Q: Isn't it inherently a servile job?
A: It doesn't bother me to be a servant. Everybody's a servant. A shop assistant is a servant. A politician is the servant of the people. In the houses I lived in, I was always well taken care of. There was always good food. Your bedroom was cleaned and your bed made. When we went to London for the day there was even a pool driver that would pick you up from the station at night. I've been treated with respect.
Q: Have you ever known any socialists on any staffs?
A: A few footmen. We had to let go two in Australia. You know, "Why should you have it, why should we not" -- that sort of thing. They wouldn't fit in. It's not that you're orderly and you can do the job, it's that you're compatible, too. When you're having breakfast and lunch and dinner together you've got to be able to get on.
Q: Doesn't being a butler preclude the notion of ambition? The highest thing you can be is a butler.
A: You can't go "upstairs." Not unless you married into it.
Q: Have you ever known a butler who married a wealthy woman and became a master, as it were?
Q: One hears of handsome footmen who have had a tumble, shall we say.
A: I expect that's happened. I'm sure it has with chauffeurs.
Q: Hollywood butlers are always portrayed as rather snooty men. How accurate is that?
A: I don't think it's accurate at all, no. The Hollywood version of a butler is answering the door and sort of going around with his nose in the air.
Q: Are people surprised when you say you're a butler?
Q: How do they react?
A: "Ooooh." They don't quite know what you do. I think they think you serve meals all the time. I don't think anyone really knows what a butler does. Blame that on Hollywood.
There used to be a penny-arcade device years ago in England and it was called "What The Butler Saw" and it had rather rude, slightly smutty pictures of naked ladies running around bedrooms and this was what the butler saw, presumably.
What he was doing looking through the keyhole I don't know! You see, that's all a Hollywood story.
Q: Do you keep in touch with other butlers?
A: No. There's not many butlers that speak English in Embassy Row so we'd have nothing in common really.
Q: Are the table manners at the top very superior to those at a middle-or working-class level?
A: I wouldn't say they were superior, no. I've seen a lot of change in my time at the table. I don't think people are made to "sit up at the table" like we were. Or eat with one another. You find one person's finished or one person's lagging on and holding the whole dinner up. All those little things.
Sometimes, when I announce dinner, you'll find the gentleman who knows the lady on his right will just walk in the dining room without going and collecting her and bringing her in, which always used to be.
Q: Let's face it, our ancestors had some pretty crude habits at the table didn't they?
A: Oh yes. King Henry VIII did. He used to throw a leg of lamb at someone didn't he?
Q: Did your name have anything to do with your going into service?
A: It was really economics. Father was put out of work, so I went to Cholmondeley Castle at 15. I was pantry boy. The newspapers for all the people staying in the castle for the hunt came rolled up and I used to iron them flat -- about 16 newspapers -- and put the digestive biscuits on the morning tea trays. I used to go down to the cellar and polish the knives, the donkey stuff.
Q: Has anyone ever commented on your name being appropriate for a footman or a butler?
A: Oh yes. Lord and Lady Sassoon said, "Lightfoot, well that's an apt name. Are you light on your feet?" In America they think I am from Indian birth. The Sioux tribe.
Q: You've been here then just 10 years?
A: Just over 10 years. We had the queen's visit in 1976 and she gave a dinner in the ballroom for President Ford. That was something! The red carpet down the lawn and the trumpeters trumpeted her up the stairs. It was all very grand, of course. My name was put on the list to go and see her at Blair House, where (I received) the Royal Victorian Medal. She just said, "For your services to my family." Quite a surprise.
Q: When Prime Minister Thatcher comes, do you serve her yourself?
A: All I do is get her breakfast order off her. What time. What she'd like. Where she'd like it. Make sure her newspapers were there.
Q: Do you iron the newspapers?
A: Not now. They're flat. With the prime minister and people like that your job is to make them comfortable, to be one jump ahead, but at the same time don't go to them all the time. You go through their secretaries. It's like royalty. You never approach a royal. It's either their lady in waiting or their detective [security person], if you want to know what the arrangements are. What does the prime minister like for breakfast, for instance?
Fruit salad, toast and coffee and sometimes a boiled egg. Three minutes. Mash it up and add butter and pepper. It's quite nice.
Q: Do you make sure the room is perfect before she goes in there?
A: Oh yes, always. For everybody. Flowers. Bowl of fresh fruit. A mini bar in the sitting room. Lady Wright's [wife of British ambassador Sir Oliver Wright] maid will go in and look after her clothes and John the valet will look after Mr. Thatcher's clothes. We do everything unobtrusively, you know. You don't go to them and ask them questions. Can you imagine if she's coming away from the White House or a big meeting and all those problems they've got and you ask them silly questions?
Prince Charles' [breakfast] was quite simple. Fruit, cereal and toast.
Q: What cereal?
