Molly Kelly is head butler at Harewood House, meeting and greeting some the world’s most influential people. She talks to Catherine Scott about her job and how state-of-the-art surgery has changed her life.
To fans of Downton Abbey Molly Kelly is about as far removed from the head butler Carson as you can get. She is tall, slim and elegant in her impeccable uniform, with a winning smile that welcomes guests from members of the Royal Family to American presidents.
Harewood House, in between Leeds and Harrogate, has been Molly’s life for more than 24 years. Liverpool-born, she moved to Yorkshire to attend catering college in York and first started work at the estate as an events manager.
“Fourteen years ago the job of under butler came up and I decided to go for it. I loved it. Then seven years ago I became butler,” she says. Molly manages a staff of five and is responsible for running the private quarters at Harewood which take up the entire first floor of the stately home and comprises 18 bedrooms. She looks after Patrica, the Dowager Countess of Harewood.
“I run the private part of the house,” she explains. “We are a small team unlike what people see in Downton Abbey and we do everything. We don’t have any footmen and we share a lot of jobs. I serve dinner, take care of the guests and all their needs. I drive the car and collect guests in the car from the station. No two days are the same and that’s the way I like it.”
Historically the butler at a stately home like Harewood would have been a man’s job. “I never really understood why being a butler was always a man’s job considering how many different things you have to organise,” says Molly. “When his Lordship took me on 14 years ago it was quite unheard of to have a woman in that position. There are more women in the profession now, even Buckingham Palace has a few.”
But when the late Lord Harewood decided to appoint Molly she says it did give the family a few headaches, if only in terms of protocol. “As in Downton, butlers and other staff are traditionally referred to by their surnames, but his Lordship didn’t like the sound of it so he said: ‘We’ll just call her Molly’ and that was that. But as my surname is Kelly, it wouldn’t really have bothered me too much.”
Despite this, Molly says Harewood is still a very traditional house. “Things haven’t really changed much since I was trained. Attention to detail is paramount and that’s what I really like about my job. We are lucky that we get a lot of royal visits. Sometimes they are only for an hour or two but sometimes longer. Prince Charles has stayed here and in the summer we had Prince William and Kate for the start of the Tour de France in Yorkshire.”
Molly has always issued the same warm welcome to guests, but admits a car crash in 2000, which saw half her teeth knocked out, severely dented her confidence.
While her dentist offered her dentures, she struggled so much with them that in the end she gave up and decided her only option was to stop smiling. When she greeted people, which is a fundamental part of her role, she would smile but without showing her teeth; when she talked to people she would put her hand in front of her mouth.
“It really knocked my confidence and I was utterly miserable,” says 53-year-old Molly. “My job is a lot about show and is quite theatrical at times and involves meeting a lot of people, including members of the Royal Family when they come to stay here. I am normally the first person that they see and my appearance is very important to me. You can hide most things but it is difficult to hide your teeth.”
While the damage to her teeth took its toll emotionally, there was a physical consequence too. “I could eat very little,” explains Molly. “I stopped eating out as I would look at the menu and know there was nothing that I was able to eat.”
Molly lived like this for more than 10 years and it was only when she saw an advert for dental implants at a practice in Farsley, Leeds, that she decided to see if there was anything that could be done to help her.
“When I got there they talked me through it all and it was amazing what they could do. Then they explained that they were actually moving to the Harewood estate and had I heard of it. I told them that I actually lived and worked there.”
Molly ploughed all her savings into the procedure which costs thousands of pounds, but she says it has been worth every penny.
“It has cost me about the same amount as a new car, but what do I want a car for when I walk to work? I went in with my old horrible teeth and came out with my new ones. It was amazing. I was awake throughout and I was really interested in what they were doing.”
Jon Swarbrigg, of Dental Excellence, says that in the past Molly would have faced months of treatment and spent vast amounts to fix her teeth,
“The ‘Fast and Fixed’ method is revolutionary and allows patient to have a full set of fixed teeth in just one day,” says Jon. “The change in her has been remarkable. The term cosmetic dentistry is really misunderstood as people think it is all about vanity. There is really nothing vain about Molly. Her teeth affected her emotionally and physically.” Molly had just two
days off work following the procedure and the surgery was done in time for her to attend the Queen’s garden party this year. “Now I don’t worry about smiling when I greet the guests.”
It’s now very much business as usual for Harewood’s butler, who is also responsible for looking after the estate’s policemen and security guards. And while, few people now travel with their own staff, visitors to Harewood do often bring their dogs and even horses with them.
“We manage to deal with most things,” says Molly, who often accompanies The Dowager Countess when she travels to London. “We are very fond of each other. It’s nice for me to have her around.”
Discretion, she says, is also a major attribute needed by a house such as Harewood. “I am dedicated to the family and they always come first.”
This has meant that in the past Molly’s personal life has had to play second fiddle to her job. She used to live in the servants’ quarters in the roof of Harewood House, but now has a “beautiful cottage” close by in the village after meeting her partner Martin.
And like most things in Molly’s life she wouldn’t have met Martin if it hadn’t been for Harewood. “Martin was putting a new lead roof on Harewood in 2000 and our eyes met just as I was passing him a coffee out of the window – and the rest is history.”
She says Martin understands her commitment and dedication to the Harewood family and as the cottage is in walking distance of the mansion she is still pretty close to ensure she doesn’t neglect her duties.
“Although we work 24 hours a day 365 days a year we work shifts to ensure that the house is always staffed,” explains Molly.
The hardest part of moving out of her quarters at Harewood was leaving behind her beloved dachshund Lulu.
“Lulu was his Lordship’s dog and he adored her. When he died he left Lulu to me in his will but she really still belongs to the house, although on my day off I do sometimes sneak her out.”
It is clear Lulu is as devoted to Molly as she was to the late Lord Harewood. As Molly has her photograph taken Lulu is never far from her side and the bond is clear for all to see.