It was a breach of protocol few of the two billion viewers of the royal wedding would have spotted, but the etiquette expert Alexandra Messervy
noticed the faux pas immediately.
“I thought I was going to have kittens!” Ms. Messervy said of the moment the chauffeur pulled the queen’s car up to Westminster Abbey facing the wrong way. “You always let the queen out on the curb side, and she was on the street side,” she said firmly between sips of tea as she sat in the living room of her cozy cottage in Somerset, its pastels and floral décor reminiscent of Laura Ashley.
Thankfully, the queen ignored the guard who opened her car door and instead scooted across to follow Prince Phillip out his curbside door. “Something went horribly wrong in the traffic planning that day,” Ms. Messervy said, shaking her soft red curls and sitting up straight, her pencil skirt tidily tucked around her legs.
As a member of the Royal Household of Her Majesty the Queen
in the 1980s, Ms. Messervy should know. She not only helped plan the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of York (Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson), but also bought the queen’s Christmas presents, arranged lunches for American presidents and made sure that Buckingham Palace was run like a luxury hotel.
That explains why Ms. Messervy is now in charge of the English Manner
, a British company that provides international training and consultancy in “contemporary etiquette, protocol, the arts, social skills and household and event planning” to high-net-worth individuals and corporations.
Founded in 2001 by Ms. Messervy, who is also the chief executive, the company offers its training in two main areas: hospitality etiquette (business and personal) as well as private estate and household management (educating domestic, hotel and yacht staff on everything from how to clean rare art to the importance of fluffing pillows).
And while confidentiality is promised to individual clients (including international entrepreneurs, royals, diplomats and various V.I.P.s), the company’s corporate list is public and growing. Who knew, for instance, that such organizations as the Four Seasons and the Ritz-Carlton, as well as Bentley, Barclays and the luxury label Champagne Bollinger would seek advice on topics like shaking hands (no pumping) or eating a scone (gently open it in half)?
“What we are really teaching is confidence, both socially and professionally,” said Ms. Messervy, 51, whose résumé also includes working as the private secretary for Prince Michael of Kent (the queen’s cousin). “We teach traditional manners for today’s modern environment,” she said, explaining that the company’s students range in age from school- and college-age children (learning interviewing skills and social media etiquette) to international families and businessmen. Whether they need to find a nanny, are hoping to join a charitable board or need advice on how to dress or entertain, the English Manner is there to assist.
“When we first started the company, there was a lull in etiquette,” Ms. Messervy said. “It was considered almost politically incorrect to care about manners. But then, about four to five years ago, we started benefiting enormously from the fact that so many international people were coming to London to live and work. Those that sought us out wanted to learn how to better integrate into the culture.”
She added that many of her clients come from Eastern Europe, China and the Middle East, as well as India. “They want to get in with the right people professionally and personally and be accepted,” she said. “But they also want their children to fit into the culture.”
To that end, the company’s training now extends far beyond Britain. It has an academy in Dubai, is about to open one in India, and has a partnership with a Toronto-based etiquette company.
“Probably, my hardest work day ever was trying to teach 24 4- and 5-year-old Chinese children the box step,” recalled William Hanson, 24, who often works in Asia as one of the English Manner’s full-time tutors. “I was sweating horribly,” he said of the two-hour Little Prince and Princess class, which (the cost is 295 pounds sterling, or $500) includes educating them on bowing and curtsying, table manners, thank-you notes and the importance of washing hands and standing up straight.
“I read my first etiquette book at 12,” said Mr. Hanson, whose collection of nearly 250 etiquette books includes his own. Last January, Mr. Hanson’s “Bluffer’s Guide to Etiquette
” was published in Britain. His teaching career, in fact, started as a young teenager, when his school asked him to lead a weekly class on how to dress and behave at the dinner table for his fellow students.
“I was aghast at how many of them didn’t know how to properly hold a fork and knife,” said Mr. Hanson, who is also a frequent etiquette guest on the British morning talk shows and who once did a humorous segment called, “How Rude!”
Examples of the etiquette errors he highlights include smoking on the street, interrupting, not opening doors for women and dress-down Fridays. “It’s still a work day!” he said. “Do you really think it is O.K. to greet your clients in a polo shirt? Why not pajamas then?”
For Ngozi Princewill Utchay, chief executive of Artelier Lifestyle Consultants
in Lagos, Nigeria, the course she took from the English Manner last March proved invaluable. It included lessons in deportment (walking with a book on her head that fell off twice) to “netiquette.” (How to deal with cellphones? They should be silent and nowhere in sight except for an emergency.)
“We are in a commercial centre here and do a lot of business with foreigners,” said Ms. Princewill Utchay, who runs a similar image and lifestyle consulting company for Nigerians.
Like the English Manner, her company teaches the importance of respecting the etiquette of other cultures, like shaking hands. In the Middle East, men do not shake a woman’s hand out of respect, she said, while in other countries the thumbs-up gesture is considered obscene. “It is key for us to be sensitive,” she said, adding when asked her age, “a lady never tells.”
Similarly, Ms. Messervy will not reveal the names of her newest clients, saying that her company has just tutored a “well-known whisky brand” over a V.I.P. formal dinner, is in “advanced talks with a huge Canadian Chinese conglomerate for butler service and training” and is teaching the staff of a V.I.P. spa in China.
Additionally, it is offering bespoke cultural experiences for clients in which it provides accommodation and dining with both tutors and hosts at some of England and Europe’s “finest estates.”
But one has to wonder if these grand household tours help or hinder the message the English Manner is trying to teach its clients. “A lot of the new foreign money here is horribly ostentatious,” Mr. Hanson said. “We want them to learn that having money does not get you everything you want; you actually have to behave well to get ahead.”
He added, “We just help speed things up for them if they have not had the benefit of an old-fashioned granny like I had in my upbringing.”
This article was first published on nytimes.com
You might also like:
This article was first published on 2nd July 2014 and updated on July 3rd, 2014 at 7:56 pm