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Clarence McLeod, North America’s sole guilded butler, plans to begin teaching courses in the rarefied service at the Azuridge Estate Hotel in Priddis, Alta., in April. (Chris Bolin For The Globe and Mail)
Clarence McLeod, North America’s sole guilded butler, plans to begin teaching courses in the rarefied service at the Azuridge Estate Hotel in Priddis, Alta., in April. (Chris Bolin For The Globe and Mail)

Booming butler business leads training program to Alberta’s Azuridge Estate Hotel Add to ...

International students flying into tiny Priddis from as far away as Azerbaijan and Qatar will, among other things, learn the discretion required to fold panties from the suitcase of a macho client.

An increasing population of superrich individuals who crave their own version of Downton Abbey’s Carson is creating a burgeoning employment opportunity for butlers and a business opportunity for Clarence McLeod.

Mr. McLeod, the only guilded butler in North America, plans to begin teaching courses in the rarefied service of a different era to up to a dozen students at the Azuridge Estate Hotel in April.

To meet demand, academies that teach the finer points of personal service are cropping up around the world. The International Butler Academy, which offers instruction at a Netherlands castle, has a new facility in China, based in a private mansion. Meanwhile, the British Butler Institute has or will be launching franchises in India, Italy, Mexico and Singapore.

Now, Alberta is also heeding the call of the 1 per cent of the 1 per cent.

Tucked away in the trees of Priddis, a tiny hamlet almost an hour’s drive from downtown Calgary, Azuridge Estate Hotel seems an unlikely destination for students who will fly in from as far away as the Arabian Peninsula.

Priddis has a population of just 1,594 at last census, but Azuridge Estate Hotel has attracted such celebrity guests as filmmaker Steven Spielberg and actor Don Johnson. With its team of eight butlers, the hotel offers an extreme level of high-end service, under the perfectionistic eye of general manager Mr. McLeod.

Mr. McLeod noted if there were a motto for being a butler, it would be the same as the proverb attached to the fabled three wise monkeys: hear no evil, see no evil and say no evil.

“I remember unpacking a celebrity’s undergarments, a very macho male, but he wore panties,” Mr. McLeod says. “You don’t know what you’re going to find when you unpack someone. Poker face comes into play.”

Mr. McLeod has built a career around his poker face. He has achieved the rank of guilded butler – meaning he has trained in the Victorian style appropriate to service for royalty – and once worked with the Queen’s royal court, travelling on her Jubilee visit to Winnipeg in 2002.

During his 25 years of work for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts Inc., he established butler departments in hotels from London to Dubai, Shanghai and Jaipur, training staff and creating operating procedures.

In Washington, he fine-tuned his protocol skills while attending to statesmen and -women, including Ariel Sharon and Colin Powell. He also buttled to Hollywood celebrities. “Susan Sarandon was my favourite.”

Under Mr. McLeod’s tutelage, students will learn skills such as the perfect shoeshine, closet organization and settings for a five-course meal. He will also teach the essential attributes of a good butler: how to be tactful and observant while multitasking. There will be instruction on proper storage and presentation of cigars and cigarettes.

“If you take Jordan, for example, where smoking is the order of the day, it’s something that would come in very handy,” Mr. McLeod says. “The Middle East is like walking through a smoke haze.”

The role has evolved, becoming more complicated since the days of Downton Abbey.

“The traditional Victorian butler was in charge of the household, the footmen and the chamber maids,” Mr. McLeod says. “The role has grown to organizing travel plans, helping the lady of the house plan a party and smooth running of the household, rather than just the components of the room.”

That’s why his training program will include insight on event planning, wine, champagne and mixology.

However, the most salient feature of being a successful butler hasn’t changed – the necessity of possessing a lofty level stoicism.

“If your principal’s mistress is coming for the weekend, it’s not up to you to be judge and jury.”

The school is to open April 10 after being delayed from last fall because visa applications from some of the students were held up. Priddis was the natural place to open – Mr. McLeod is the general manager and chief butler at Azuridge. The five-day course isn’t cheap: Five days of tuition come at a price of $6,000, which includes transfers from the Calgary airport, meals, lodging at Azuridge and course materials.

Four men and one woman, a salesperson for a luxury car brand, will be the first graduates.

The only other butler academy in Canada is Charles MacPherson Associates in Toronto. More home-oriented than McLeod’s hotel-based course, the school offers a four-week butler training program three times a year, with a maximum of 12 students.

Not only is the demand for upscale personal care growing globally, Charles MacPherson believes it is also increasing in Canada.

“It’s hard to be accurate [on the number of butlers in Canada], as many people who do this job are called house managers, personal assistants, et cetera, but it is easily above one thousand across the country,” says Mr. MacPherson, who has authored two books on the subject.

For Mr. McLeod, the distinction between butler service and a guilded butler is similar to the difference between a waiter and a certified master sommelier. His course will not offer accreditation, but the goal is for students to impress Mr. McLeod enough to inspire him to present them to the British Butlers Guild.

“You know when you’re in a university fraternity, and someone has to pledge you?” Mr. McLeod asks. “It’s very similar to that.”

In Canada, graduating butlers fresh from school can expect annual wages in the $50,000 to $60,000 range, climbing to $75,000 within five years. After 10 years, according to Mr. MacPherson, butlers can look forward to six-figure salaries.

Meanwhile, international earnings can be even higher. In Europe and the Middle East, there are anecdotes of new butlers being hired at six figures, while tales of butler poaching among wealthy colleagues are legendary in China, where a British accent can fetch a hefty income.

For that earning power, home butlers must be prepared to be flexible, adapting to the needs of their “principal,” as their client is called. Hotel butlers, however, can look forward to more of a set schedule.

Despite the salary potential, Mr. McLeod stresses that a desire to offer excellent service must be the true motivator.

“If you think you love people, but you’re not sure you love people, it’s not the profession for you.”

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