A butler to royals serves in Kentucky

Butler Stevie McMahon took a moment to bask in the Kentucky sunshine outside the Makers Mark Bourbon Village last week, before the Games began and he had to start being indispensable.
Butler Stevie McMahon took a moment to bask in the Kentucky sunshine outside the Makers Mark Bourbon Village last week, before the Games began and he had to start being indispensable.

The closest he gets to the horses is sweeping up the "clods" they have dropped and that have temporarily adhered to the feet of those he is attending.

The closest he gets to royalty is very.

At the special request of Pearse Lyons, president of Nicholasville-based Alltech, butler Stevie McMahon is serving royalty in Kentucky during the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. He's doing it just as he did when he served Lyons at Windsor Castle: perfectly, while impeccably dressed in grey striped, silk-lined trousers and herringbone jacket and waistcoat, highly polished shoes and a quiet Scottish accent.

McMahon had the "distinct pleasure," he says, of serving the guests of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II when she hosted the FEI Championships last year. Lyons must have liked McMahon a great deal, as he asked then and there if he would be the man in charge of assuring the comfort of those born to royalty, knighted as ambassadors, chosen politically or dignitarily come Sept. 25.

That is, McMahon's job would be to guarantee the world's elite an unparalleled sense of gladness when they are sharing gustatory delights with each other in the Maker's Mark Bourbon Village at the Games.

It is a job that requires knowledge of "when to bow, when to offer a hand and when to keep your mouth shut," says McMahon, who, at 40, has been a professional English butler for almost two decades.

Yes, he says, smiling broadly, "they have butler schools in England, but I did not attend one."

In his case, being "in service" was a craft learned best by doing it well and being recommended for more jobs by those who smiled upon his brand of butlering. He did so well at it that he served for years at 10 Downing Street at the pleasure of British Prime Minister John Major.

McMahon delivers what is necessary, be it the proper tone while others are engaged in somber political talk or in such circumstances as these, where "a little Stevie Sparkle" is called for.

"People are here to have a good time. Anything I can do to enhance that experience, I will do," he says. "My desire is to make it more special than they expected."

'Part of the pageantry'

The job description is quite clear. It is to have the right answer at the right time, to be indispensable before anyone knows what they need.

Inside the Maker's Mark Bourbon Village, the Alltech royals and dignitaries will be separated from other special guests (who will pay $600 a day for the privilege of being in the pavilion) by a small barrier of boxwood. They will most assuredly be able to see McMahon at work, as well as those he attends.

McMahon says, gladly, that "this is part of the pageantry" and that it is expected.

Off duty, McMahon wears jeans, a T-shirt and sunglasses. He is anything but the stiff English butler you imagine. He laughs easily and often and explains that he grew up between Edinburgh and Glasgow, hardly the bastion of royal etiquette.

But he is genuine when he speaks of his immense respect for the royalty he serves, saying that he tears up when seeing the Queen, even after having done so "many, many times."

Despite his many assignments with British royalty and their horses over the years, the Games job is, he says, the largest and most important service he has had. Every day, he will be given a list of whom to expect that day — the list will likely include 100 or so visitors — and he will need to prepare accordingly.

For that, he says, he's got a vast number of facts filed away in his head already. Most are faces, places, which dignitary he has previously attended, their preferences and which etiquette is appropriate for which nationality. Many are already familiar to McMahon, since the clutch of the world's royals who attend international equine events regularly is small and they will likely consider him "a safe face."

A singular butler

His days will likely be 14 to 16 hours long, despite the fact that he'll have a few waitresses on hand to help him. He will be the only butler. He fully expects the workload and stress will be responsible for taking a "half a stone off by the end of the Games." (That's seven pounds, American.)

Still, he swears his clientele is less demanding than almost any other. "They are courteous, articulate and grateful to a fault."

The greatest challenge of his job, he says, is to make sure he maintains the same quality of service on day 16 of the Games as on day one.

That is no small, linen-draped, candelabra-heavy table to leap.

But McMahon is ready to put on his shiny, clod-free shoes and give it his all.

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