Sarah Roberts, on a stress free Christmas
PUBLISHED: 15:11 19 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:37 20 February 2013
Katie Jarvis dreams of going to bed mid-December and waking up to find that christmas has been sorted...and then meets the women who make that happen. Mike Charity took the pictures
What would make you drool with delight this Christmas?
A gold Minox camera with diamonds around the lens? A gorgeously-pricey scent - say, No 1 by Clive Christian at 1,260 a pop? Little Bow-Peep lingerie from Strumpet & Pink?
Or - think hard - would your Christmas dream be to go to bed, mid-December, harassed and panicking about the fact that you haven't yet bought a single chipolata, only to wake up to discover someone had sorted Christmas for you? Bought and wrapped tasteful presents, sent the cards (charity ones, of course), decorated the colour-themed tree, ordered the free-range local turkey, picked up Aunt Marj from the station (and, even more importantly, agreed to take her back) and even organized a relaxing New Year break in New York.
It's not Santa you need; it's Sarah.
"Christmas is statistically the most stressful time of the year. You've got the shopping to do; the cooking; the in-laws to entertain; children to sort out; as well as all the things you normally do on a daily basis," Sarah Roberts says.
"Yet Christmas should be a time to enjoy - a time you can spend with your loved ones rather than rushing around trying to get everything done. We are here to take away as much of the stress and strain as you want."
And if that's not carol music to the ears, then heaven knows what is.
For Sarah and her Fairford-based company, Classic Concierge, no task is too big, too small or too absurd. If it's legal and it's ethical, they're just a phone-call away.
"We can arrange to have your house decorated - not with Ho Ho Ho Santas but tastefully. We'll even get someone in to talk over exactly what you're looking for. We'll write your Christmas cards and post them."
"Sometimes people are quite happy for you to print or write their cards for them; others want to sign them themselves. It's entirely up to the client. We can get artificial snow in so your children can wake up to a white Christmas; or arrange for a top chef, who's catered for royalty, to prepare a complete Christmas Day meal, which can be dropped off with simple cooking instructions. We can buy all the presents you need. We just ask for a rough list - say, Uncle Bob, silk handkerchiefs - and we'll do the rest."
And what about a budget?
"Around 90 percent of people will give a budget - no more than 1,000, for example; but there are some who don't worry about that at all."
And there you have a clue to the core clientele. We're not, on the whole, looking at your average BOGOF shopper. Sarah's clients are more your average celebrity; perhaps someone whose only forays into their 30,000 kitchen consist of grabbing a bottle of champers.
Concierge companies have been big business in the States for a good five years or more now, and they've started to take off in London, too. But the Cotswolds - despite their upmarket profile - had, until recently, missed out. So what will such a service do for you? The answer is: almost anything. They can recommend and book restaurants, clean your house, shop, devise your perfect getaway, pick up relatives from the station, arrange a party, or collect your dry cleaning. Even better, they're on hand 24 hours a day; if you wake up peckish at 3am, they'll even pop round with a curry. You give them a list - as eclectic as you could ever dream up - and sit back with confidence that all will be expertly carried out.
"I've always wanted to run my own business, and the more I looked into running a concierge service, the more it seemed like a good venture," Sarah says. At only 25, she's packed a fair amount into her career so far - sales, event management for executive businesses such as Bentley, and working for some pretty high-profile Cotswold families (whose identities you couldn't get out of her for love nor money).
"One of the important aspects of Classic Concierge is that I've vetted all the suppliers. They've been thoroughly checked out to make sure they offer a really good standard of service. I've interviewed them, used them myself, got recommendations, and looked into qualifications and insurance. They have to be polite and well presented and, above all, discreet. No one wants the state of their bedroom floor being discussed."
(Too true. One of my abiding memories is the Aga man who started to give me an entertainingly gruesome lowdown on local personalities he had serviced (so to speak). All great fun until, with dawning horror, I realised that the state of my kitchen bin was almost certainly being added to the gossip list.)
So let's be clear once again. This isn't a cheap service, especially if you opt for the top-notch 'platinum' package that, for a set monthly sum, gives you a generous allocation of hours on a 24-hour basis. Less costly options are available, and there's an hourly rate too.
Time to put Sarah to the test. When I left my brood to jet off for five days recently, I was concerned. It's my own fault - as my friends keep telling me - but the only thing I don't do for them at mealtimes is to deaminate their amino acids.
My list for Sarah included walking the dog, making packed lunches, transporting my 17-year-old daughter to an evening rag-bash do, and (bliss beyond words) cleaning my bathrooms so I could get home to spotless sinks rather than a wreck of Titanic proportions.
The questions she asks in preparation are succinct and to the point: where will the dog lead be? What will the children eat?
The children get packed lunches of excellent quality (leading only to complaints about the usual fare); Ellie gets to the ball on time; I come home to taps I could dine off; and even the dog - notoriously fussy about walks - doesn't seem to have moaned.
Moreover, there's a bunch of roses on my table of such quality and beauty, I'm relieved they're not from my husband. (The crime they would be intended to expiate would surely be in the 'unforgivable' bracket.)
"Ah, the flowers," Sarah says. "That's the sort of little something we like to do that's over and beyond what our client might expect."
If everyone except Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen is reading this thinking the service must be beyond their reach, that's not necessarily so.
Classic Concierge also offers a five-hours-a-month package for people aged 60-plus, costing 70. "We'll take someone out, walk their dog, accompany them to the doctor's or do their shopping. They could use us for an emergency, such as a burst pipe. We'd arrange for the plumber to come and even wait with them while the plumber is there, if that's what they want."
Would Sarah herself use a concierge service? "I'm a hands-on girl," she says. "I clean my own bathrooms and cook my own food, so handing over my 'To do' list to someone else would be rather strange. But I think that once I'd got used to having someone I could trust do these tasks for me, I wouldn't look back!"
And what would be her ultimate recommendation for a Christmas indulgence (apart from Classic Concierge gift vouchers, of course, available throughout the year).
"What about a personal visit from Santa for your children? If you don't want to go to Woolworth's or you local garden centre, we can organise for him to come to your house. He can be waiting in the living room for when they get home from school, or make a little noise when they're in bed on Christmas Eve so they can come down and investigate."
Obviously, this is Classic Concierge, so we can expect the real thing. But if Santa is tied up? "There are two people I'd use - one is the grandfather I never had who's jolly and loves children. And then there's my dad. He used to do it when my brother and I were younger. At Woolworth's one year, I sat on Father Christmas's lap and thought he seemed strangely familiar, but I had to check with my mum. She told me my dad was just helping out because Santa was so busy. I went on believing for a couple of years after that."
A Santa who's good enough to convince his own daughter? You can't get much more of a recommendation than that.
For more information on Classic Concierge, phone 01285 713707 or visit classic-concierge.co.uk