By Faraz Shauketaly
Sri Lanka has a number of exports to the world – its tea, its blue sapphires, world class cricket (albeit second best) but in Tony Jayamaha, Hollywood has arguably received Sri Lanka’s most famous export.
The Butler and House Manager to a host of “A” list celebrities including most famously to Dame Elizabeth Taylor and Paris Hilton, Tony Jayamaha truly believes that “positivity pays” and has returned ‘home’ after 30-years overseas: to be a “big fish in a small pond” as he succinctly puts it. And he has, the “wow” factor. Oodles of it too. At 49, Tony Jayamaha is on the look out for his fifth wife and assured me – with all the seriousness he could muster – that no, he was not emulating Elizabeth Taylor who of course was married eight times — to seven men.
Tony Jayamaha speaks powerfully, a twang of an East Coast accent slipping in now and then. Tony, told us how he left these shores aged 15 and really never looked back. He was working in Male when he bumped into Jimmy Carter’s nephew who took him to Spain – just like that (Tony snaps his fingers). Jimmy, to the uninitiated was President, USA 1977-1981 and the first American President to win the Nobel Peace Prize after leaving office.
Tony Jayamaha has much more startling information than Jimmy: Tony reveals the regal, charismatic, romantic, inspiring and passionate Elizabeth Taylor and the eccentricities of the ‘King of Pop’ Michael Jackson. Michael, of course was a dearly cherished friend of Elizabeth Taylor, mega Hollywood superstar. And Tony was her Butler. In a world exclusive interview Tony Jayamaha gave The Sunday Leader, he speaks of the King of Pop’s eccentricities – and Tony was privy, close-up on the eccentricities of the super rich in the greatest country in the world – second only to Sri Lanka — The USA.
In charge of “Miss Taylor’s” 700 Nimes Road, mansion he developed a close rapport with the mega super star who was obsessed with her hair, her relationship with Michael Jackson and her seven husbands and had no budget for her Butler. “We ordered USD 10,000 bunch of flowers – it was wonderful especially when Michael came on a number of his surprise visits”, says an exuberant Tony.
Don’t you miss Hollywood? “No, I am through with that – I am in Sri Lanka for good” says Tony, lighting up yet again. Dressed in his trademark black butler jacket, Tony went through how he ended up serving on the “beautiful people” of Hollywood. A graduate of the Lafayette University he arrived in California “to become a movie star”. His cousin Peter who was working as a House Manager introduced him to an agency which specialised in finding help to work for the rich, the famous and that combination mixed with eccentricity.
Tony was passionate about Elizabeth Taylor who he says, “had an aura that was truly inspiring. Ms. Taylor’s entry to any place resulted in the whole place coming to a halt because she had that kind of effect. People stood up automatically when this beautiful lady came through the door. Even US presidents would be in awe of her.” Elizabeth Taylor’s generosity was legendary.
Not only did she pointedly not have a budget for her 700 Nimes Road mansion, but each year all members of her staff would receive a bonus payment of US$ 10,000 each.
After Tony left her, she donated that money each year, to her AIDS charity and sent Tony a card keeping him informed.
Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, was a firm friend of Miss Taylor, who loved to surprise Elizabeth Taylor – Michael himself enjoying surprises.
On a visit to the Jackson ranch – Neverland – Ms. Taylor suggested that Tony race with Michael. She was quick to whisper. “Tony let Michael win! The duo started off, roaring past the startled guards and whizzed back in – Michael just about winning – he was ecstatic giving Tony a huge grin saying, “I beat you Tony!” Michael was so happy that he gave Tony an autographed picture to mark the day.
Miss Taylor meanwhile was in ecstatic heights just seeing how happy Michael was.
“What was Michael Jackson like?” we asked Tony. “If Michael Jackson was normal like all of us – and none of us are normal, we all have a degree of non-conformity – then he would not have been Michael Jackson. That was the magic of Michael Jackson who was truly a talented man.
He had a very difficult childhood and once he grew up he was still living his childhood. Michael Jackson spent phenomenal amounts of money, maybe far more than he earned. And Elizabeth Taylor was his favourite person.
He loved to surprise her. No one in his entourage would know where they were headed when he got in his Mercedes limo which he just loved. It was only as he approached the Taylor Mansion area that he would tell the chauffeur to hang a left. That would then trigger an alert from the car to me saying “the roller is moving”.
I would then get prepared – I kept watch over the CCTV cameras as the car approached. There was about a mile between the approach and the front entrance of the Taylor Mansion so we generally had enough time.
Tony The Butler from Hollywood has now returned to Sri Lanka, where he intends starting the Butler School, providing training and permanent job opportunities for everyone interested in venturing out into the hotel and leisure industry. “Sri Lanka needs training centres like these. Our economy is on the up and with so many hotels and luxury getaways coming up, staff will need to be trained to international standards. I am positive that Sri Lanka will be a leisure industry success story over the next five years.” With the experience of working not only for Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Peter Lynch and Paris Hilton, Tony has as he puts it “what it takes to be Sri Lanka’s Donald Trump”.