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Mary Poppins

Practically perfect in every way or How to find the perfect nanny

By Patricia Connell

There is nothing more difficult for a mother than having to find the person she is willing to entrust her little angel(s) to- apart, perhaps, from giving birth to said angel(s) in the first place. All the emotions mixed with the gilt of having to leave that child to go back to work- or simply to leave them for a few hours a day to keep your sanity as a person- means that it is even more important for you to get it right. How else could you otherwise live with yourself and be able to lead a normal life away from them for those few hours- or sometime days- away from them.

I simply cannot remember my husband having to deal with the same amount of gilt as me. As a man, it was his responsibility to go off to work and ensure that he was providing for his family. As strange as it sounds, even though I was a senior business person when I had my first children (I had twin girls followed, seven years later, by a boy), our household reverted back to stereotypes and I became the ‘mother’ with all that that entails: feeding them, looking after them and making sure that they were well looked after.


Need a Supernanny?
Need a Supernanny?

Over the years, whilst my children were growing up, I had my fair share of maternity nurses, nannies, mother’s helps and au-pairs. Some of them have been absolutely amazing and others were simply nannies from hell. But what I also realised, was that there was an infinity number of choices depending on our personal circumstances. Did we need a driver, would the nanny live-in or live-out, did we need someone who could speak French, would she be required to work flexible hours or working all hours because of our irregular work commitments and frequent business trips, should she be someone that could be left in charge for a few days or someone who would be alone with the children only a few hours each day, did we need someone who would do homework with them or who would she be simply taking them to their various activities…But all in all how could we be sure that our children were going to be safe, that our nanny was not going to leave with the silver and/or my jewellery or that she was not going to burn the house down?


Or maybe a Nanny McPhee?...
Or maybe a Nanny McPhee?...

I quickly learnt that calling upon the right agency to help fulfil our needs was critical. I did not want to have to rely on what one of my friends did to reassure herself that she had made the right choice: in the first few days following the appointment of a new nanny, she would secretly follow her everywhere to ensure that her little darling was not being looked after by a psychopath. She checked that ‘little Johnny’ was not being left alone to play in the park whilst his nanny was flirting with a man or better still that she was not taking little Johnny shopping all day in Oxford Street whilst on duty.

The Maternity Nurse


Using an Agency to help you through the process when you are hormonal


Eden Nannies & Maternity specialise in helping families find good childcare. This could be a qualified or very experienced Maternity Nurse or Nanny, or a capable, experienced and reliable Mother’s Help.

Here’s why we think they stand out from the crowd!:

  • knowledgeable professionals (established for over 10 years)
  •  child-centred  searches (the needs of the family are their highest priority)
  • in – depth interviews (only registering candidates they have met face to face)
  • rigorous checks on each candidate (a checkable work history is essential & they check all the references themselves)
  • correct procedures (NO candidate is put forward until they have verified the CRB police checks and seen a valid 1st Aid Certificate
  • on-going advice & support (they look after everyone long after a placement has been made)                                           0845 128 4279




A few weeks before my due date, I started looking for a maternity nurse who would want to stay with us for a year after my twins were born. This was my first mistake. Maternity Nurses, are only meant to help for a few weeks when you come back home.

They look after mother and baby day and night until a routine has been installed and the mother has learnt how to look after the baby by herself. It is probably what grandmothers, mothers and aunts would have done in the old days. In my case, my mother was in France.


Traditional English Nanny
Traditional English Nanny

To this day, I still remember the first potential candidate that my husband and I interviewed. In those days, we lived in a house near Highbury Fields and it was the middle of January.

This young girl who had been sent to us by a ‘reputable’ agency arrived at our door. She was a pretty long-legged blond from Newcastle. As soon as we started quizzing her, I quickly realised that she had never looked after a baby, let alone two. My husband on the other hand, thought she had all the ‘qualities’ required for the job.

Another agency sent me a few more girls and in the end, I settled for a young qualified nanny from Manchester.


