of service to Diana, Princess of Wales, is a butler pariah. "He would not be accepted by any butler organization in the world, because of his book," Mr. MacPherson sniffed.

Of course, Mr. Burrell has not recently asked for membership in any butler association, but as any butler could tell you, it's the principle of the thing.

Rebecca Dube