Ever wondered which way to take your afternoon tea? Or what the rules at the dinner table are? Fear not! I have had the chance to speak to The Prince of Wales’s former butler, Grant Harrold, to ask all these burning questions and find out a little more about his background in Royal Service.
Hi Grant! Your Twitter handle is @TheRoyalButler. So can you tell me a little more about your background and your link with the Royal Family?
I work as an Etiquette and Household Consultant and PA to several VIP, European Royals and high-profile clients. I do this through my company Nicholas Veitch. I also help run the Household of HRH Princess Katarina of Yugoslavia and Serbia, who is a cousin of our Royal Family.
I learned a lot during my time in the Royal Household, but one thing I noticed was that many people, both famous and not so famous, did not know how to behave around the Royals. Therefore, I decided I could create a company, which would offer this to everyone, through private classes, workshops and talks.
The private work I do as a PA and household consultant is helping people organize their homes and lifestyles, which I enjoy very much.
So how did you become a butler in the Royal Household?
I became a butler purely by accident. In 1993 I saw the movie ‘The Remains of the Day’, which I loved. At that point I decided I could become a butler. It was another four years before I got my first opportunity at a house in Scotland. This is where I believe in fate: I was asked to help out at this house and after a few days, I met the butlers who asked if I was interested in this amazing world, to which I said yes. I spent two years learning the ropes.
During this time, the TV Series “Country House” was showing on TV. This was about The Marquess of Tavistock, or Lord and Lady T as they were known and his family, and of course their staff. I wrote to the Marchioness asking if they needed another butler, as I would love to learn the job there. She wrote back and invited me to Woburn Abbey to meet with them. They were lovely and offered me a job almost there and then. I spent five magical years with them, most of which was captured on the TV series which I became part of. For me, I got both my dream jobs; to be part of a TV series and to be a butler. 2003 for me was one of the saddest years as Lord T (as he was known to millions) sadly passed away.
This caused many changes, which also included me becoming butler to The Duke of Bedford at Woburn Abbey. At this point, my brother was also a butler, or to be exact, a footman for HM The Queen. He mentioned that The Prince of Wales was looking for a butler. I applied but it was a long process, which lasted approximately six months. Then in March 2004, I arrived for my final interview at Clarence House. I was shown in to a drawing room and there was Prince Charles who shook my hand and welcomed me and the rest, as they say, is history.
How fascinating! I see what you mean about fate… So, as an expert on etiquette, what is the correct way to make and drink a cup of tea? I’ve heard different views on this!
There are so many experts telling people how to do this that it has become silly. Basically, you should make tea the way you like it.
However, if you were taking tea at the palace or in a similar environment, there is a guideline as to how you do this:
Firstly, before the teapot has the tea put in to it, pour the boiling water in to the empty teapot and swirl around. Then pour this out to warm the teapot up. Then add the tea leaves or tea bags. They say one tea bag for the pot plus one for each person, but I personally never put in more than two tea bags, and if its loose tea, then around two heaped spoonfuls.
Don’t pour boiling water straight on top. Wait for it to cool a little then pour the hot water onto the tea and fill your pot up. The teapot on a tray with the cups, milk, sugar, side plates, knives and forks (if needed) and napkins are taken to the drawing room. The host or their butler normally pours the tea. In a lot of households, the lady of the house will pour tea; “shall I play Mother” you sometimes hear men say if there is no lady around.
Once the tea is poured, it’s a tradition to then pour the milk in. The reason for this goes back to the days before we had bone china. Clay cups could not resist the heat and cracked. However, thanks to a gentleman by the name of Josiah Spode, he came up with a new type of china called bone. In the 18th century he created a formula with 50% bone ash. This meant that the aristocrats who could afford this new china could pour the milk in after the hot tea. Meanwhile, the staff downstairs still had to put their milk in first to stop the clay mugs cracking.
You can then add sugar to sweeten to the desired strength.When mixing the sugar, move the spoon in a twelve to six position, i.e. back and forward. Do this quietly without hitting the sides. Do not move it in a clockwise or anti clockwise motion.
To drink the tea, bring the cup and saucer over to you from the tray together. Hold the cup by the handle with your thumb and index finger but don’t stick the pinky out (we did this once but it’s no longer the done thing!).
