The Batman movies are thoroughly misleading for one important reason. It’s not the main character’s nocturnal habit of kneecapping petty crooks that stretches credulity — but the roles and responsibilities of his butler sidekick. In the recent trilogy, Alfred, played by Michael Caine, is seen performing the duties of chef, chauffeur, cleaner, nanny, therapist, life coach, executive assistant, travel agent, property developer, IT troubleshooter, private doctor, PR agent, international smuggler and criminal underworld expert. This elderly man does all of these highly-skilled tasks on his own, 24 hours a day, without rest. And they say Christopher Nolan’s superhero films were grittily authentic.
Alfred, Gotham’s great master of trades, was under-scrutinised by most audiences — except, perhaps, for those working in a small industry called estate management. This is a niche but growing profession servicing ultra high net worth individuals. They are the most important figures in the downstairs hierarchy, and take ultimate responsibility for the running of a large multi-property family.
Let’s say you’re a nought-point-nought-one percenter. You need roughly one housekeeper for every 1,500 square feet of mansion that you own. If you want 24-hour service, then you need three housekeepers working in shifts. Once you add up all the other personal trainers, make-up stylists, gardeners, drivers, and cooks — again multiplying everything by three if you want round-the-clock help — then you could quickly find yourself with an army of 20 household employees. And that could be just for your pad in Beverly Hills. You might also have a beach house on St Barts, a ski lodge in Aspen, a townhouse in Manhattan and a yacht the size of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. As you and your retinue move between each residence, you need someone to make sure there is gold-leaf soap in every bathroom, that your cigar humidor is humming along at 67 percent, and that your Nebuchadnezzars of Armand de Brignac Rose are chilled to 9C exactly.
That’s where your estate manager comes in. They make sure your life, with all its houses and staff and hundreds of different WiFi codes, runs smoothly. Estate managers are the unsung string-pullers of the extremely rich. They have Herculean reserves of energy, patience, and creativity. In conversations with the Gentleman’s Journal, estate managers have opened the staff-only door on their elite profession. It looks, from an outsider’s perspective, a strange and dizzying life. Work never ends on time – you always have to be on hand to answer a 3am phone call about how to turn on the infinity pool lights or get Netflix on the 12-seater home cinema. It’s an incredibly well paid profession — annual salaries can be around $300,000 — and it involves being familiar with fantastic luxury. But you also have to deal with billionaires, so your answer to everything must always be ‘yes’. You will need to be on your feet at all times, typically walking around 20,000 steps a day. Could you hack it?
Kimberly Varney, head of Celebrity Estate Management, says the job requires expertise in a number of different fields. Before reaching the top of her game, she worked as a nanny and private chef, cooking onboard a charter yacht. She now runs a top-tier estate management firm — the clients she is allowed to mention include Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Sir Nick Faldo, the professional golfer. Varney neatly describes the job of an estate manager as “choreographing the movements of the house”. That means repainting one house while the family is staying in a different one, tidying the bedrooms when breakfast is being served, and making sure pool cleaners are finished before anyone wants to swim.
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