The word ‘butler’ conjures up images of tailcoat-clad servants attending to a grand house, and, some parallels can be drawn. Wadham’s Head Butler (alternative title: Food and Beverage Manager) ensures the smooth running of catering operations at College, much like a 19th century butler might have run a large family house.
"At one point, the Warden had his own butler and chef and there was another butler to take care of the needs of the senior Fellows," says Darren of his predecessors. But the role of Wadham’s 21st century butler is now much broader.
Darren (whose day-to-day uniform is trousers and a fleece) runs a team of 12 permanent staff including Deputy Head Butlers Jacqui Person and Jasen Bustin, who share the Head Butler’s office. Between them, this trio ensure that all catering arrangements go like clockwork: that formal dinners are flawlessly presented; refectory meals are of a high standard and that any of the Warden’s formal dining requirements are seen to.
Although the team spends much of its time spread out across College – managing the day’s catering events in any number of rooms - they often meet in the mornings to discuss the day’s events, before going about their business.
“No two days are the same,” says Darren. “But during term time there is an element of routine to the job,” he adds.
Darren details a typical day’s catering in College, minus any formal events: “We have the students for breakfast and lunch, then staff lunch and Fellows’ lunch and around 200 students for dinner, Monday to Friday. We have 150 or so for weekend brunch, and on Sunday night we do Chapel supper or choir.”
Managing these meals, and his other responsibilities around college, keeps Darren busy and he regularly notches up 15,000 steps a day on his FitBit.
“I might be in the Refectory one moment overseeing breakfast and the Old Library the next, before moving on to the silver safe to polish up the candelabras and decorative serving dishes for a formal dinner. And then I might meet with the cellarer regarding the evenings wines, before going to the Warden’s Lodgings to set up a dinner and then to the SCR Common Room. I could go on!” he explains.
In addition to the everyday, Darren uses the skills he honed during his 37 years in the hospitality industry to ensure that Wadham’s formal events go off without a hitch.
One of the highlights of the job for Darren (who admits to enjoying the more formal side of things) is managing Wadham’s silver collection. “I was taught to polish silver as a very young child by one of my grandmothers, and I love silver care as a result,” explains Darren. “I am also responsible for counting the silver out of and back in to the safe, when it is used for formal events.”
“We have some really unusual pieces here. I love the sugar shakers and the pineapple shaped cup, dating back to the 1600s,” he says, "and there are Stilton spoons, special beer tankards, argyles [Victorian sauce-heating-jugs] and [his favourite object in the safe] a Georgian soup terrine, which is now used as a centre-piece."
Seated in his pantry (a pantry in the original sense of the word: a storeroom filled to the brim with napkins, crockery, cutlery, linen, candles), during a rare moment of peace, Darren reflects on his role: “I love Wadham. There’s such a fantastic community spirit here. Now I work in a college, I’d never go back into the hotel industry.”