Lift the cup off the saucer and sip quietly – don’t slurp! Then place the cup back on the saucer and either continue to hold it or place it on a table next to you. As a host, they would have thought of where guest will put cups and will have tables close to hand for this very reason.
Finally, a real answer, thank you! Now, another etiquette question: can you explain cutlery at dinner to me, for example at a State Banquet – there are so many different pieces and you don’t want to make a mistake in front of the Royals!
State Banquets, or any banquet for that matter, can look terrifying to an individual who has not experienced a table like that before. It’s like travelling through a minefield, terrified to put a foot wrong. But there is always a standard golden rule: start outside and work your way in.
Normally you will have soup spoon on the furthest point, working into the fish course, then the main course and finally the pudding course on the top of the place setting. I always advise people if you’re not sure, watch what the people either side of you are doing or, even better, watch your host if you can. Luckily, at a State Banquet unless you’re sitting next to a Royal, they will not notice if you make a mistake. If you’re next to them, then, as I said, watch what they’re doing if you’re not sure.
When you sit down, put your napkin on your lap. If you have to leave the table during the meal, then the napkin goes on your chair. It only goes on the table at the end of the meal.
The glasses are also easy to work around, as the footmen/butler will pour the wine into the glass you are to use. Normally, white wine is at the front with red behind on the left and water on the right, followed by pudding wine or pink champagne, followed by port.
Phew! That’s a lot to remember! What about seasoning and condiments etc?
Salt and pepper are within reach, but you should ask for them to be passed to you rather than reach. If you apply salt to your food, put it on the side of your plate and not all over it, this also applies to mustard and pepper if needed. When you’ve finished a course, place your cutlery on your plate at six o’clock and sit slightly back. Never lean over the table during the meal and always keep good posture at all times.
And what should NEVER be done at the dinner table?
You never shout across the table, lean on the table or leave the table without excusing yourself. If you need to leave a table, you only do this after the main course and as mentioned, you put your napkin on the chair. You also don’t discuss money, religion, sex or politics but, then again, I have witnessed over the years all of the above being discussed, so I think that rule is more relaxed.
A few other things you must never do is speak with your mouth full, point with your knife or put it in your mouth for that matter. Never lean across the table or take something from somebody else’s plate, you also don’t slouch or put your elbows on the table.
Your hands, if they’re not doing anything, should be resting on your lap during the meal. You also keep all mobile phones switched off, do not take pictures or selfies, and put nothing on the table other than your hands, if anything.
What protocol should be followed if you ever met The Queen, or another member of the Royal Family? I know I’d be pretty nervous…
I always advise people not to be nervous, but then I suppose that’s easy for me to say!
If you meet The Queen you would not shake her hand unless she put her hand out first, you never kiss The Queen or touch her in any way. You don’t sit down unless she sits down and you let her lead the conversation. But on saying all of that, she is a lovely and kind, caring lady who will put you at ease. She is wonderful at this, as I have experienced over the years, and on a few occasions, I’ve been the only person in the room with her. I must say she has a lovely sense of humour which I have been lucky enough to share with her personally. I must admit though, all of the Royal Family are like that and, again, I have been lucky enough to get to know them all very well.
Tell me a little something about your time working in the Royal household..
I worked in the Royal Household for seven years. During that time, I looked after all senior members of the Royal Family, including The Duchess of Cambridge who is wonderful, a real Lady in every sense. It was wonderful to look after Prince William and his beautiful wife.
One of the biggest honours for me during my time there was to get a personal invitation the wedding of The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall. Not everybody got to go and I was still quite new. When I was asked by one of their aides, I could not believe it.
On the day of the wedding, my home was within Highgrove and the press were looking over the wall. I could not believe it, but then it hit me – I was going to the wedding of a future King. It was a magical day and a lot of it to me is very private, and I will not discuss it with anyone, but what I will say is they both spoke to me and gave me the chance to congratulate them, and I got to be part of their special day, as well as receiving a piece of the cake to keep. It really was a day I will never forget. I also thought it shows you how someone from a council estate can rise to be a member of the Royal household and butler to a future King.
Thanks for your time Grant!
Grant runs etiquette classes with Princess Katarina, which you can find more about here.
Photos with thanks to Grant Harrold, HRH Princess Katarina of Yugoslavia and Serbia.