It has little to do with age, it has more to do with a connection and trust
It has little to do with age, it has more to do with a connection and trust

She had never worked as a maternity nurse, and although she would have been perfect as a nanny, she was not a maternity nurse.

Anne-Margaret stayed with us for 14 months. She was amazing at looking after the girls, always talking and singing to them and stimulating them.

Thanks to her, I went back to work part time less than 2 weeks after giving birth and fulltime, 6 weeks later.


The Nanny from Oz

When she left, she started specialising as a maternity nurse for twins and triplets.

We on the other hand recruited a nanny from Oz called Janette. Janette was a qualified nurse who had decided to become a nanny whilst travelling.

She was a lot of fun and she was going to look after Laura and Rebecca for 4 months until the other qualified nanny we wanted finished her contract with her present employers.

The great thing about nannies from Oz is that they are no nonsense girls who really don’t mind doing a bit of everything unlike their English counterpart.


The Qualified Nanny


How can you possibly find the right nanny?

What All Weather Child Care say:

  • Often parents find nannies that come highly recommended and are a perfect match on paper but they simply don’t click. Therefore it is important that a nanny's personality is considered alongside with her qualifications, experience, references, commuting distance, long-term goals and other factors that the family may find relevant to the position. The interview can be the first indicator of a nanny's personality so make sure you take time to talk to each applicant.
  •  If the interview goes well, it is always a good idea to set up a second , less formal one where the nanny gets to meet the children and interact with them. This can help you make the decision especially if you have two nannies who you regard as equally suitable. This is an interview so the nanny should not be left in the house on her own with the child. However, if you see your child is happy and comfortable with the nanny you can leave the room for a short time.
  • If your young child cries or runs away from the nanny when meeting her for the first time it does not mean the nanny is not suitable or that your child will not bond with her. Try playing together for a while so you can build up trust toward the nanny in your child. Most nannies can capture your child's attention in no time; whether through games, telling stories or simply pulling faces, the best nannies know all the tricks.


Jennifer, our Scottish nanny, arrived in our home when our girls were 18 months. She was a breath of fresh air, constantly inventing games for the girls and getting them to do tons of arts and craft in the house always finding new ways to entertain them. She was also very sociable with other nannies and ensured that our daughters were mixing and interacting with other children thus developing their social skills.

A few weeks after she started working for us, Jennifer met Stephen who was one of the Scott Guards at Buckingham Palace. Going and seeing the changing of the guards at the Palace was soon to become one of Laura and Rebecca’s favourite outings. Jennifer ended up marrying him a few years later.

When our daughters were 2 and ½, they started a little French school in Notting Hill on the other side of town. The journeys to school quickly became an absolute nightmare and this is when we moved closer to their nursery.

Jennifer found that she no longer had much to do during the day and the thought of finding another job was quite tempting but there were still many school holidays when a fulltime nanny was required.

By the time my daughters reached nearly three, I decided to take a break away from work to enjoy them a little. Something I had not done since they were born. However, I did not want to become completely trapped so we kept Jennifer for a little while longer.


The Foreign Au-Pair


Jennifer eventually left to work in Italy and we recruited our very first au-pair. She was Italian and named Tiziana or as she wanted us to call her ‘Titsy’ for short. We rapidly explained to her that this was probably not the best nickname she could have picked to use in England and left it at that.

She was the only Italian girl I met who was unable to cook pasta.

When we recruited Tiziana, we never got to meet her in person before she arrived. We had to rely solely on the agency who found her for us. This was a little nerve racking and could have gone horribly wrong.


The Best Way to find an Au-Pair

Nowadays, there are other ways of going through the process of recruiting an au-pair. Some agencies such as 1st Choice au-pairs have their UK staff personally travel to European countries to interview candidates face to face. This maintains consistent quality standards and helps with matching, since the person who interviewed the au pair is also dealing with the host family.

The agency then verifies identity, education and criminal records, checks references and health information for every candidate. Their services are free for au pairs, giving no conflict of interest in candidates being rejected if they are not suitable.

