As a pre-marital treat, you could spend your evening sipping cocktails out of a plastic penis straw and stuffing bills into the sweaty thong of a stripper. Or you could hire Phil Gibbs to massage your feet, pour you wine, and treat you like the special snowflake you are. As a ManServant for hire, Gibbs will show up in a tux, do your (non-sexual) bidding for an evening, and leave.
Gibbs has been moonlighting as a ManServant for the past year in NYC. The British-born singer-songwriter/personal trainer has proven highly popular with the ladies. According to him, the pay for servanthood is on par with what he earns for personal training—and it's "much less demanding work."
ManServants were founded as an alternative to depressing bachelorette party jaunts to the strip club. Not every bride-to-be wants a stranger's junk swinging in her face, they figured, but she may want to be waited on hand-and-foot by a handsome tuxedo-clad stranger. We talked to Gibbs to learn the ins and outs of servanthood and find out if things ever get weird.
VICE: What type of person becomes a ManServant?
Phil Gibbs: A lot are models, actors, and musicians. It's great that they encourage you carry on doing what you love and actually use some of that to really accentuate the experience of manservants. Often I'll be asked to sing and guys will be asked to read poetry and do speeches and stuff, so it all kind of ties in quite nicely.
Are you briefed on what you'll be doing prior to an event?
I will receive an email brief telling me the name of the event, who is celebrating—say it's Emily's bachelorette—and it tells you where it is going to take place. For example, this afternoon I had a brief that said please bring a flower if you can grab one on the way. We'd like you to do hand massages and neck massages and make her feel relaxed. She's also Greek, so if you could, find some Greek poetry and read it to her while you're here.
They give you some ideas of what they specifically want because each party is different and each venue is different. Some will be in peoples' homes, some in restaurants or bars. It varies. Some may book you and you turn up at someone's apartment who has guests around. So you just make yourself useful—I offer to make drinks, help clear up.
Do people ever hire you for dates?
We don't do one-on-one. It has to be a minimum of three people. Because otherwise it becomes kind of a little bit close to escorting.
Have you ever been propositioned on the job?
Certainly, I think. It hasn't been as direct as someone saying, "What are you doing now, want to come back to my place?" It's more you get that kind of flirtation. But part of the job is flirtatiousness, it's all in good fun. None of it is kind of seedy or perverted or anything.
Obviously, you get, now and again, some people saying to you; "What are you doing later, we're going out." A part of our policy is you're booked for two hours or whatever, and after that two hours, your agreement is over. Exchanging numbers, all that stuff is out of bounds. Because it eats into that illusion—that fantasy of having a manservant who is going to come, make you feel like a princess, treat you absolutely wonderfully, you don't have his real name, you don't have his number, you don't know if you're ever going to see him again, which, that's the whole point I think.
Do you go into character?
Not necessarily. I'm still me. But sometimes they'll ask you to just go by a different name. Today the girls wanted me to go by the name "Tiger." I have no idea. That kind of set the mood, to be honest. Other times, it will just be "We want you to be called James Bond." As a British guy I often get asked if I'm putting the voice on.
What was the most outrageous request you had?
At a party I had to read 50 Shades of Grey excerpts to a group of like 15 girls. You take it in stride. If you can't laugh at yourself, and you take yourself too seriously, then you're not a manservant.
What does the application process for this job entail?
I think the description I got was, we need young, good-looking guys, with great communication skills, who know how to have fun, and maybe have an entertainment element to their personality as well. We're not just models that put tuxedos on and stand there looking pretty at a party, because, let's face it, that gets pretty boring after about 15 minutes. They'll go, "Oh my god, he's cute," but if you've got nothing else to offer, no conversational skills, no ability to work the room—then it wears off very quickly.
Ever deal with overly bossy clients?
Once. I think they were really enjoying the power side of it and not so much the nice company side of it. That's when you've got someone clicking their fingers and demanding "another drink, please." It is what it is. You're a ManServant. And with that word "servant" there's going to be that kind of attitude.
Have you ever felt demeaned?
Yeah, and it's how you deal with it, and how you say it. Someone said something cheeky to me like 'do you have to keep the suit on' you say 'unfortunately I do, but I can assure you, there's many things I can do with my suit on that will keep you girls entertained.' It's lighthearted rather than 'no, that's inappropriate!' You can imagine how that would kill the mood instantly.
Do your friends and family know you do this on the side?
Very much so. I was actually in a long-term relationship when I started doing ManServant. I think, obviously, it comes down to trust in the relationship. But also, the nature of it is very much not seedy or perverse. It's not the same as turning around to your partner and saying, by the way, I'm a stripper on the weekend.
Did your partner have any reservations when you started?
I don't think so, no. Because I'd explained the process. And the friend that introduced me to the company and suggested working for them, she knew as well, and knew he was a nice, honest guy. So she knew it wasn't anything dodgy. It wouldn't go over if you were like, oh I met a guy called Fernando at the club last night, in the toilets, and he's offered me this work, it's all paid cash, and don't worry it's fine.
Do you think the response would be as positive if it were called "maidservants" and if it were all females acting as servants?
I think the reason the business is doing so well, and is gaining so much respect is because of that role reversal. In a sense, it's not actually a role-reversal at all because this is how women should be treated by their significant others. But unfortunately I don't think that happens very often nowadays.
Has being a ManServant affected your relationships?
I think so. I've been single for what feels like a long time and I think it's really taught me a lot about girls. It's a great chance to hear a woman's perspective of romance and what gets them going and what qualities they're attracted to. Because then you can apply that to your dating game or your relationship, for sure.
What have you learned about women?
That romance isn't dead, in some ways. I'm an old-school romantic. As a singer-songwriter, I'm always writing songs about love and I love old soul music and stuff. I'm a traditional romantic, in that sense. I'm the kind of guy who would want to turn up with flowers at one's front door and not feel that that's weird. For me, that's what you should do. The response to that kind of behaviour indicates it is still well-received and it's something that I think women could receive more of, for sure.
Have you ever run into anyone from your professional life while acting as a ManServant?
One of my personal training clients (which is another thing I do, because we're in New York and we all work five jobs), was actually at the launch of ManServant. She luckily didn't see me the whole time. Not that I avoided her, she just didn't get around to my part of the room. I don't think it would have been embarrassing or like, that's a shame you're doing this. A lot of people would be like, that's super cool and fun, and I'd actually put it on par with a lot of the other work I do, for sure. If you're paid to entertain a group of lovely young ladies at a party, and meet some really interesting people and have great conversations and get paid for that—I can't see how anyone could see that as anything other than a great job.
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