From where I stand Ashley Harman is the deputy chief concierge at Brown's Hotel, London.
Here to serve and up for a challenge
I joined Brown's Hotel in 2005 and in October this year, I was named London Concierge of the Year by the Society of the Golden Keys [a membership body for concierges]. Before Brown's, I worked at the InterContinental Hotel on London's Park Lane and when it closed for refurbishment, a former colleague approached me and offered me the position of deputy head concierge at Brown's. I leapt at the chance because it meant a promotion, and Brown's is one of London's oldest hotels and is synonymous with quality. Initially, I was a little daunted by the increased responsibility but Simon [the head concierge at Brown's] reassured me that I was ready.
My main responsibility is to support Simon and look after the day-to-day running of the desk. The head concierge has to spend time attending meetings and dealing with the management side of the department, so he needs a deputy who can take the reins as and when is required. I didn't set out to be a concierge. When I left school, I studied hotel management before being taken on by Sheraton [Hotels] on its management-training programme. Part of the programme involved a three-month spell as a concierge and I just fell in love with the role. I enjoy the fact that it is a continual learning process and no two days are ever the same. One minute I can be ordering theatre tickets and making sure that guests receive their morning papers, and the next I can be organising a private jet or trying out the latest restaurant. We often have celebrities and high-profile guests staying with us, from lords and ladies to fashion and pop glitterati, so discretion is also a large part of the job.
What I love most about my job is being able to carry out the seemingly impossible. When a guest checks into a hotel and sets a challenge, the real buzz comes from being able to provide what they want. It's almost like a gauntlet being thrown down; a case of "I bet you can't do this," and then being able to do it. I always try to go the extra mile. When an airline lost the luggage of a regular guest recently, I bought a replacement suitcase and filled it with everything they needed for their entire stay - from business suits to golfing attire - all to the guest's exacting taste.
The most unusual thing I've ever been asked to do as a concierge is to order and ship scaffolding towers - along with an assortment of paints and brushes - for a regular guest who lived in Ethiopia. Many guests heavily rely on us to organise their lives for them and think of us as their London office. Our guests are usually very appreciative and polite. If someone is rude, I try not to take it personally and to think instead of the pressures that he or she may be under - being away from home, missing family, or maybe about to sign a multi-million pound contract. I try my best to reassure them and to turn their mood around.
The internet has made my job so much easier. Before it, we had a whole office crammed full of reference books and folders - even my bathroom at home was jam-packed. Simple tasks would take a lot longer to complete. Now I can access most of the information I need at the touch of a button. I was born near London and have always lived and worked here. This city has so many diverse cultures and in my opinion, an unrivalled history. Things change all the time - new restaurants and attractions open almost daily - so we are always learning new things. I wouldn't want to work anywhere else.
I work a 12-hour shift most days and I often don't get home until 10pm. I usually have some days off during the week, however, so I can spend time with my wife and my five-year-old son. I can honestly say that there is nothing I dislike about my job. I have found something I love doing and if I didn't enjoy it, I would stop. The most rewarding experience that I've had in my career to date was winning the Concierge of the Year Award for London. It was a huge honour for me because I was up against stiff competition from other concierges at top London hotels such as The Dorchester and The Langham. The award recognises the 14 years of my life that I have put into trying to be one of London's leading concierges.
* Interview by Lisa Hillier