September 17, 2009

There is a mordant Eskimo proverb that says a good butler is worth at least three wives. The only trouble being I’ve never heard of an Eskimo with a butler. Gianni Agnelli had two he couldn’t do without: Pasquale, until he reached 40, and then Bruno, until the “avvocato’s” death. I inherited mine from the Agnelli household. His name is Andrew Rolleston, and he is an Aussie—along with the Kiwis, the Poles, and the Germans, in my Pantheon of best people. On his first day of service, I was having dinner with the mother of my children in Cadogan Square when the telephone rang. “No, Mr Smith,” I heard Andrew say, “Mr Taki is dining and he will ring you back.” “Who the hell is Smith?” I asked him when Alexandra was out of earshot. “It was a lady—Francesca—and she wants you to call her…” said Andrew. “We are going to get along magnificently,” said I, and we certainly did.

Andrew packed a suitcase like no other, took care of matters like a Jewish grandmother, and deflected embarrassing situations like a Spartan shield. He was my man Jeeves for ever. My children loved him more than they cared for me. He played football with John-Taki, helped Lolly with her homework, kept the female cooks happy by servicing them well and regularly, and then one day announced that he had made his pile and wanted to return to Melbourne and buy a hotel-restaurant. If Keira Knightley or the deputy editor of the Speccie said this to me, my tears would not be as real as the ones I shed once Andrew told me it was curtains. “Of course, I’ll stay until you find a suitable replacement,” said Andrew while I wept and lay in my bed Marguerite Gautier-like.

Then he and my divine secretary, Fiona Garland, conspired to have me murdered by hiring a Scots killer who was posing as a gentleman’s gentleman instead of doing hard labour in some jail up north. The killer lasted one week, enough time for Andrew and Fiona to say goodbye after a riotous party thrown by yours truly in their honour. I have never been able to find Andrew’s equal—not even close—except when I hired Daniel, a young German, as a cook three years ago. Daniel was not only very attractive, he was also mad about girls, a fact that made the mother of my children rather nervous, but filled me with expectant happiness.

Two summers ago, in Porto Heli, off the Peloponnese, with Alexandra in Gstaad and the children gallivanting somewhere in Europe, Daniel put his magic to work. He picked up four female sailors, two of them quite beautiful, and brought them on board. The evening was a great success until neighbouring boats going off for a morning sail began to hoot their horns as they watched me and my crew dead drunk on deck trying to fondle fellow sailors.

Daniel, too, broke my heart when he decided he wanted to travel and see the world. “What’s there to see?” I told him. “There’s nothing but vulgar oligarchs and semi-criminal sports stars out there.”

And speaking of sports stars, Serena Williams showed her real stuff last week when she physically threatened a lineswoman and used the F-word to emphasise her threat. I’ve always been wise to the Williamses, the whole clan. They rely on intimidation against players as well as umpires and referees, and are very quick to play the race card. What’s even more disgusting than her behaviour is the dishonesty of it all. La Williams knew she had lost the match—the wonderful Kim Clijsters had her cold. So Williams attacked the lineswoman on match point against her to somehow deprive the brave Belgian of a clean victory. Typical Williams. Then she denied doing what she had done, called it no big thing and refused to apologise, while showing her Nike logos throughout, which is appropriate. A good lesson for any black ghetto kid coming up the tennis ladder. Intimidate, insult, cheat, and then lie and lie again. That’s Nike, folks, sport’s original bad-attitude people. And it shows what professional sport has become. The US Open committee allowed her to play in the finals of the doubles two days later, instead of suspending her for at least two years. But back to butlers.

An English friend of mine, Clive Gibson, told me this apropos my whining about losing staff. A French butler once said to his mistress: Madame la comtesse, we have cleaned and polished the tiles, dusted every room in the ch”teau, have polished the furniture, and have Hoovered the Aubussons, as well, of course, as serving all the meals. Now we would like to go to our quarters. La comtesse: Mais bien sûr, et pendant que vous vous reposez, faites l’argenterie. (Of course, and while you’re resting, polish the silver.)

It is a tough world out there without good help, as Roman Abramovich has just discovered. This bum thought he could climb Kilimanjaro using 150 baggage-handlers, probably carrying him to the top. He didn’t reckon with the breathing problem. Good butlers can perform miracles, but breathing for you is not something they excel at. Kilimanjaro 1; Oligarch 0.


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