Events & Culture
READING: The Butler And The Iron Lady
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ENGLISH BUTLER GARY WILLIAMS has turned going the “extra mile” into an artform.

To fulfil a client’s request, he flew a colleague from London to New York, an eight-hour flight across 5,500 miles. Then she took a two-hour car ride to Philadelphia and sussed out multiple general shops.

All that effort was invested to find three pairs of Nike tennis shoes, costing £20 each. The international flights alone cost the client £8,000.

“We thought it would be quite easy to get the shoes. They were Nike. We had contacts in Oxford Street and Seattle. They told us these shoes were gone, history. The Russian gentleman bought many pairs of the same tennis shoes a decade ago. He was down to his last pair and needed more of the shoes. If he doesn’t have those lucky tennis shoes, he can’t play tennis anymore,” says Williams, in a crisp lilt as regal as the Queen of England’s.  

The extent of his servitude, similar to that of other meticulous butlers, does not stop there. Out of the three pairs of Nike shoes, two were women’s edition adorned with pink elements. He commissioned a tailor to swop the pink stitching with deep blue thread, and custom made a blue swoosh to replace the pink insignia.

We are chatting at the oriental themed Signature Library at Orchard Hotel in Singapore. He was in town earlier this year to conduct training for SC Global, a luxury property developer. High-end brands and services engage Williams to dispense nuggets of wisdom to their service staff. His clients include Chanel, Salvatore Ferragamo Hotels In Italy and Marquis Reforma Hotel & Spa in Mexico. 

The butler has the ability to regale with super vivid stories. Stories with such clarity, detail, and mesmerizing charm. There are tales of extravagant travel planning, and running massive households like clockwork.

Williams’ secret to running things like clockwork? A butler bible. Every detail is inscribed into a manual, complete with photos, on morning tea preferences, to caring for handbags.

When presenting travel options to tycoons, glossy paper pamphlets won’t do. They flip bespoke coffee table books filled with gorgeous photos of Tuscany villas. The content is curated by the butler himself. He personally flew to the destination with a photographer in a tow.

I thought to myself what a fascinating world. You are experiencing life that not many people will ever see.

Gary WilliamS
Gary Williams is a butler who has served the most famous faces on the planet, from former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher to Vogue magazine’s Anna Wintour. Photo by Wong Wei Liang

Luxury providers engage Gary Williams to dispense nuggets of wisdom to their service staff. His clients include Marquis Reforma Hotel & Spa, which is part of luxury consortium The Leading Hotels of the WorldPhoto courtesy of Leading Hotels of The World

As current principal of the British Butler Institute, he trained aspiring Mr Carsons in China, the hopefuls inspired by period TV series Downton Abbey.

“I was always searching for something. I don’t know what I want to do with my life. I was doing jobs, I studied, I had a stationery distribution business in South Africa that was quite successful. Then I was very blessed to find something in my life that I love. I don’t feel like I am working,” says Williams, who was born in the seaside town of Brighton, England. He was nine when he emigrated to South Africa with his parents, a salesman father and beauty therapist mother.

“I thought to myself what a fascinating world, you look after the rich and famous, you live in beautiful places, because that’s where the rich live. You are experiencing life that not many people will ever see.”

Sometimes the subjects themselves arouse curiosity. He once served Margaret Thatcher herself. What’s it like to serve the Iron Lady?

“She was a lady with immense presence. She could be 50 yards away and you could feel her presence. There is an aura about her. She was very dedicated and drive, she got up very early. English Breakfast Tea was one of her favourites, at times like this you realise they are just ordinary people like you and me,” says Williams, who was then working as head butler at The Ritz London.

Even the butler’s own story is a plot out of a movie. He only found his true calling at age 39.

Epiphany hit him a few years after watching the movie ‘Remains of the Day’. He could not forget Mr Stevens, the dedicated butler protagonist in the film adaption of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Booker-winning novel.

The fictional, faithful companion stirred a fire in him. He enrolled in Ivor Spencer International School for Butler Administrators in Britain and graduated at the top of the class in 2001. He went on to become head butler at prestigious outfits worldwide such as Studley Royal House in North Yorkshire, and the Brazilian Embassy in London.


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