A: All Bran natural. Royalty are never much trouble at all. It's that one jump ahead. Always that tea tray ready set. With little cakes and biscuits, already covered, to go. Even if it's not required. Princess Margaret does not like silver pots. She likes her tea out of a china pot. Probably because of metallic taste. That's logic. That's not difficult. I like a china pot, too.
Q: Are these jobs sort of interchangeable? Footman, butler, valet?
A: In the footman's duties I always used to help the valet. You had a lot of hunt clothes, a lot of riding boots to bone.
A: You got the bone and the saddle soap, and you boned all the wrinkles out of them and put them into their trees.
Q: So you pick up the skills as you go along?
A: You've got to live it. You go and have your lunch at 12 and you serve the master and the mistress theirs at 1. They have their tea at 4, and you'd go to the housekeeper's room and have your tea. You have your supper at 6 and you serve them their dinner at 8.
Q: Long days, weren't they?
A: But there were a lot of you. Six footmen, a butler and an under-butler, a valet and a housekeeper. A parlour maid served the tea and also served the footman and the staff their tea, so after lunch you, the footman or butler wouldn't come on until 6.
Q: What does a footman do?
A: They call everybody butlers now. The footmen used to, if there was no valet, clean the shoes, and press suits. Wake the gentlemen guests up with tea, a breakfast tray. Where it's a married couple, a lady in the room, the footman takes it to the door for the maid to take in. He never goes in when there's a lady present.
You set up the table for lunch. Serve any morning coffee trays that might be required. Clean the silver. Replace the suits you've pressed and the shoes you've cleaned in the appropriate rooms. Replace the laundry into the appropriate drawers, the shirts and so forth. But the footmen don't wash up. We have a pantry maid for that. This is a British system here. In other embassies they wash up and hang curtains and do the floors, that sort of thing. A general domestic. There is a difference. Here you've got to keep smart yourself. You can't be doing mundane duties and then have the ambassador ring and you've got soapsuds all over your hands.
Q: Do all footmen want to be butlers?
A: Most that I know. There are few positions for butlers now. I don't consider you're a butler if you haven't got footmen. I don't consider you a butler if you've got to go in the kitchen or drive the car. Or do the floors. If that happened to me I wouldn't take the job. I'm too old now to change. I've never had to do it and I wouldn't ever want to do it.
Q: A butler must have his hierarchy behind him?
A: I think so, to give him the position. I get horrified when I hear that other butlers in other embassies go moonlighting. To see your butler at somebody else's house working, well, I mean that's -- . It's nice to keep [this] embassy the old school. I have my own apartment, a staff, a maid that does the rooms for the footmen, makes their beds, changes their sheets.
Q: Can a woman be a butler?
A: I suppose. I've never thought of that. I suppose if you can be a parlour maid [or a] housekeeper you can be a butler. In some households the housekeeper is higher than the butler if she's been with the family longer.
When the footman's position came vacant [at the embassy] it's hard to choose someone from a modern home today that can fit in. There's no entertaining in your rooms, but you can use the sitting room if you wish to have a friend in for tea. And you're checked in and out of the main gates. It has its little disadvantages.
Q: They can't bring a girlfriend back?
A: You can imagine if you started that! You've got to abide by the house rules.
Q: How many days off a week do you have?
A: Two full days. Sometimes if it's quiet you can go to three. The month of August they get off. The house closes. The ambassador goes away.
Q: The whole operation shuts down?
A: Shuts down. And that's wonderful because I get the chimneys swept, the chandeliers cleaned. I arrange this before I go.
Q: Where does a butler go for his holidays? Does he go to a hotel and be waited on?
A: I used to stay at the Grosvenor Hotel [in London] which I suppose was expensive but it's a nice hotel. You get your shoes cleaned and you do get food and it's nicely done and it's the old school.
Q: I haven't asked what you earn?
A: It's not great pay, but it's tax free, you see. There are higher paid jobs, but when you take into consideration that you've got no rent, no electric utility bills. You have your uniform provided, you don't pay tax and if you were ill you're covered by the British medical scheme.
Q: What do you wear at different times of the day?
A: This [striped trousers and a black jacket and waistcoat]. I have about five sets. When I first started I wore dinner tails. But it looked a little bit too -- . People are more informal today.
Q: Are the British the best butlers in your opinion?
A: I think so. It goes back to when the staff used to sit round the table and eat what the family had left and slept within the castle -- I'm going back to medieval days. Today you don't see any houses built for staff.
Q: No one can afford those things today. Even the aristocracy.
A: The aristocracy usually live in a confined part of the house and the rest is left to the National Trust, unfortunately. I took this job because it's the only one I know of that exists.
Q: You've never married?
Q: Is it a career you'd recommend to your son if you had one?
A: Not today. It's gone. It's something of the past. Very few establishments call for a household staff like this. Another 10 years and I'll be redundant. Not that it hasn't given me a good life. I've done a lot of traveling -- first class, too. And I've been looked after.