HE was once a butler to royalty and Margaret Thatcher ...but now John Conroy is playing a butler in the smash hit musical Top Hat in Southampton.

The actor is appearing in the show at Mayflower Theatre for a two- week run that ends on Saturday May 23.

He said: “I’ve always been an actor but I had a second job as a butler. I spent 40 years on and off working as a butler in the city of London.

"I did a hotel management diploma when I left school so that I would have something to fall back on in hard times. A friend had a butler agency and I was mostly employed by banks and financial institutions.

Mrs Thatcher may have gone down in history as 'The Iron Lady' but John had found her particularly amenable and considerate.

“Mrs Thatcher was very polite and very funny. It was a social engagement – Burns night, so everyone was relaxed and she said to me: “Don’t give me too many strawberries or there won’t be enough to go round!”

He added:“The Duke of Kent was a regular visitor at a place I worked at. I would hear things but I had to sign a confidentiality waiver.

"Sometimes I would hear things I shouldn’t such as information about mergers of companies. If I’d had money it would have been great but of course I couldn’t do anything as that would show insider dealings.

“I worked at lots of smart lunches where the client wanted the best service with all the Wedgewood china and Waterford crystal, the best of wines and food.

"But they were there to talk business and were so busy eye-balling each other it all mostly went unnoticed.

"The client would press a discrete buzzer under the table when he wanted something but the idea was for the butler to go unnoticed.

"I suppose the most famous people I worked for were the Duke of Kent, Prime Ministers including Neil Kinnock and Margaret Thatcher, various ministers as well as dignitaries from abroad, but service is dying out because people don't like to seem too showy these days."

Tickets for Top Hat are available from The Mayflower Theatre Box Office on 023 8071 1811 or online at mayflower.org.uk