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Whether you’re a secretary, butler or summer intern, becoming a part of the Royal Household is as difficult as you might imagine, Catherine Allen writes.
Text by: Catherine Allen
Country: England

hen I think of England, I think of fish and chips, tea, and the Queen, in no particular order. When thinking about Her Majesty, I envisage her famous, ever -present handbag, the corgis, her royal wave, and of course, her home, the stunning Buckingham Palace.

First used by monarchy in 1837, more than 130 years after it was originally built, Buckingham Palace draws millions of tourists a year, pressed near the iconic black gates to get a glimpse of the famous building. They see immaculate white gravel, impressively motionless beefeaters, a flag flying high above their heads— which indicates whether or not the Queen is in residence — and the very clean facade of a very large palace.

What you can’t see from outside are the 775 rooms, 78 bathrooms, 92 offices, and the 40- acre garden. Nor can you see the ATM reserved exclusively for use by the royal family. In fact, you can only see a small portion of the total 77,000 square metres that the palace occupies. Also hidden from view is a large proportion of the 1,200-member staff.

Having seen the palace in media and in person during visits to London, I started to wonder what it would be like to work at Buckingham Palace. Employees who are required to live in residence, use 188 bedrooms. Just imagine sleeping under the same roof as The Queen! It’s a reality for a lot of the people working at the Royal Household.

Staff positions include curators, flagmen, correspondence managers, butlers, gravel cleaners, social media liaison, and even a clock maintenance team.

I decided to find out how you can get a job at the palace, and what to expect if you do become entitled to add Her Majesty The Queen to your curriculum vitae’s list of employers. Unfortunately I was unable to talk to anyone directly; when I asked to interview a friend of a friend who happened to be a member of staff, they politely refused, saying they were unable to comment on their job. It appears extreme confidentiality is also part of working at Her Majesty’s palace.

Predictably, Buckingham Palace has a high level of expectation amongst potential future employees. One application started with the words:

“Just as The Queen and members of the Royal Family contribute to the community, employees of the Royal Household are also encouraged to act responsibly and pro-actively in this respect.”

When I logged onto the official palace website, I found 18 job postings, ranging from a line chef to porter to a digital marketing officer. Half of these postings were for part-time summer positions. Three hundred extra staff are employed annually to help cover the busy summer season, which starts in July and runs through until September. During this time Buckingham Palace opens its doors to thousands of visitors who can enjoy tours around certain parts of the palace, including the state rooms, the chambers, and even the throne room.

These jobs offer competitive rates well above the country’s average minimum wage, smart navy uniforms adorned with gold buttons, and the allure of working at the palace, so thousands— especially students— apply for the few hundred positions. Jobs include tour guides, ticket sales attendants, team leaders, and gift shop sales assistants.

Once you have applied, you are assessed and given a security background check. If you pass this round, you’ll be invited to a face-to-face or telephone interview. Via e-mail, you’ll find out if you’ve been hired. Lucky candidates will then be invited for an open day and a tour of the palace.

Of course, for many people, the palace is their permanent workplace. The interview process for higher positions, such as butlers and secretaries, chefs and stewards, is thought to be much more strenuous. If your application is approved, you will receive a call from the palace and will be asked further questions about your application.

Apparently a common question asked during this telephone interview is, “are you comfortable obeying your ‘superiors and authority’?” I would imagine anyone applying to work at the Queen’s residence probably would be, but I suppose they think it is best to ask!

After appropriate security and background checks are complete, applicants are contacted and told they have not been accepted or are invited to attend an assessment day. On these assessment days, candidates are tested and judged on the various skills required to successfully fulfill the position.

Traditionally, well into the 20th century, recruitment into the Royal Household was a family affair. It was not uncommon to find different generations of the same family working in the same department. This happens less frequently nowadays, partly because of the UK’s equal opportunities legislation, which, for example, attracts applicants of both sexes for a previously assumed male role such as a butler or footman.

For those who make it through the rigorous assessment day, an official invitation is proffered to join The Royal Household. A three-month probation period is usual for most positions. Wages are good; for lower-level positions, they are well above the minimum wage, and for higher-level positions, the salary is competitive.

