By: Justin Harper
If Justin Harper ever needs a second job in Singapore (not that unrealistic given how expensive the city is becoming), he can now add chauffeur driver to his resumé.
After taking Rolls-Royce’s White Gloves training course I can now drive with all the grace and elegance needed to transport around one of the city’s many millionaires. Around 17 percent of Singapore’s population are millionaires, so I have plenty of prospective customers. Not only did I sharpen my driving skills, learn to pull up at kerbs neatly but I also discovered the etiquette needed in a chauffeur to make his passenger feel safe and comfortable.
My instructor was a Brit named Andy who told me he has been busy in Asia training up chauffeurs for hotel chains and private individuals. Rolls-Royce has a fleet of cars it uses to transport around celebrities and VIPs at awards ceremonies and functions across the globe.
During my half-day course, I jotted down a long list of cardinal rules I was told never to forget. These include not parking too close to the kerb, always braking smoothly and leaving enough distance from the car in front when stopping at traffic lights.
Inside the car there are plenty of style tips to follow to ensure it is immaculately presented. I was taught little touches like making sure the air vents are all aligned, the air-con fan is set to low and the seat belts are untwisted – these can be the difference between being praised and sacked.
The driving course is by invitation-only and can take anywhere from four hours to one week depending on the driver’s ability and how quickly they can learn to drive the Rolls-Royce way. This is generally gracefully and sharp without speeding too fast, but equally not driving too slow.
The course involves the long history of Rolls-Royce cars, covering its founders Sir Charles Rolls and Henry Royce, along with chauffeur etiquette (how to greet passengers and present the car) along with a driving practical at the end.
Andy told me about the “magic carpet ride”, which is how Rolls-Royce sums up its driving experience. This is achieved by a combination of the car’s sophisticated engineering along with the driver’s skills. This is the ultimate goal for any would-be chauffeur. He said: “One of the most effective ways to improve a bad driver is to change their seating position so that they aren’t so close to the steering wheel. Ideally, a driver should be using their small muscles such as those in their hands and forearms and feet, rather than in big muscle groups like the shoulders and thighs.”
During my White Gloves course, I took the Ghost Series II around the streets of Singapore, stopping off at a hotel to practice loading and unloading luggage. I learned when I should introduce myself and to ask the passenger if there is anything they require before we set off. After the small talk is out of the way, it’s important to alter the angle of the rear-view mirror so the chauffeur can’t make eye contact with the passenger. “It gives the passenger a sense of privacy and they don’t feel like they’re being watched. It’s these small things that really make the difference,” Andy added.
When you are driving (hopefully smoothly, and braking softly) you should always leave at least a car’s length between you and the car in front when you are stopping at a junction or traffic lights. While in Singapore this may invite others to cut into your lane, it demonstrates a respectful way of driving. “You need to see tyres and tarmac in front. Stopping a little distance away from the car in front is also good from a security point of view as it gives you more time to react.”
Being safe and secure is a major theme of the course and chauffeurs are taught not just about the well-being of the passenger but also their possessions. This could mean asking the passenger if they remembered all their luggage when they’ve arrived off a flight, while securing their bags in the trunk first before escorting them into their seat.
Andy has had plenty of famous people in the back of his Rolls-Royce, including fashion designer Ralph Lauren, and he also protected the modesty of British actress Emma Watson as she stepped out of a Rolls-Royce at a film awards recently, shielding her from the paparazzi with a large umbrella.
Asia has a high percentage of Rolls-Royce owners who have chauffeurs drive their cars for them given its cities’ congested roads, plus the low salaries needed to pay a driver compared to Western wages. All I need to do now is find a wealthy Rolls-Royce owner who is willing to take me on.