This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.
For the past six years, André Meester has worked as a professional butler, tending to the needs of a 56-year-old Dutch gentleman for 60 hours a week. I met up with the 38-year-old at his boss’ house in the small Dutch town of Hoorn, 40 kilometres north of Amsterdam.
When I arrived, Meester made sure to give me the whole private butler experience – after welcoming me in and taking my coat, he served me a slice of homemade cake and a cup of coffee in extremely expensive china. I asked Meester, who insisted on calling me “Madam” (and his boss “The Master”), about his daily to-do list.
VICE: Hey André, this house is massive.
André Meester: Yes, it has five storeys. The master owns another house across the street, and he has a third home in Dubai. He’s a software developer and lives with his partner. They both love classic interiors and enjoy having an old-fashioned butler in uniform. I mostly work in this home, but when he goes away for the weekend I often travel with him. I get my own room at the hotel where he’s staying, I carry his bags on shopping trips and make reservations.
What do you do on a typical day?
I’m here about 60 hours a week. On weekdays, I work from 7AM to 7PM. I make breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I serve him coffee when asked. I always open the door when he arrives, and I take care of the groceries. My tasks vary – in December, for instance, I’m busy decorating for Christmas. My boss loves Christmas. We always have a six-metre tree in the kitchen. I have to build scaffolding to set it up. After December, I don’t want to be around Christmas trees for a while.
Grocery shopping isn’t easy. I go to the bakery, the grocer, the butcher and the fish shop – everything has to be fresh. The master eats a hot meal twice a day and decides what he wants for dinner in the afternoon, so I shop twice a day. I also take his suits to the dry cleaner, polish his shoes and bake cakes. He likes homemade cakes – crispy on the outside, moist on the inside. I also manage the household. We have two cleaners.
Any interesting requests?
The master likes to watch movies. If there’s food in the film that speaks to him, he likes to have it the next day. Recently it was dumplings, so I had to figure out how to make them. He also asked for homemade chocolates, so I went to the market to buy everything I needed, then I watched tutorials online.
Are you standing next to him the whole time?
No, I’m always at my work station in the kitchen. The master texts me when he needs something, like a cup of coffee or lunch. I’m only around when I need to be.
What if he asks for coffee while you’re out shopping?
I have to get back really quickly. I never say no. If I’m almost done with groceries, I run home. If I’ve only just started, I turn around.
Do you work all day or do you have time for yourself?
I have four to five hours a day when I’m not busy. To kill time, I watch a lot of 24Kitchen [a Dutch cooking channel], or I just scroll through my phone. The master sometimes takes me out to dinner when we’re on a trip.
No, I never play that role. My predecessor did. He worked here for 14 years, but there was friction because their relationship got too friendly. I keep things professional. When the master asks me to dinner, I don’t talk much. I never get personal – I stay in the background. I always say “yes”, even if sometimes I think ‘no’.
Are you always this polite?
Yes, that’s just me. It’s how I was raised. I’ve been working in hospitality since I was ten; I helped out at my uncle’s hotel. Then I was a bartender at the Krasnapolsky Hotel in Amsterdam. One day, my mother saw an ad for a private butler online. I applied and started the next day. To me, this is the ultimate job in hospitality. The bond of trust in the relationship is very special.
You don’t mind playing a subordinate role?
No, it’s a question I get asked a lot, but I don’t feel like a doormat. The master always asks me to do something. He doesn’t ring a bell or order me around.
How much money does he have?
No idea. But I know that one of his cars is worth €1.8 million, and he has 14 of them. I could check his balance right now because I have all six of his cards. But I won’t.
He doesn’t need credit cards?
No. When he needs money, he asks me to get cash.
Do you get fancy gifts?
A Mercedes-Benz SL – is that fancy enough? For my three-year work anniversary, I got to pick a car worth €160,000 (£145,700). Plus, I often get nice things. Recently, my wallet broke and I got a new one from Cartier. That wallet costs more money than there’s ever been in it.
How much do you make?
I make €4,200 (£3,830) a month after taxes. That’s less than in some other countries – many butlers make between €5,000 (£4,550) and €15,000 (£13,700) a month, but I’m off on weekends. I do work on weekends as a freelance butler, for dinner parties, for instance. I cook, serve and clean up afterwards. My fee is €35 (£32) an hour, and I usually work for around ten hours total.
Do you want to work here for the rest of your life?
I take good care of my boss and cook healthy meals, so I hope to stay until I retire. But if the master has an accident tomorrow, I’ll be jobless. As far as I know, he hasn’t put me in his will.