Becoming Jeeves: Inside a Butler Academy

VIDEO: David Muir went to a Dutch castle to see how he'd do at the International Butler Academy.
ABCNEWS.com

Americans have long been fascinated by the role of the butler, as the "Downton Abbey" craze shows.

But forget fiction -- the real-life butler is back. Around the world, the newly rich getting richer, and they're getting butlers.

From where? How do you become a butler?

To find out, "20/20" went to the Netherlands, to a manor house in Valkenburg that houses the International Butler Academy.

Just seconds into a tour of the academy, head butler Christopher Cantlon bristled.

"There are two that are out of line," he said, referring to two dining room chairs at the wrong angle.

Watch the full story on "20/20: The New Help"

PHOTO: Students lined up at International Butler Academy, in Valkenburg, Netherlands.
ABC News
The Students

The students -- male and female, young and old -- come here from all over the world in search of a new career.

It costs $17,000 for the brutal two-month course.

"[Every day] it's more and more pressure," said Jan Herfurth, a 23-year-old trainee from Germany. "No sleep, lots of activites, dinners, field trips."

"You never know what comes next," added 55-year-old Leila Baldon of Italy.

PHOTO: David Muir, left, and Robert Wennekes, of International Butler Academy, in Valkenburg, Netherlands.
ABC News
Drill Sergeant

Running this butler boot camp is Robert Wennekes, a former butler who worked in the U.S. and Europe before starting a household placement agency.

Trainees are tested on their feet and in the classroom on how to run a mansion.

PHOTO: At International Butler Academy, large tennis balls are used to teach students to carry full trays in crowded rooms.
ABC News
Don't Drop the Ball

One drill teaches navigating a crowded room of guests; a ball simulates a guest bumping into you and your tray.

This is hardly a crash course. When we arrived, the students had already been at it for weeks.

Students are tested on everything -- even their discretion. One lesson: don't apologize -- by apologizing you indicate something is wrong.

What if you witness a cheating spouse? What if the chef is having an affair?

Their credo: the butler never tells.

PHOTO: ABC News' David Muir tries to change into his uniform in a timed drill at International Butler Academy, in Valkenburg, Netherlands.
ABC News
Dress Drill

Students must be ready at any moment for a drill, such as changing into their formal black-tie uniform in less than three minutes.

Why? Because a butler must be ready for the unexpected.

Inside the changing room, the clothes fly as the clock ticks.

"20/20" Co-anchor David Muir, who participated in this and other drills to learn more about the course, was the last one downstairs.

"Three minutes, 15 seconds," Wennekes said.

Why would anyone pay to put themselves through this?

Simple: a six-figure salary.

"The comeback of the butler is enormous," Wennekes said, citing the emerging wealth in countries like China and Brazil. "Every day there's new millionaires, I mean really new millionaires. These people own estates; they have planes and yachts."

They're also high maintenance -- just like Wennekes, who said good help is hard to find.

"I thought to myself, If I can't find them, I'm simply going to train them myself," he said.

PHOTO: A formally set dining table at International Butler Academy, in Valkenburg, Netherlands.
ABC News
Table Test

Another test: Can students set the table for dinner for eight in ten minutes?

They're supposed to use measuring tape to get the spacing between plates and glasses perfect. But it also slows them down.

"Where's my Caesar salad? Where's my soup?" Wennekes said after one two-student team's incomplete performance.

Muir was given a test: seven minutes to iron a shirt.

Fail: there was a problem with one of the cuffs.

"We would not iron a crease in a cuff," Cantlon said.

Next: the fine art of pouring wine.

"You step in, serve the wine, turn it, clear it," Jan, a student, said.

Muir gave it a try.

"You touched the glass with the bottle," Jan said. "This is the biggest mistake you could probably do."

PHOTO: David Muir participates in a butler training drill at International Butler Academy, in Valkenburg, Netherlands.
ABC News
Balancing Act

The final chapter: balancing a book while walking upstairs holding a tray full of glasses.

All in the name of carriage, that perfect posture that is the hallmark of great butlers.

Try not to look at the glasses -- look where you're going, trainees were told.

PHOTO: It costs $17,000 to attend the Academy; the course lasts just two months.
ABC News
Your Diploma, Sir

After eight weeks of trial, terror and abuse, and 16-hour days: Graduation day.

One student, 56-year-old Henry Herzog of France, had been told halfway through the course that he was done. On the final day, he was told he'd made the cut.

Herzog had previously said something that showed he grasped the age-old butler ethos.

"You are not the star," he said. "You are the man in the background that makes [the master's] life and the lady's life comfortable to do all the things they need to do. This is your task, and this is your life."

Downton Abbey's Carson couldn't have said it better.

Watch the full story on "20/20: The New Help"

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