“In a way, I think Downton Abbey has really brought back and highlighted our roles in the service industry,” says head butler Sean Davoren of the iconic Savoy Hotel in London, as we meet in the Thames Foyer next to a striking indoor gazebo. “If I’m your butler, you should be able to ask me for anything. I should have given you that confidence in me.”
The Savoy, managed by Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, reopened in 2010 after a multi-million dollar restoration. An icon since 1889, The Savoy’s walls hold secrets that make me wish walls could talk. Winston Churchill came once a week, and Queen Elizabeth II was first spotted publicly with Prince Phillip here in 1946.
History fascinates but as Davoren says, ““I look back on history but I am helping to make the hotel’s new history. The story continues.” With the English Edwardian and Art Deco interiors both preserved and completely reinvigorated, The Savoy renewed its status as one of London’s most sensational properties.
Davoren manages a team of 25 butlers for The Savoy’s 73 suites, one of which I stayed in as a guest of the hotel for a night, with a stunning view of Parliament and the London Eye. The Personality Suites are especially interesting, as they honor some of the most captivating guests that called The Savoy a second home in London, including Winston Churchill, Katharine Hepburn, and Frank Sinatra.
What does it mean to be a butler at a hotel in today’s world?
My job is very easy if I listen and I have to listen well. I have to read in between the lines and adapt to different people. Some guest’s houses are as large as The Savoy, and on the other side, you never know how long someone saved to stay here and it better be a memorable experience. We have pop stars, actors, heads of state, European royalty. I have to keep secrets. No matter who, I am sincere and it has to come from here [points at heart]. I don’t want you to just come here once. If you don’t want a butler in your face all the time, I can assure you that I’m a whiff of wind coming in and a whiff of wind coming out. If something goes wrong, I want to be that face that fixes it quickly. This is my stage, whether I’m here in the foyer or in a suite.
What are the most common requests you receive?
I’d say packing and unpacking, running a bath, and booking travel arrangements for after a guest leaves the hotel. I have people leaving their London wardrobes with us and I can have it exactly where they placed it so it is familiar when they return.