New mother Daisy Prince on the nanny whose celebrity clients, jet-set lifestyle and seen-it-all savoir faire have left her nursing a strange sense of insecurity
SO I’VE CROSSED the Rubicon into motherhood and (so far) have survived. I had a son, Harry. Well, officially he’s Horatio Frederick Colin Chisholm, but that’s a very big name for such a small person, so we’ve dubbed him Harry.
Four days after Harry was born, our new family consisting of Harry, Hugh, myself and our baby nurse climbed into an enormous Cadillac Esplanade with so many bags of diapers, plastic baths, bottles, clothes etc that it looked like a medieval monarch was moving court instead of one small squalling eight-pound ball of baby. The caravan set off at an appropriately stately pace up I-95 to his majesty’s summer residence in Newport, Rhode Island.
We arrived at my parents’ house more or less intact and attempted to settle into our new life. One of the challenges of new motherhood is learning to deal with a new demanding, bossy, and occasionally irritating relationship — by which, of course, I’m talking about the baby nurse. This is, I realise, only a problem for the UHNW as baby nurses cost a fortune, but, as any new mother will tell you after having one, they would probably pay double the amount.
Our baby nurse came highly recommended but, when she first arrived, I wasn’t sure that we were going to stay the course together. Part of the problem comes from the fact that the baby nurse is meant to train their clients to be mothers and the process isn’t an always an easy one.
And in the great tradition of nannies, she was an extraordinary snob. Like top-shelf trophy WAGs, these ladies have been passed around some of the world’s richest families and so have a unique perspective into the lives of their clients. The baby nurse is in such demand that one American princess called to reserve her even though she wasn’t pregnant. The princess and her husband were planning on having a baby in the next year, and would the baby nurse be free?
Additionally, our nurse had travelled the world more times than a European playboy, so sometimes it felt as if we were living with Mick Jagger. As a result, she was virtually impossible to impress, although that didn’t stop us continually trying.
For example, my mother had rescued from the attic the baby carriage I’d had as a child in London. This enormous, old-fashioned, Mary Poppins-style contraption was brought down and cleaned to a military standard. The carriage, called a Silver Cross, had so many accompanying bits and pieces that it looked like a blinged-out Palm Beach matron. I jokingly told my mother that they ought to have an MTV show called Pimp My Pram and use ours as an example of the Rolls-Royce of strollers. We even nicknamed it the Queen Mary. When we proudly wheeled out the Queen Mary for the baby nurse to inspect, she dismissed it with a desultory wave, ‘Oh, I’ve seen these only in Paris… and Monaco.’ Chastened, we wheeled it away again.
Snippets about the life she’d led dropped like cherries into my lap all summer. She thought flying private was definitely the most comfortable way to travel (who was I to disagree?). Families before ours had taken her to the Bahamas and spent weeks with her on their yacht, so she was disappointed to learn that we were a yacht-less family. But we did have a hurricane.
Although Hurricane Irene turned out to only be a tropical storm, it was still a terrifying ordeal with a six-week-old baby. I have to say that the baby nurse was a complete star during the whole episode, never batting an eyelid even when the electricity blew out and the hot water stopped working. She just merrily helped to make an enormous lunch for ten people (there was a worrying WASP moment when someone realised that all the clubs were shut due to the storm, so how would everyone be able to eat?) and carried the baby down for inspection after a large dinner party. (In Newport, just because there’s a raging storm on it doesn’t mean that you stop socialising.)
I was even more impressed with her when she told me that with her colossal pay cheque she had privately educated all seven of her children and all sixteen of her grandchildren. She had supported a husband with Alzheimer’s and had managed to acquire a large property portfolio. I was definitely impressed by her skills with Harry and sang froid when it came to any kind of adversity.
Still, I felt I had to make my mark on her in some way. When the New York Post’s Page Six gossip column ran an item announcing Harry’s birth, I felt my moment had come. Proudly, I showed her a copy of the paper and waited for her reaction. She read the item in question, said nothing and then flicked her eyes to an earlier item on the page about someone who worked at Vanity Fair.
‘Oh, yes,’ she said casually, ‘I knew her before she worked at Vanity Fair; she’s a friend of Susan’s [one of her former clients].’ Ah well, some people just can’t be impressed.
Daisy Prince is a contributing editor of Spear’s and has worked at Vanity Fair and ES magazine