The Importance of Being Earnestly Polite
In a rather slovenly world we chat manners
Article by Adrian Peel
A conversation with etiquette expert and media personality William Hanson, a Bristol-born breath of fresh air in this world of often unnecessary rudeness, ill-fitting clothing and unsightly tattoos, who also writes a regular column for the MailOnline and tutors at The English Manner in the art of civility, decorum and “household management.”
You have been called “the UK’s leading consultant in etiquette and protocol.” Quite an accolade. Do you ever feel any pressure when it comes to living up to that title?
Sometimes it is a pressure but, to be honest, with much of good manners, dining etiquette and civility it becomes a habit. It is like driving a car and holding a conversation – you just naturally do it without worrying about changing gears, braking, etc. It becomes natural and unforced. Practice makes perfect – it’s not too much of a rod for my own back, thankfully.
Why are manners and knowing how to conduct oneself still so important? What effect has the internet and social media had on the way people behave?
Manners are about interacting with other people and making that social or professional interaction happen with ease. The internet and social media have made it even easier for us to talk and communicate with people and so manners are needed now more than ever.
Please tell me about The English Manner and what it is you do for them.
I am the Director of Training at The English Manner, which is the UK’s most established etiquette and protocol training company, founded in 2001 by my colleague Alexandra Messervy, formerly of the Royal Household to Her Majesty The Queen. As well as running courses in the UK and Europe, we have an academy in Shanghai and Mumbai. My role as Director of Training (and tutor) sees me organise and design the courses and seminars.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
What I love is the variety. I know that sounds trite, but there really is never a day that feels like a past day – it’s so different and varied. I enjoy the process of making TV (most of the time), the creative process of writing an article, especially if I can do it from the comfort of my own house, and meeting my students who by and large have an incredible thirst for knowledge.
Although you receive a lot of positive comments from people wanting to learn from you, you also receive some very negative ones, particularly on your MailOnline articles. You’ve made light of these in a couple of amusing videos, but deep down do they ever upset you at all?
Hardly ever! If it were my friends and family writing them I may get a bit emotional, but these are total strangers who have all formed snap judgements, which they are perfectly entitled to, and so it is hard to get riled.
Have any of your TV appearances been occasions you would like to forget?
One or two in the early days. Some because I was inexperienced, some because the programme was a sham and counter-productive to promoting the need for good manners and an awareness of proper etiquette.
Which brands of clothing do you admire? Describe your personal sense of style. What’s one thing you would never wear?
I do prefer more formal clothes – everyone looks better the more clothes they wear! My suits are always (to date) from Gieves & Hawkes. I am partial to a dark navy suit. Grey ones just don’t do anything for my pale colouring, sadly.
I abhor skinny ties or cheap suits. They are so shiny and look hideously uncomfortable. Oh, and I always have to resist ripping off tie clips from people I see wearing them. Are you about to operate heavy machinery? No…
Do you have a favourite eating establishment? Which restaurants or cafes would you recommend for people on a tighter budget who enjoy quality food and service?
I love Fortnum & Mason’s Gallery, which is mid-priced, in London for a quick but indulgent lunch. In Manchester, where I live (yes, shock horror – the North!), I am enjoying the new Caffé Grande in Albert Square or Cicchetti off Deansgate.
How did you get started? Were you interested in etiquette and protocol from an early age and what was your biggest break?
My late grandmother gave me a book of etiquette one Christmas when I was fairly young and impressionable and it all started from there, really. The English Manner read about me in some magazines in 2008 and asked me to join the company. That was one of my ‘biggest breaks’ – or appearing on Russell Howard’s Good News programme on BBC3. That seemed to help the media side of my job.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? What piece of advice would you like to pass on to our readers?
Always have a good handshake, speak well and say “How do you do?” not “Pleased to meet you.”
Do you consider yourself lucky?
In a way, yes, but I am a great believer in hard work and effort.
Please tell me one thing that would surprise people about you. Have you heard any weird rumours about yourself?
Yes, one journalist once wrote that I was friends with Lord Sugar. Never met him!
Well, as mentioned above, I live in Manchester, not the environs of Kensington and Chelsea. I like London but I don’t love it – it’s too busy and frenetic. In Manchester we have almost everything London has (no Fortnum’s, it must be said), things are cheaper and people are friendlier. It’s a better quality of living and only two hours on the train.
I gather you’re a huge fan of the sitcom Keeping Up Appearances (as am I). Do you have a favourite episode and what can we all learn from Hyacinth Bucket?
Yes, I love the programme! I think the QE2 episode is one of my favourites, or the episode where she meets her next door neighbour’s brother for the first time and mistakes him for a one-night stand and Elizabeth’s house as an “illicit love nest.” “I’ve warned her about the dangers of watching Channel 4!”
Hyacinth may have been overbearing, but she tried to always present herself and her family in the best possible way. She loved them all, and her own reputation, and actually worried what people thought of her. Where is the harm in that?
What are your plans for 2017? What are some ambitions you’d like to fulfil?
I am about to start work on a new documentary for BBC Radio 4, which will air next year, and I am thinking about a new book, too. MailOnline have started getting me to write hotel and holiday reviews as well, which is proving great fun although they do like to send me to rather choice destinations, like Blackpool!