THE LONDON EYE and Big Ben shimmer in the distance, through the window of the Savoy Hotel, and
inside the £3,500-per-night Maria Callas suite a butler closes the curtains and spirits the
coats away to another room, as the guests sink into armchairs beside a fireplace, a bunch of
fresh Cala lillies, and a library.
When the Savoy re-opened, in 2010, after a £220m refurbishment, the owners reintroduced
traditional butlers, after a 50-year hiatus. It has 25 butlers offering a 24-hour service to
all 73 suites.
“Everything in my job is about detail. But if you don’t want to see me, I will be in your room
like the wind that sweeps in and out again,” says Sean Davoren, head butler in the Savoy for
the past four years.
Davoren likens his job to acting, putting on his costume to create a fantasy for wealthy
guests. He greets guests (using their names three times in a conversation to make them feel
special), unpacks clothes, runs baths (complete with rose petals, champagne and a bath oil
menu), polishes shoes and irons newspapers, “especially the tabloids as the ink comes off them
And although he enjoyed the TV shows Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs, Davoren says the
butler’s role is very different now. “My art is dying and the uniqueness of the job is
changing. If you want to put a title on it now, I’m a lifestyle manager,” says Davoren.
There is one crucial difference between now and then. “I choose to serve you, but I’m nobody’s
servant. There was that old English [attitude] towards servants, and you get it, sometimes now,
from people who don’t understand, but it’s my job and that’s what I get paid for and I’ve had a
very good lifestyle out of it,” he says.
Born in rural Limerick, Davoren left Ireland to work in Claridge’s hotel, before joining
private service for a European royal family at 21. When he met his wife, two years later, he
returned to the more family-friendly hours of hotel work. Davoren has dealt with many tricky
situations for high-profile clients. He once had to find a new ball-gown within hours for a
client who lost her luggage flying from Australia to attend the £10,000-a-ticket Prince’s Trust
ball. He has transported wild goats’ milk from Wales in a £650 taxi ride for a client’s bath,
flown a specific brand of bottled water from America, and acquired sought-after designer bags
for overseas clients. Last month, he spent three hours hand-washing a coffee stain (spilt by
the bride) out of a satin wedding dress on the morning of the wedding.
“Brides have put grey hair on me. I had a hairdryer and was trying to dry it out, but that
really only happens to you once in your lifetime,” he says.
“I don’t like the word ‘no’ in our vocabulary. I will find a solution. It’s like being a
superhero and you come in and you deal with the situation,” says Davoren, who has cultivated a
resumé of useful contacts throughout London to suit his clients’ every whim.
However, when guests occasionally request illicit substances or activities, Davoren gracefully
“The butler will do anything for you as long as it’s legal. It doesn’t happen here, but an
American butler told me lately, that when a client asks for extra pillows or for the pillow
menu, it means they want you to find them a companion for the night,” he says.
For Davoren, discretion is foremost. He revealed that Liza Minnelli’s ex-husband, David Gest,
asked him to source zebra milk (which he found in an African shop) because Gest bragged in a
newspaper about Davoren being his butler.
“It’s quite extraordinary, the people I’ve met. Some have been very powerful, interesting
people. Will I divulge? Never. If you come to stay here, I know all your little ways, I know
what side of the bed you sleep on, and where you put things in your room. For me, it’s an
unwritten contract that I do not divulge anything,” he says.
Davoren also discourages tipping, although says he has “about 350 Mont Blanc pens” given to him
by clients, and that he has “never bought a tie in my life.”
Having taught classes and written a book on etiquette, Davoren is a stickler for good manners.
“The problem is we are judged. You’re not going to be remembered for your good manners, but
you’ll definitely be remembered for your bad manners,” says Davoren, who discreetly assisted a
celebrity who started to drink out of a finger bowl at a dinner party.
He also trains 12 butlers a year in the Savoy Butler Academy.
“When I look for a butler, I look for personality. I can train you to do anything, but I can’t
give you a personality. I like to see a bit of a character and a storyteller,” says Davoren,
who says that the service industry has been sanitised by generic greetings and an over-casual
“Even if you go to Ireland, service isn’t what it used to be. I don’t find that warmth and
charm anymore. It’s such a shame, because that is one of the charms of the Irish — we’re very
engaging, warm and welcoming,” he says.
With his five children grown, he looks forward to buying a holiday cottage in the West of
Ireland, away from the hustle and bustle of London.
“This business has educated me to a lifestyle I would never have had, but I wouldn’t like that
“I like to be able to walk into Covent Garden without anybody noticing me. Happiness comes from
inside and it doesn’t matter if you’ve ten bob in your pocket or five million,” he says.
* ‘What Secrets Does A Hotel Butler Keep?’ is Sean Davoren’s topic for a discussion in Hotel
Meyrick, Galway, on March 28.