1st Choice Au Pairs was the first recruitment agency in the world to offer video introductions of its candidates. This gives more insight than the usual ‘Dear Family’ letter, highlights language skills and is great for the children to feel involved.

Matching is further enhanced by using professional psychometric testing. Families benefit from a high standard of candidate and the agency confidently offers a 60-day period as its replacement guarantee.






After a few months of looking after my daughters, I found that I needed something more stimulating when they were at school and embarked on an MBA course.


Mother’s Help


Unsure about what you really need?

Harmony Placement

  • Harmony Placement [Harmony Nannies, Harmony Au Pairs and Harmony Maternity] was set up by Chiswick mother of three, Portia Quinn, who loves children, is passionate about great customer service and knows all too well how hard it can be to find really great childcare.
  • The process can be very time-consuming and often stressful too. They believe in making this process as pleasant and stress-free as possible.
  • They aim to offer their clients peace of mind by maintaining rigorous standards while at the same time providing a truly personal service.
  • They know it is important to families that someone listens very carefully to their needs and Harmony often offer advice when families are not sure what the best childcare option may be.
  • Apart from ticking all the boxes in terms of vetting and security they believe a successful placement is very much about getting the personalities well matched. They think about what kind of personality is going to fit in and best suit each family.
  • Without exception all their child-carers must possess crucial qualities such as gentleness, kindness and enthusiasm.
  • Honesty, reliability and conscientiousness are characteristics they take very seriously and seek to ensure through their Harmony Code of Ethics and Conduct.
  • Harmony Nannies: Uniquely pay for Paediatric 1st Aid Training for all nannies placed in permanent full-time positions and propose an optional smart, modern and practical uniform that is designed for all weather types and for tumbles and fun. “It saves nannies’ clothes from little messes; it looks great and professional; it adds a sense of gravitas to the role; it is easily recognisable and arguably it adds a sense of responsibility too.”
  • Harmony Au Pairs: It is their business to get the balance right between families and Au Pairs. They have an in-depth consultation with every family and au pair; collect references and police checks, often working with excellent overseas partner agencies; and take their time to make appropriate matches, considering personalities, skills and experience.
  • Harmony Maternity provides experts in newborn care with a real passion for their work. With a wealth of experience they can ease away stress in the weeks following birth, providing advice and support and allowing parents to rest and mothers to recover, while ensuring that the baby receives the best care possible.
  • Achieving the right balance of quality time with the children; with your partner; for some of us, a career too; and let’s not forget the all-important “me time”, is the Holy Grail for many parents today. Getting the right childcare can improve that balance and help you maximise enjoyment of each precious stage of your children’s development.
  • And last but not least, as they say on their website : "On parle français; Se habla español; Si parla italiano; Falamos português"



It is at that point that we recruited Fiona our very first mother’s help from South Africa. Again, another no nonsense girl who was able to give the girls good habits and structure to their life whilst I was away doing my MBA.

I was so busy that Fiona became their mother during that time. Taking them on holiday, looking after them, attending doctor’s appointments, taking them shopping or to see Father Christmas. She probably had the greatest influence on them than any other nanny had.

Furthermore, she would also help out with the ironing, the shopping and the cooking .

It meant that when I arrived home, I was able to enjoy my daughters instead of having to go shopping for food or cooking the evening meal.

When she left, the whole family was devastated and this is also when things started  to go badly wrong with our choice of help.


The Nanny from Hell

The Australian girl that joined us after that was the ultimate nanny from hell. I came home one afternoon to find a police car parked outside our home. Inside, two policemen were taking a description of my 4 1/2 year old daughter who had gone missing. It turned out that our nanny had left our two daughters outside the swimming pool by themselves whilst she had gone back inside to go to the loo.

Rebecca decided to go home by herself but got lost in the process whilst Laura patiently waited outside for the nanny to return.

When the nanny realised that she had lost one of her charges, she went home, left the other child by herself inside the house and went looking for the other one.

