Would you trust your little darling to a Norland Manny?
Would you trust your little darling to a Norland Manny?
Push down on that pedal!’ shouts one. ‘Hurry up, she’s getting soaked!’ cries another. The rain is tipping down in Bath and four teenage boys are trying — with limited success — to manoeuvre a pram up a gravel path.
After much sniggering, they manage to manhandle the buggy and its precious cargo — both, by now, quite soggy — indoors.
Is the baby OK, I ask? ‘Just about,’ grins a floppy-haired 18-year-old. ‘She’s a bit wet, but she’ll survive.’
At least the baby isn’t real — she’s a doll, used to teach students at Norland College, Britain’s most prestigious nanny training school, about taking care of young infants. And her four boisterous minders? Meet the ‘mannies’ — the largest ever intake of male students in the college’s 125-year history.
Norland, famed for its rigorous approach to childcare, distinctive uniforms and A-list clients (Prince George and Princess Charlotte’s nanny, Maria Borrallo, trained here, as did nannies hired by Princess Anne and Sir Mick Jagger) — and indeed nannying — has traditionally only attracted women.
But this year, the school saw record numbers of male applicants, four of whom are now taking its degree in Early Years Development and Learning.
It’s a far-from-typical career path for an 18-year-old boy, to say the least. Many parents would run a mile at the prospect of handing their offspring to a hormonal, spotty teenager — and who could blame them?
But male nannies are on the rise, with agencies seeing a spike in men eager to train in the profession, and increasing numbers of families specifically searching for male childcare. So, what’s behind the boom?
Mandy Donaldson, Norland’s vice principal, says it’s part of a wider cultural change, with men doing jobs they would not have considered in the past.
‘We have male nurses, male midwives and male nursery teachers,’ she says. ‘One of the main issues for men to date has been the salary: childcare is seen as underpaid and undervalued. But we’re trying to turn that on its head.’
My Big Buddy, a London agency specialising in male nannies, has several hundred young men on its books, ranging from Oxford graduates to cellists. ‘ “Mannies” bring a different dynamic,’ explains the agency’s Jill Chantry. ‘We are contacted by families who have husbands working long hours, or divorced parents. They want someone to kick a football around and a male to interact with their children.’
Not only do male nannies tend to be more outdoorsy and adventurous with their young charges than women, but they’re less pernickety about household rules. As a result, they form very different relationships — and are more likely to be seen as friends than authority figures.
Sara, a single mother of two boys from North-West London, says there’s a social cachet to a male nanny, with celebrities from Rod Stewart to Jennifer Lopez singing their praises.
‘The boys love being around male role models like Jonny, our nanny,’ she explains.
‘My younger son plays a lot of football with him. My older son enjoys conversations, walks and technology.
‘I trust him to be a positive male figure for my sons. They like hanging out with him, and I can juggle my responsibilities with greater ease.’
For other mums stuck at home, it’s good having another man around the house. ‘I’ve had male nannies since my son was six,’ says mum-of-one Susan.
‘They’ll do anything from helping with homework to cooking supper, playing sport and going to museums.’
Just don’t, whatever you do, call this new breed of household heroes ‘mannies’ to their faces.
‘We don’t use that expression,’ says Gregory Ridley, a rather serious 19-year-old from Warrington, one of Norland’s new recruits. ‘We’re doing the same job as the girls, so it’s not fair to mark us out as different.’
Along with 18-year-old Nathaniel Fabien, from Romford in Essex, he’s just come out of a food and nutrition class, where they’ve been chopping garlic and onion.
‘I haven’t poisoned myself — yet,’ grins Nathaniel.
Jordon Murray, 19, from Doncaster, has spent the morning at a sewing machine. ‘It was really fiddly,’ he admits. ‘We were making bunting and I couldn’t cut the triangles out. My hands were too big.’
He, like the others, is charming, impeccably-mannered and passionate about his vocation. But the question remains: what’s driven these young men to such an unorthodox career choice? And what do their friends think?
‘Weirdly, everyone I have spoken to has been really supportive,’ insists Jordon. ‘No one in my family has done anything like this — my gran was a nurse and my aunt’s a nurse, but my mum worked in marketing.’
Gregory started working with children through his church; his dad is a vicar and he’s helped out at Sunday school, as well as babysitting, since the age of 15.
‘When my mates found out I was coming to Norland, at first they were unimpressed,’ he says. ‘But then I told them about the salary, and they said: “Where do I sign up?” ’
With a starting salary most graduates can only dream of — new nannies earn between £20,600 and £31,000 a year — there are, certainly, incentives to apply.
