Polly Hadden-Paton landed a job as an office assistant to Lily Allen at the age of 20.
Now, she heads up You Need a PA, providing the rich and famous – from Suki Waterhouse to Nick Grimshaw – with personal assistants in London at an hourly rate.
It was while assisting Allen that Hadden-Paton met Vicky Silverthorn, the singer’s PA at the time. Hadden-Paton stepped into the role when Silverthorn left to start up her own decluttering and professional organising business, You Need a Vicky.
Several years down the line, the close friends are now professional “fixers” to a number of high-profile clients. Together they run three – soon to be four – businesses (including “You Need a PA”) that offer pay-as-you-go “lifemin” services to the elite.
Polished, polite, professional, and extremely well connected, their tasks range from picking engagement rings to getting a client’s son into Eton.
And a last minute reservation at London’s hottest restaurant? Not a problem.
You can hire one of Hadden-Paton’s PAs to come to your house or office for £45 an hour (for a minimum of four hours), or £350 a day. For an offsite service, the hourly rate is reduced to £40 an hour and there’s no minimum booking.
“These days people don’t always want full-time assistants,” Hadden-Paton told Business Insider. “You might not need someone all the time, you just need someone to come in and get the job done in half a day, or a day.”
“Every week is different,” she added. “We generally see between five to 20 clients a week, usually one in the morning from 9.a.m. until 1.p.m., and then another in the afternoon.
“We’ll let ourselves in with our own set of keys and they’ll email us a list of what needs doing. It can be anything from ‘Could you send granny this for her birthday?’ to ‘Arrange a party for 200 in a week’s time.'”
And no request ever appears to be a problem.
- Getty/Rich Fury
Hadden-Paton’s clients include the likes of actress Suki Waterhouse, model Kelly Brook, presenter Nick Grimshaw, rugby player Ugo Monye, as well as a range of other anonymous celebrity clients, including footballers, pop stars, and even sheikhs.
“We do get a number of big requests,” she said. “A lot of the time it’s fine, other times the answer is yes, and then it’s ‘Oh god!'”
“This year we had a client that contacted us at really short notice and needed backstage passes to Glastonbury,” she added. “We were also asked to find them an RV with an exclusive place to park ensuring it was stocked with their favourite food and drink. We created them a bespoke flag which was there for their arrival when we helicoptered them in.”
“We’ve also sourced all sorts of gifts, even a signed, personal and still grass-stained football shirt that we sent to someone as a present.”
The company recently bought a canal boat for a client to give to his family. “Then all in a week we repainted and reupholstered the interiors, moved the boat by water 68 miles, and dressed it with flowers, candles, cakes and balloons ready for the big reveal,” Hadden-Paton said.
On more than one occasion, they’ve even been asked to get rid of ghosts in a client’s home.
“Because we’re juggling a billion different things at a time the insane things you get asked don’t really settle in, you just get on with it,” she said.
“Then my boyfriend says, ‘That’s madness!’ And I realise, ‘Oh yeah, maybe that is insane or too much,'” Polly said. “But then you just get it done.”
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Hadden-Paton and Silverthorn belong to a circle of elite, “seriously kick-ass” PAs in London who they say look out for each other.
“If you desperately need a hand with getting someone into a particular restaurant, there’s no hiding of contacts,” Polly said. “It’s one of the nicest things about my job, the support network, because most of the time you’re working by yourself.”
And it’s not just famous people that require their pay-as-you-go services – it’s also the wealthy who have more important things to do than complete mundane tasks like opening their own post or calling for a plumber.
Some clients get the team in every three months just to open their mail and file it – they don’t touch it in the meantime.
“Lots of our clients are families where mum and dad are both in full-time high-powered jobs – usually she’s in advertising and he’s in finance,” explained Hadden-Paton. “They’ll have a nanny and a housekeeper, but they just need someone else as an extra pair of eyes to look out for leaks or lights that have gone.”
There are plenty of bachelors on their books, too. “We get lots of single guys who travel a lot with their jobs, who might need someone to keep things ticking over at their London flat, or if they’re in the public eye, to help look after diaries,” she said.
“Equally, we get people who are starting their own business. I know what it’s like – you’re so focused on one thing that you let everything else slip by the wayside.”
“We’re here to brain dump on.”
There’s nothing the PA team love more than a “good house move, from start to finish” – and it can be a very thorough process.
They had one client who went on a two-week holiday while the PA squad packed up everything in his flat, moved it into his new place, switched over bills, installed Sky, and secured parking permits. Meanwhile, Silverthorn’s team unpacked and organised everything meticulously.
“Everything was perfect for his return, from the milk in the fridge, to the pictures hung on walls,” Hadden-Patton said.
“We get lots of travel requests, too. Most recently we were asked to organise an amazing trip for a husband to surprise his wife – travel, accommodation, yoga lessons on paddle boards, and lots of little surprises along the way.”
The requests aren’t always frivolous, though. The PAs are also frequently called upon by clients who are recently divorced or bereaved.
“When people are pretty vulnerable they should be focusing on grieving, or whatever it is, rather than having to go through endless paperwork,” Hadden-Patton said.
“Sometimes we turn up and the lady of the house has never had to look at bills because the husband did all that and now they’re feeling anxious. We can come in for a few days in a row, get the TV license sorted for the new place, and just give them a bit of confidence so that they can start rebuilding themselves.”
She added: “They say that moving house and divorce are the most stressful things you can go through. So it’s pretty inexpensive for the quality of service we provide – we’re here to brain dump onto.”
So what does it take to make it as a super-PA?
Firstly, professionalism is key in this line of work, according to Hadden-Patton. “It’s a very personal relationship that you’re building, getting passwords, bank account numbers, and you kind of become a confidante,” she said.
“But there’s a real line that shouldn’t be crossed between friend and assistant. You want them to know that they can always rely on you but it can’t get too informal. I always try and leave at 6 p.m. I get clients that offer me a glass of wine, but it’s always safer to keep professional and leave it at that.”
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You also need a thick skin on you, she said. “You have to try to not get offended easily. It’s not about you, it’s about the client.
“They can be stressed and sometimes you’re there as a bit of a punch bag, but nine times out of 10 they’ll apologise and say ‘Sorry, I’m just having a crappy day’ – if you take it personally you’ll be doomed or miserable.”
Lastly, you must have the ability to multitask. “I spend every day with a headphone in one ear and a phone in the other while talking to someone else at the same time,” she said. “It’s something I’ve always been able to do.
“I’ve always been such a chatter box, while reading and watching TV, people think I’m not concentrating properly – but I am!”