The Rolls-Royce chauffeurs are of a different breed — we went through a crash course to learn all about it
Photos courtesy of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Limited
To everyone, the job of a chauffeur is a simple one. All they do is just pick up and send their bosses or guests, sleep in the car while waiting or drive around all day for errands at times - to an extent, that is true from my brief experience as a real-life limousine driver, for another story, years ago.
But it's a whole different story if the car you're driving is a Rolls-Royce, and the person you drive every single day is a high net-worth individual. Besides taking charge of his Rolls-Royce, what is most important here is that his safety lies in your hands. Oh, and by the way the Ghost Series II you see in this photos comes with a base price of $1,248,888, and $1,577,013 with all options added. Makes it even more stressful if you were to ask me…
Which is why Rolls-Royce conducts their very own driver training programme. This exclusive three-days programme teaches chauffeurs - usually sent by their employer - everything they need to know about the Rolls-Royce brand and history, followed by practical know-hows. Rolls-Royce’s ‘White Glove Programme’ initiative was first introduced in 2013; it teaches chauffeurs driving etiquette and best handling practices to deliver the brand’s exclusive ‘magic carpet ride’ to their employers, who obviously want the best comfort on the road their money could buy.
Although not given the full-blown three-day intensive course, I was invited for an exclusive 'compressed' half-day session with one of Rolls-Royce’s Driving Expert and Instructor, Andi Carter-McCann, who flew in from the UK.
The lesson was broken down into three separate 'curriculums'. It started with a history and theory lesson that teaches what you need to know about Rolls-Royce as an organisation, how the whole concept of a chauffeur came about, the different significant Rolls-Royce models from the classic all the way to the modern ones, royalties that always sought Rolls-Royces and even how to carry yourself and dress up smartly; for example, large plastic sunglasses are a big no-no, suit and tie is a must, shoes must always be polished and hair has to be neat.
For the second part, I was brought to a Rolls-Royce Ghost demo car in the showroom. Here, I was asked to spot ten different faults within the cabin that is unacceptable by Rolls-Royce’s standard. I spotted six; among the faults found in the cabin were air-con vents that were not positioned correctly towards the passenger, front passenger seat that was positioned to not give ample legroom for the rear passenger, seat belts that are placed messily, missing Evian water bottles for one rear passenger and the right rear passenger’s backrest that are too upright. Being complimented for qualifying as a professional Rolls-Royce chauffeur aside, it's mind-blowing all these attention to details the chauffeurs are subjected to.
Next, it was down to getting familiarised with the Ghost’s myriad of control buttons: Which opens the boot and the doors, that sort. It hasn't ended yet though, and there are some formalities involved — as a Rolls-Royce chauffeur, you must always greet the passenger, followed by loading his bags into the boot (to prevent it from being stolen), open the door to let them in and then close the door. After that, you need to ensure you adjust the rear view mirror at a position that it provides rear passengers with the most privacy to avoid making any eye contacts. “After all, high net worth individuals are either constantly on the phone or have 1,001 things on their mind — just give them their space,” said Andi.
An interesting point, which to me is a highlight of the lesson, is how to protect your female passenger’s modesty when she is all dressed up for a red-carpet event. “What you do is take out the umbrella from the driver’s door, open the rear door, then open the umbrella to create a curtain for her with one hand, help her get out the car with the other and finally walk her to the red carpet,” Andi explained as he demonstrated step by step. “The worst thing that could happen is your VIP suffering a wardrobe malfunction and the whole world gets to see, you know, that part of her. It’s your responsibility to prevent that.”
It finally came to the last curriculum of the day: The practical. It starts off with getting into a comfortable driving position, identifying the different cameras and sensors around the car, how to make turns safely (without having any brushes with walls and kerbs) and how to park near the kerb — to drop off your VIP - without making any contact. I was also taught how to reverse park this 5,399 mm barge; quite a challenge considering my daily drive is a three-door hatchback and the price tag of the demo Ghost Series II is equivalent to, err, two 5-room HDB flats. You can imagine the repair cost of something hand assembled and intricately put together…
On to the road we went. At this point, Andi was teaching me how to accelerate gently by using the car’s torque to let it move off, and then gently add pressure onto the accelerator to make it as comfortable as possible; frankly speaking, if you’re the hard-footed driver like myself, this particular exercise needs some getting used to.
Then, you need to get used to anticipating traffic around you and to remember to always, always give ample braking distance and stop at a safe distance from the car ahead of you. With regards to braking gently and effectively, this needs to be done so that your VIP passenger at the back will not be thrown about like ragdolls. And for the safe distance? It is creating space for you to escape, in case of an ambush. “Our passengers are important people, so you must always be prepared for the unthinkable”, Andi emphasized.
During the drive from Leng Kee Road, into the CBD and back to Leng Kee Road, Andi was sharing some of his experiences in the past driving high net-worth individuals. He shared a story of how he was once ambushed by two cars in Spain with an important executive in the back seat of a Phantom. After following orders from the fake police officers, he stopped a safe distance from the first car ahead and waited for all the men to come out of their cars. When he felt it was right, Andi immediately floored the accelerator and made a run for it. “I had a 6.75-litre V12 at that point, there’s no chance on earth for them to catch up with me!”
Andi also elaborated how some chauffeurs are taken a level higher and put through anti-terrorism defensive driving lessons. These special bunch are also trained to have a pair of sharp eyes of their surrounding; also to not have common routes and patterns that could make them a target.
At the end of it, lets just say I have definitely learnt a whole lot about this profession and have newfound respect as well for these breed of chauffeurs. It might sound easy, but the responsibility while being behind the wheel of one, to take care of your VIP and his valuable car, woahhh, simply is eye-opening. So, the next time you see a chauffeur behind the wheel of a Rolls-Royce, just remember that he is of a different breed.