Driven to perfection

Ulrike Myrzik

Annika Jochheim

A very special kind of school visit

The art of driving may well have been mastered by many, but the art of chauffeuring is something learnt by very few. No other knows this better than Hugh Millington. The Englishman runs his own small school for chauffeurs.

The color of the sky puts the gray asphalt of the road to shame, while relentless rain swells puddles that are already the size of small lakes. It quickly becomes clear that this is England – complete with everything that goes with it.

Hugh Millington remains unperturbed by the weather. With a dark blue suit, ramrod back and black umbrella, he stands in front of an old stone house in Wetherby, northern England, around twelve miles from Leeds and affectionately refers to the downpour as “a few raindrops”. The cap that he is wearing soon gives it away – this man is a genuine chauffeur.

You’re driving CEOs, stars, actors. They have the most absurd ideas and desires. Perhaps they need a luxury fountain pen or absolutely have to have a manicure. A chauffeur must always be able to react appropriately.
Hugh Millington

You won’t find a better one of his kind anywhere else. Here in the United Kingdom, the aristocracy is still held in high regard and the royal family has more fans than the Easter bunny – which is why Thomas Jüttner is here today. The driver for the Audi board members has traveled 1,500 kilometers to be inducted into the rules of the British art of chauffeuring. He is looking forward with keen anticipation to the day with his teacher; just the weather gives him cause for concern. “A dirty car is not good. I’ll have to clean it before we start the practical exercises.”

Hugh, who regularly provides chauffeur courses, is impressed. It is rare indeed for him to have a student that immediately thinks about such details. However, he is not surprised, because he knows that Thomas has already been driving Audi board members for two years. The Briton is pleased that he has nevertheless come all this way to visit his chauffeur school in Yorkshire, and soon the two men are talking shop on the golden rules of perfect chauffeuring.

The little  chauffeur handbook
The ten rules of perfect chauffeuring

What happens in the car, 
stays in the car

A driver hears and sees a great deal.
No matter what, a chauffeur
never talks about it. Absolute discretion
is the be-all and end-all.

Perfectly turned out
A well fitting suit with a white shirt,
dark shoes and matching socks
and, of course, a freshly shaven face –
this may not be all it takes to
make a chauffeur, but it is certainly
a good start.

Cars also need attention
Crumbs on the rear seat or dust on
the hood? Out of the question!
The essential cleaning kit in the
trunk is a given.

Go on the defensive
Taking another’s right of way, racing
through the lights on amber
and overtaking on the inside. That
may well score points, but
more likely on your license than on
your guest’s comfort tally. The
rules of the trade therefore include
safe and defensive driving.

Keep your mouth shut
Those who drive people whose
everyday job involves racing
from meeting to meeting or con-
stantly being in the spotlight
must be aware that the car is perhaps
the only place where the
guest will have the chance for peace
and quiet that day. So the rule of
thumb is mouth shut and eyes open.
If the guest is in a talkative
mood, they will let you know.

“No guest wants to sit in a moving ashtray. Smoking in the car is therefore not a good idea,” recommends Hugh to his student. The right thing to do is provide plenty of ventilation should someone nevertheless reach for a cigarette. Once, when he had to drive a Marihuana-smoking pop star to a concert, “There was only one thing for it. Wind the window down and put my foot to the floor.”

It is, of course, unacceptable to exceed the statutory speed limit. But what do you do when the guest is in a hurry and urges the chauffeur to drive faster? Usually all it takes is to appear to be driving faster, i.e. by accelerating a little harder and braking more abruptly. “At the end of the day, a chauffeur without a driving license is simply a chauffeur without a driving license,” sums up Hugh with a clear and undeniable logic, moving quickly on to the next topic: satisfying customer wishes – the be-all and end-all of his profession. “You’re not driving just anybody. You’re driving CEOs, stars, actors. They have the most absurd ideas and desires. Perhaps they need a luxury fountain pen or absolutely have to have a manicure. A chauffeur must always be able to react appropriately.” So it is a good thing to have a back office that can provide good advice in such situations. At Hugh’s Sovereign Chauffeur Company, which he runs alongside the school, his partner is responsible for this. She takes bookings and distributes them among the six chauffeurs. Sometimes she also helps by researching unusual destinations – and by mak-ing the impossible possible.

Unusual tasks are also part of the job description for the drivers of the Audi board members. Thomas tells us that he recently had to “rescue” a board member from a traffic jam. “The autobahn was completely closed and the board member, traveling with another chauffeur, was stuck in the middle of it. But he had to get to a very important appointment.” Via back roads and tracks, the 38 year-old then drove an alternative route that took him very close to the point in question on the autobahn in order to pick up the board member and take him to his meeting. Life is never dull for a driver to the board.

Hugh, too, can hardly complain of boredom. He has an extremely colorful customer base, from businessmen, to musicians, to aristocrats – he has driven them all. He greets every one of them with the words, “Hello, I am Hugh, your chauffeur.” He doesn’t mention his surname because, as he explains to his student, that is simply the custom in the British Chauffeurs Guild. “Perhaps it comes from the typical English butler, James. He doesn’t have a surname either,” muses Hugh, “and a chauffeur is also a servant, a butler on wheels, you could say.” Hugh fits very well to this image: His posture always seems a little stiff, and his words, delivered in dulcet tones with clear enunciation, are always carefully chosen. He is politeness personified, courteous and gallant.

Even when he tells the story of the tennis player he had to drive to Wimbledon, Hugh remains the very essence of British propriety. With understated gestures and a calm voice, he tells of how the young lady athlete absolutely insisted on sitting next to him on the passenger seat. When she became too warm during the drive, she suddenly decided to remove her hold-up stockings. Hugh tells with an unmoved expression how he, of course, kept his eyes firmly on the road. Just one tiny twitch at the corner of his mouth gives away that perhaps the story had amused him after all. Always the gentleman.

The 55 year-old would not accept anything less. It is not without good reason that he worked as an undertaker before opening his chauffeur school. When he began seeking a new profession, it quickly became clear to him that his style and personality would be perfectly suited to the work of a chauffeur. “Etiquette and manners are fundamental requirements for both professions,” he says.

He can now look back on fifteen years, during which his business in Wetherby has grown consistently. His six employees, all of whom he trained himself, of course, are constantly working. Many regular customers have their own cars in which they wish to be driven. Nevertheless, he makes good use of the three cars in his small fleet, as there are obviously clients who book the full package, complete with driver and car. “They mostly want to be picked up from a train station or airport and driven to a meeting in a hotel or office building,” says Hugh.

Despite the distances that a chauffeur covers in the car, much of his working time is spent waiting. Hugh, too, has found himself waiting in all sorts of places. Once, he stood for eight hours in front of exclusive London department store Harrods. “The worst thing about it was that I didn’t know when the client would return. She hadn’t said anything, so I couldn’t even go to the toilet,” recalls Hugh. But, because waiting features heavily in a chauffeur’s job, he always has a book or newspaper with him. Does he ever nod off in the car? “Absolutely out of the question,” impresses Hugh upon his trainee. He knows that already, of course, and has his own strategy. “When I am waiting for my passenger, I usually clean the car one more time.”

And this is exactly what the teacher and student do before they take to the road. Every water droplet left behind on the Audi A8 W12 by that inescapable north English rain submits to the expert polishing strokes of the two chauffeurs. The weather even plays along for a few minutes and Thomas is able to convince his trainer Hugh of his driving skills with dry feet – and a dry car. Even from the unfamiliar left side of the road.