Fortunately, our little girl was eventually found by a lovely lady a few meters from Ladbroke Grove Station and brought her back to the police station.

Rebecca came home with a badge saying ‘I met the met’ and a policeman asking my husband not to be too hard on her.

To avoid employing a nanny from hell

Greycoat Childcare and Education

Greycoat Childcare and Education offers a comprehensive service:
  • Nannies
  • Maternity Nurses
  • Nanny/Housekeepers
  • Private Tutors
  • Every effort is made to match their clients’ needs
  • Their professional consultants take time to get to know their clients and to understand the needs of their family.
  • Their no obligation, confidential service makes them one of the leading London childcare agencies
  • All their candidates are personally interviewed and their qualifications and references checked
  • They have an excellent guarantee period and offer post placement advice and support.
To contact Greycoat



The Agency from Hell


Main Characteristics:

  • Do not check references.
  • Send girls that have never been in that role before and do not match your requirements.
  • Do not spend time understanding your needs.
  • Do not spend time understanding the applicant’s needs.
  • Make you pay a fee in advance to find you the right candidate
  • Do not give you a first 3-month replacement option



Needless to say that the nanny got the sack but the agency who had found her for us, sued us when we refused to pay their full fee for a girl who had worked for us less than a month and who, during that time, had lost one of our children and could have lost a second one. We went to court of course and won.

Over the following ten years, we alternated between mother’s help and au-pairs until our son was 7 and our daughters 14.

We had the au-pairs who left after a few hours because they were home sick and wanted to get back to their homeland. The mother’s help who stayed a week because they had realised that this was the cheapest way to have a roof over their head whilst waiting for their flight home to Australia, the bulimic, who hid food all around her bedroom, and the list goes on...


The Manny

Hulk Hogan as

Hulk Hogan as "The Nanny": you're idea of the perfect Manny?

Rainbow Au Pairs

  • -They place young men and women from the EU as au-pairs, au-pair plusses and mother's helps.
  • Rainbow Au Pairs is an au pair agency which provides an efficient but personal service to both families and au-pairs.
  • They are based in East Sussex but serve the whole of the UK. They are strongest in London and the South East.
  • They pride themselves on genuinely matching families to the right au pair.
  • They work inter-agency only, so all profiles are vetted and there's continuity if an issue arises.
  • They understand families' needs and situations and provide a considered choice of candidates.
  • All candidates are vetted and profiled to help families make informed choices based on as much information on candidates as possible.
  • They offer pre and post-placement support.
  • Speed for them is of the essence and they aim to work on a full family profile within 24 hours of receipt and pride themselves on a quick turnaround.
  • They primarily place live in au pairs but in some instances they may have live out au pairs as well.
  • Each family who registers gets interviewed to obtain an accurate brief.




It was also around that time that young men were allowed to become au-pairs. One of my friends who only had boys, opted for this option. She was after someone who would play football, rugby and other boys' games in the park with them and who would be a father figure when their father was away on business.

It turns out that this was probably one of the best things she ever did.


The Ultimate Nanny for families with special requirements

Educated Nannies

  • Educated Nannies places full-time high-calibre nannies, teachers and governesses, educated to a university-degree level, within prestigious households in London & overseas.
  • Educated Nannies’ sister company is Educated Tutors, Educated Tutors is a high-end tutor agency, providing expert private tuition, in all academic subjects, to exceptional and discerning households in London. Their clients attend the best private schools & boarding schools in London and beyond, where they thrive and excel.
  • The Sorbonne-educated founder of Educated Nannies & Educated Tutors has gained her expertise through her private teaching to captains of industry, business leaders, royal families, fashion designers, celebrity hairdressers and Hollywood A-list celebrities.





Selection Table


Maternity Nurse

Qualified Nanny

Nanny with no qualification

Mother’s help

Au-pair plus



New Born








Older baby
















Child with special needs








More than one child
















Parents In fulltime employment








One of the parent in part time work








Children at school








Housekeeper/cleaner employed








Limited budget








Limited number of hours required








No nonsense









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