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Meet Ms Manners

Updated: 2013-10-27 08:11
By Matt Hodges ( China Daily)

A former royal attendant offers etiquette lessons. Matt Hodges reports.

A former member of the British queen's household, who now trades on her extensive social network and reputation, is on a crusade to bring good manners to China - or at least to those who want to improve their social or business standing with foreigners.

Alexandra Messervy recently launched a pop-up "etiquette school" in China that travels the nation, catering to demand. She hopes to set up a permanent facility within the next year, possibly in Shanghai.

"Good manners are all about building self-confidence, because they make other people feel comfortable and at ease," says Messervy, who spent more than a decade working for the British Royal Family before founding The English Manner in 2001. It's a joint venture with Public Image Inc, The Etiquette Connection, which ranks as the United Kingdom's No 1 finishing school.

"You have seven seconds to make a good first impression, and it is very hard to undo," says the lady whom some British media have dubbed "Ms Manners".

She was speaking last week before hosting afternoon tea for local media at the Park Hyatt Shanghai.

Meanwhile, a launch ceremony for The English Manner's latest associate office in Sichuan's provincial capital Chengdu was held on Oct 15.

Like the pop-up school, this represents a partnership with UK-based Prestigious Education. It offers such courses as "How to adapt to British student life".

While attending to the British monarchy, Messervy helped organize Prince Andrew's wedding to Sarah Ferguson in 1986 and Prince Harry's christening. Incidentally, this week marks the christening of the latest addition to the Royal Family, Prince George.

Meet Ms Manners

Messervy also served as a consultant to the world-famous finishing school, Lucie Clayton.

Although she will not disclose the names of individual clients - discretion being one of The English Manner's calling cards - she says they include nouveau-riche Chinese entrepreneurs, property tycoons and the owner of a fleet of private jets who had her train his entire service staff.

Such finely tuned networking skills and a valuable list of contacts should render her school's services an easy sell in a country where personal relationships are depended upon to grease the wheels or skip rungs on the ladder.

"We also do cultural tour programs called 'Accessing the Inaccessible', which might include lunch with a duchess or a trip to see the Crown Jewels," she says.

"We had one Chinese gentleman last year whom we took to England, Scotland, Paris and Rome. We were able to get him behind-the-scenes access at Paris Fashion Week so he could meet some of the designers."

The school also helps groom Chinese children who are trying to settle in at prestigious universities like Oxford or Cambridge. Showing painstaking attention to detail, one course created a form of pilates for kids to teach them discipline so they don't fidget.

"The understanding of international interpersonal skills and luxury service culture needs to grow in order for China to keep up with Western countries," says William Hanson, one of The English Manner's senior tutors.

"The Chinese people may now all have designer handbags, for example, but they have realized that they need to know how to carry the bag in order to really look the part," he says.

Messervy, who first visited China in January 2012 to attend the World Snow Polo Championships in Tianjin, describes her role these days as "more of a global ambassador for the brand".

Messervy has committed her own share of social bloopers, while her company has courted controversy over its tours of London's Westminster in 2005 - giving her a rich tapestry of mistakes as well as successes from which to draw. She worked for the Queen's household from the 1980s and later became private secretary to Prince Michael of Kent.

"The first time I was presented to the Queen, I think I turned my back on her instead of walking out backward. But I wasn't sent to the Tower (a former dungeon)," she recalls, peppering the story with some typical British humor.

Her pet peeve is smartphones - or, rather, the way in which they have clouded good manners. She gets visibly riled at the thought of pedestrians who stop mid-stride to ping messages around digital space and reminds Hanson that they need to write a blog post about this.

"It seems common here to whip out your phone at lunch, but there are certain situations where that would not be acceptable in the UK, such as during a meeting with your boss. It sends the signal that the other person is not important," she says.

She says demand is also rising among her British clients for instruction on Chinese business etiquette, to which the school increasingly caters.

Contact the writer at

 Meet Ms Manners

Alexandra Messervy runs a pop-up etiquette school in China and hopes to set up a permanent facility within the next year, possibly in Shanghai. Provided to China Daily

(China Daily 10/27/2013 page5)

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