The secret lives of staff within Buckingham Palace
Working inside a Royal Palace is an incredible experience, one you cannot get anywhere else, so to better understand what it is like to work in such an incredible household we’ve interviewed two royal footmen who used to work inside Buckingham Palace. As an agency, we recruit staff for Royal Palaces as well as for prestigious Private Households. Discretion and confidentiality are paramount to us so to respect the privacy and protect the identity of our contacts, the names have been changed.
Day to day workings inside Buckingham Palace are incredibly varied, Thomas tells me, “I worked for the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh as a senior footman for many years. It’s a really multi-faceted job, one day you could be looking after military uniforms and the next day you could be wearing pink tights walking alongside the Queen’s golden carriage wearing an incredibly heavy, golden uniform that is older than the Duke and Queen themselves, surrounded by thousands of adoring fans.
Being a Royal Footman is a very flexible job. If it’s busy you’ll be working a normal shift, but if it’s a quiet day with nothing to be done, you can take the day off and enjoy the Private Staff bar inside the Palace (which has since been taken away after one too many morning drinking sessions I’m told). Thomas goes on to tell me “you might end up just working 10 mins at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, but that was the nature of the job. Many times, I’d get into uniform just to go meet a beautician coming from Harrods or one of the spas just because Prince Andrew was getting his nails clipped. I’d have to get into uniform, wait at the side door, take the poor woman who was shaking like a leaf because she was going to meet one of the royals, and then I’d have to wait for them to clip his nails and then escort her out again.”
Working inside Buckingham Palace you get to experience things you’d never even imagine. Thomas tells me one thing that really surprised him was “how up close and personal you really are with The Royal Family. Within my first day I had already met the Queen, and to think that I was at home one day and the next I’m living in Buckingham Palace, face to face with The Queen, it blew my mind.” Peter, another Royal Footman who worked at the Palace adds “occasionally, I spoke with the Queen, she is a completely open book, just as you see her. She is very kind and realises everyone is nervous when meeting her, so always does her best to make you feel at ease.”
It’s so easy when seeing the Royal Family on TV, to forget that they are real people with very private intimate lives behind closed doors which only themselves and their staff see. Thomas disclosed “the most surreal thing was actually seeing the Queen on Christmas Day, and seeing them open their presents on Christmas Eve. To watch them prepare for Christmas day was hilarious! Prince Harry didn’t have batteries for his toys, and I had to take the batteries out of my alarm clock to give to him for his Christmas presents. I was thinking, ‘how many households up and down the country have got no batteries for their toys and are doing the exact same thing!’. He adds “it’s always interesting to watch how people prepare, watching the Queen and the Duke and the whole royal family behind the scenes getting ready to go out to the public. The Queen adjusting the Duke’s naval uniform, just nice husband and wife moments, but then her getting ready to be the Queen for the public.”
Peter laughs as he tells me that once when on a night out he found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and got beaten up in the streets, he then fell asleep on the night bus and woke up in Peckham and had to find his way back to Buckingham Palace. The next day he woke up with a big black eye and no doubt a very sore head too. He was promptly told by his superior that he had to serve tea to the Queen. He said “she looked at me, and of course, the Queen would never have said anything, but you could see the horror on her face. I was so embarrassed and couldn’t understand why my line manager made me do it. I still don’t to this day!” When I asked Thomas about any shenanigans he and his colleagues got up to during their time at Buckingham Palace he simply replied, “some of our parties made the papers.” Life inside the Palace seems to be a healthy mixture of learning, hard work, and lots of fun.
Working and living as a close-knit group of co-workers, the experiences of the staff while working for the Royal Family seem to be so much more memorable. Thomas says his favourite memory from Buckingham Palace was touring Australia, New Zealand and Jamaica on the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Tour. He smiles when thinking back and says the best bit was getting to see three very different countries and sunbathing with his fellow teammates in Jamaica.
Hearing Peter talk about the inner workings of the Palace is so surreal, thinking of all the incredible people the staff get to meet on a daily basis, to the point that it becomes commonplace. He says that he enjoyed serving dinner to the President of Finland and looking after Nelson Mandela in the Belgium Visiting Suite (the same rooms President Obama and the First Lady stayed in on their recent visit). He fondly recalls that Mr Mandela was “very charming, very kind and very gentle”. Thomas reveals “I met the Dalai Lama once when all the religious leaders of the world were around the same table, and I thought to myself at the time, ‘we could end world war at this point’. Instead, Prince Philip finished the 4-course meal in about 20 mins like he normally does! Get in-get out. It’s always good when the Duke is around because you’re never working late.”
I asked Thomas how he felt when he finally left Buckingham Palace, and he replied “I felt the same amount of pride as I have now. Knowing that I was part of something that was everlasting”. “I was on the Jubilee Golden Coach, or ‘State Coach’ as it was known, and marched it out of Buckingham Palace to St Paul’s Cathedral for the Queens Golden Jubilee, it was hard to keep a straight face and concentrate and keep up with the horses when you just want to laugh and say ‘Mum! I’m on the telly!’, My Mum was immensely proud that day!”
Nowadays it takes three years to get your Footman’s Certificate. During this time you’ll be given cellar training, pantry training, valeting training, and if successful you’ll then be given your certificate by the Master of the Household. Peter says of his time there “it was a truly amazing experience working there, it would suit anybody. If you were looking to get into this line of work, it’s great as it lays out all the basics and more”. “It’s probably the closest thing to military training without actually carrying a gun” Thomas adds. “It’s run on a military system, we spit polish shoes, and we press our own uniforms just as much as we do other peoples’.”
“Being a footman there would really help you move into private service as it covers all the bases you need to be a butler or house manager” Thomas reveals. “You will have vast experience coming from Buckingham Palace which will help you move into Private Households, especially if you get your head down and work your way up and do the foreign trips. In my role now, I go all over the world, and it’s all experience I’ve gotten from the Palace.” It’s important to add that as a recruitment agency who recruit for similar roles, having experience at a Royal Palace looks fantastic on your CV. This experience will really propel your career, and help you work up the ranks in Palaces all over the world, or in exclusive Private Households of Ultra High Net Worth Individuals (UHNWI), earning incredible salaries.
At the end of my chat with Thomas, I asked him what he thinks of when looking at Buckingham Palace, he smiles, and simply replies “home”.
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