To celebrate Rolls-Royce Motor Cars’ world renowned White Glove chauffeur training, we are offering readers of our titles across Sussex the chance of a private chauffeured limousine for two people for the evening to take them to a champagne dinner at Chichester Festival Theatre and tickets to this year’s production of Peter Pan. In this special report, Editor Gary Shipton experienced the chauffeur training at Goodwood, the Home of Rolls-Royce, to understand what makes it the ultimate driving service and experience.
For more details and entry form see this week’s paper.
For those of a certain age, the first glimpse of a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce was courtesy of Lady Penelope and her trusty peak-capped Parker in Thunderbirds.
She swept across our 1960s TV screens in a gloriously pink adaptation of the famous car with the appropriate number plate FAB 1.
Series co-creator Gerry Anderson explained that ‘considering Penelope’s personality, and the role she played in International Rescue, it could only be a Rolls-Royce.’
Lady Penelope was not merely a member of British high society - she was intelligent, wealthy, powerful, resourceful and had impeccable taste.
Indeed, it was Rolls-Royce that pioneered the concept of the chauffeur, introducing the first professional training courses in this country a century ago. Today the iconic marque, whose home is at Goodwood near Chichester, continues to lead the way.
An invitation to spend a day training with the maestro of Rolls-Royce driver trainers, Andi McCann, was irresistible.
Andi travels the world as a global product expert and professional driver and trainer - last year he spent 278 days in an hotel somewhere around the planet.
It is no surprise that he is so much in demand.
He is meticulous and a consummate professional. From planning a route to tailoring his wardrobe to meet the cultural needs of the country where he is driving, Andi never overlooks a single detail.
He has even been known to check the route for the best phone signals for the client, selecting scenery and timings that will make any journey as close to the proverbial magic carpet ride as it gets.
But he is not subservient.
“Definitely the attitude of a chauffeur above all is to be professional,” he told me. “You are a professional driver. You are employed for your driving expertise and the service you provide.”
“One moment you can be going down to the dry cleaners or collecting children from school and the next you can be taking your boss to a red carpet event with film crews and cameras flashing around you. So you’ve got to make sure you know who you are working with and what they need and of course there’s a fine line there between what type of professional you are.
“I work with some people who are in high security areas where they’ve driven with close protection behind them and that’s a whole new demand on you. It takes you to defensive and evasive driving but your attitude should still be the same. It’s professional. Wherever possible it’s sharp and effortless.”
I ask about appearance. In some cultures it’s black trousers and a polo necked top that are de rigueur for the paid driver - and not the suit and the peaked cap.
“But as a guideline we always have a single breasted suit, a dark or relatively plain tie - it’s important the tie falls about the middle of the belt - and double Windsor knot, so even the knot itself is symmetrical.
“There’s a certain brand of shoes I wear because I know in a size 7 they fit perfectly and they’ve got nice thin leather soles.”
I suggest there’s a parallel with a pilot of a plane - who is there for your comfort but primarily your safety and to get you as effortlessly from one destination to another.
Andi likes that comparison. “Yes. You are piloting a car.”
There are critical impression points in the journey - just like the landing of a plane.
“It’s those last few movements that you make which can make the lasting difference to the memory of that journey, even if you have done everything else perfectly.
“So if you stop badly, wheels are at an angle, you happen to clip the kerb on the way in ... all those two hours of work are destroyed in seconds. The art of driving and the process that you go through are really important and for a lot of people even myself there might be one thing you forget and you make a note to remember it the next time.”
The smoothness of the stop is measured by four terms: Whisky, gin and tonic, cocktail and champagne.
The ultimate is the champagne stop - it imagines the passenger with full champagne coupes and the perfect finish is not a drop being spilled.
Even after you have stopped, the chauffeur’s work is not complete.
You need to park good distance from the kerb - perhaps just under a metre and almost the width of the door. If you are too close to the kerb your passenger’s foot will potentially get trapped and stuck between the car and the kerb and they can trip and fall over ‘or even worse damage their shoes.’
And a starlet arriving at a public venue in cocktail dress might require some protective umbrella shielding from ambitious paparazzi - fortunately the Rolls-Royce has its own branded umbrella neatly concealed within the body of the door.
I cannot claim to have been entirely at ease when I took the £450,000 Phantom on a drive across West Sussex but was armed with some key tips.
The first is it’s all about position. The height of the seat, the distance to the pedals, and placing your hands at a ‘quarter to three’ on the steering wheel rather than ten to two.
“The reason behind that is mechanically it’s the most effective position for the body to be in, a bit like a Formula 1 driver holds their wheel at quarter to three and reduces a lot of muscle tension. So it’s a simple thing like if you were to catch a basket ball you would try to hold it from the outside - not from the top or bottom.”
My final stop was not quite champagne. Nor even whisky.
But there’s no better or easier car to drive. Lady Penelope chose wisely.