The course has its perks, too. Sewing and cooking may not be high on most teen boys’ agendas, but also on the curriculum are self-defence, cybersecurity, party planning, skid pan driving (learning to control a car at high speed in wet weather) and escaping the paparazzi.
To be fair to the boys, they haven’t yet had a lesson in buggy handling, particularly not steering a £1,600 Silver Cross Balmoral pram, the old-fashioned model preferred by Norland’s elite clients.
And there’s also the undeniable appeal of attending lectures with so many young women.
‘We don’t think of it like that,’ insists Nathaniel. ‘There’s no: “Look, girls”. We’re all here for the same thing. The girls have been very relaxed and accepting.’
Nathaniel didn’t always want to be a nanny. His mum is a midwife and he’s the eldest of five, so he has experience of babies — but when he was younger he dreamed of going into the Armed Forces.
‘My family supported me through that, and when it turned out that wasn’t right for me, they supported me through this, too.’
He has a twin brother, who’s studying psychology. ‘You couldn’t get more different, could you? It’s nice to be doing polar opposites for once.’
Connor Beckles, 18, who grew up in Bath and lives with his parents (the other three share a flat) came to nannying the latest of the lot.
‘I was thinking about doing law, but I did a week in a law firm and absolutely hated it,’ he explains. ‘I’ve helped out at my local Cubs and Beavers and, living in Bath, I was aware of Norland, so I came to an open day and it just clicked.’
The college only accepted its first male student 12 years ago. The newcomers have prompted several changes in Norland’s strict code of conduct, much of which has been in place since the school was founded in 1892.
First, the uniform: in place of the girls’ brown boaters and beige A-line dresses, the boys have tweed jackets, beige chinos and brown ties emblazoned with ‘N’ insignia. ‘It’s pretty comfy,’ says Gregory. ‘It’s nice to look the part — it feels like joining the family.’
While girls must wear their hair in a neat bun, boys’ hair must be shorter than the top of their collar and they must be clean-shaven.
There’s a long list of rules while wearing the uniform, both on and off college property, in order to set a good example.
Students must not chew gum, buy alcohol, listen to music with headphones, eat fast food, cross the road unless at a crossing — or use mobile phones in the street.
‘It takes some getting used to,’ says Nathaniel, who sweetly refers to his normal clothes as ‘civvies’. ‘I was in McDonald’s the other day and, suddenly, I became paranoid that I was wearing my uniform.
‘I wasn’t, but I was convinced everyone was staring at me.’
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Most of the boys have been inspired by strong male role models, who encouraged them to ignore the stereotypes around nannying. For Gregory, it was his church leaders; for Nathaniel, it was his father, a social worker.
‘I’ve never seen that gender barrier between jobs, as both my parents work in caring,’ he says. ‘My dad has helped me work through the idea you don’t have to be female to care for children.’
Simply being here, they say, proves they’re as good as the girls. It’s not easy to get into Norland: students must have at least three A-C grades at A-level and there are three applicants for every place.
There are also hefty fees — at £45,000, the Norland course will cost these boys £18,000 more than a typical three-year degree. Courses are being funded by a mix of family money, bursaries and loans.
‘People are really excited that there are more male practitioners nowadays,’ says Jordon. ‘It’s still unusual, but there’s no reason we shouldn’t care about children in the same way women do.’
Nathaniel adds: ‘Many families are looking for a male role model that women can’t provide.’
As the boys traipse off to lunch, still attracting curious stares (and the odd coy glance) from passing girls, I ask female students what they think of the new arrivals.
‘It’s lovely having them here,’ says one softly-spoken girl. ‘It brings a bit of balance and stops us being cloistered away from the opposite sex for three years.’
‘They’ve been making us laugh in class,’ says another. ‘It’s like being back at school.’
With jobs typically in the ratio 7:1 (that’s seven posts for each Norland graduate), these nannies have bright futures — whatever their gender. That’s if they stop at being nannies. The boys’ ambitions are sky-high, ranging from opening nurseries to specialising in child psychology.
‘Working with children is the most rewarding thing I’ve done,’ says Jordon. ‘We’re raising the next generation and that’s a huge responsibility.’
Today, bunting and buggy skills await. Tomorrow, the Norland Mannies take on the world.
Daily Mail: Published 21st Sept 2017
Read the article in full here: The Mail Online