Meals prepared in the same kitchen as the Royal Fare— the food that the Queen and her guests enjoy— are provided to all staff. Staff eat in one of three dining rooms, depending on their position within the palace. One dining room is for senior heads of departments, one is for administrative officials and clerical staff, and one for general staff, including butlers, housekeepers, tour guides, and the like. Apparently the hierarchy amongst employees is, as expected, present in many parts of the working day.

Much of the domestic staff at Buckingham Palace not only eat their meals within the palace walls but also live there. Their accommodations are shared apartments, located in the Royal Mews, where the Royal vehicles are kept. They are known to be rather small, containing four bedrooms, a shared bathroom, and a kitchen, similar to standard student accommodation. This less-than- luxurious residence isn’t free— an abatement is taken from your paycheck — but living on-site does mean you have the most prestigious postcode in the country.

One of the most unusual positions in the palace is maintaining the clocks and watches in Buckingham Palace. Two Royal Horological Conservators, their official title, weekly wind up, fix, and maintain not only the 350 timepieces in London, but also the 650 clocks in the Queen’s other UK royal residences. It can take up to 16 hours to set the time when the clocks go forward or back!

Perhaps the job of keeping the Palace running on time or the task of cleaning the 760 windows or changing the 40,000 light bulbs is not for you, but there are other roles available, and who knows, you could find yourself using the palace’s address to receive your mail and make your career. And if you’re really lucky, you may even meet the Queen!

TOP FACTS

● Some of the 350 clocks and watches in Buckingham Palace are of historical importance. In the royal library there is a gilt-metal bracket clock given by Henry VIII to his second wife, Anne Boleyn.

● The Queen’s corgis are called Holly and Willow. Her Majesty also has two dorgis (crossbreed of dachshund and corgi), called Candy and Vulcan.

● Members of staff are required to use the side entrance to the palace each day.

● Staff are required to travel to all Royal residences within the UK. And so, when the Court moves to Balmoral in the summer and Sandringham over the Christmas period, the staff also are accommodated.

● Many members of staff are also expected to wear formal morning dress at all times, meaning tail coat and dress shoes. Also required are the highest standards of appearance, good manners, accent, speech, and grammar.

● Buckingham Palace’s garden is also home to a helicopter landing area, a lake, and a tennis court. Thirty different species of bird and more than 350 different wildflowers can also be found amongst the 40,000 square acres.

● Also hidden behind the facade is Buckingham Palace’s own chapel, post office, swimming pool, doctor’s surgery, and cinema.

● The famous facade which we have all seen in person, or in photographs, was introduced in 1913, after the original soft French stone had deteriorated due to London’s pollution.

● Another effort made to keep the exterior looking perfect is the daily ‘dragging’ of the forecourt gravel. It is cleaned and combed daily using special machinery. Two more inspections take place throughout the day to ensure that the forecourt always looks pristine.

● In an attempt to be a more “green” palace, LED lights are used where possible to reduce electricity use, and double-glazed skylights have been installed to reduce energy loss. In the garden, an impressive 99% of the green waste produced is recycled within the palace grounds.




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Working at Buckingham Palace


When I think of England, I think of fish and chips, tea, and the Queen, and of course, her famous residence: Buckingham Palace. The Palace was first used by monarchy in 1837 and draws millions of tourists a year. From the outside you can see the immaculate white gravel, impressively motionless beefeaters, a flag flying high above their heads— which indicates whether or not the Queen is in residence — and the very clean facade of a very large palace.

What you can’t see from the outside are the 775 rooms, 78 bathrooms, 92 offices, and the 40- acre garden. In fact, you can only see a small portion of the total 77,000 square metres that the palace occupies. Also hidden from view is a large proportion of the 1,200-member staff.

Staff positions include curators, flagmen, correspondence managers, butlers, gravel cleaners, social media liaison, and even a clock maintenance team. There are 188 bedrooms reserved for some of the employees who are required to live in residence.

But, how does one get a job at the Palace? When I logged onto the official palace website I found 18 job postings, ranging from a line chef to porter to a digital marketing officer. Half of these postings were for part-time summer positions.

These jobs offer competitive rates, smart navy uniforms adorned with gold buttons, and the allure of working at the palace. Jobs include tour guides, ticket sales attendants, team leaders, and gift shop sales assistants.

After you apply, you are assessed and given a security background check. If you pass this round, you are invited to a face-to-face or telephone interview. By email, you are informed if you have the job. Lucky candidates are then invited for an open day and a tour of the palace.

 

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