**This story has been updated since it first went live earlier this week – see Comments below for the latest news**

Quintessentially — the concierge firm serving the rich and famous — has admitted to hiring interns for up to three months, paying them expenses only. Responding to our Pay Your Interns campaign, a spokesperson told Graduate Fog that despite working “normal office hours” for free, interns are expected to demonstrate “a good work ethic and attitude.”

The company, co-founded by Camilla Parker-Bowles’ nephew Ben Elliott, has an annual turnover of £50m and made £7.85m in profit last year. It charges clients £2,500+ a year for access to its exclusive services, including arranging five-star holidays and booking tables at exclusive restaurants. Quintessentially has 60 offices worldwide and counts Sir Richard Branson, Sienna Miller and Scarlett Johansson among its clients.

The spokesperson also said that it found its interns “through word of mouth” and “friends and family of staff and associates” – and that interns who “excel” are often offered paid jobs at the end of their internships. She also said the company had recently raised £15,000 from auctioning internships at the company (and several auction houses and a modelling agency) on eBay in April 2010.

However, almost a week after their initial email containing these details (Wed 14th September), nobody at Quintessentially has been able to respond to our follow-up email seeking clarification on the exact nature of their interns’ work — and how they feel it fits with the National Minimum Wage legislation.

Having initially been told last Thursday (15th) that the managing director would like to speak to us on the phone immediately (which we declined, preferring to keep all communication written), we requested a written response by Monday lunchtime (19th), which we felt was reasonable. But on Monday, we received an email from the managing director saying she is on holiday until Wednesday (21st, tomorrow), so won’t respond until then. There was no apology for this delay.

We had hoped to hold off from publishing this story until we had heard back from Quintessentially, giving them the chance to clarify the nature of the work that their interns are doing. But frankly, we started to feel like we were being fobbed off, which was annoying.

We have now lost faith that Quintessentially will ever respond, so have decided to go ahead and publish this when it suits us, not them. Which is today.

So, here is what happened when Graduate Fog approached Quintessentially about its policy on internships:

From: Graduate Fog
To: Quintessentially Press Office
Date: 14 September 2011, 10.33am
Subject: Press comment about internships at Quintessentially

Dear [name removed],

I am writing to ask about Quintessentially’s policy on internships, which is an issue that the users of Graduate Fog take very seriously. I would be extremely grateful if you could answer the following questions:

Do you employ interns within your company? If you do, please estimate how many you have currently, and how many have you had in the last year.

How long are your internships — and what work is involved? Do your interns have set hours and responsibilities?

Do you pay your interns at least the National Minimum Wage (NMW)? (This is £5.93 an hour, for over 21s). If you pay less than this, what do you pay?

We believe that too many companies are taking advantage of young people’s desperation to find work and gain experience – and using interns as a way of cutting their staff costs. We feel that big companies like yours should be taking the lead on this issue and setting a good example.

We look forward to hearing from you. Until we receive a reply, your company name will appear on our website with a note saying ‘Awaiting response’.

With many thanks

An hour later, Quintessentially replied:

From: Quintessentially Press Office
To: Graduate Fog
Date: Wednesday 14 September 2011, 11.16am
RE: Press comment about internships at Quintessentially


Thanks for getting in touch and putting this opportunity through to us.

Please find details below re internships:

Internships within Quintessentially

Internships within Quintessentially will normally be for no more than 3 months.  Although interns will not be paid, their expenses will be reimbursed.  Interns are individuals, usually graduates, who are placed within the company to gain work experience.  At Quintessentially we ensure that all interns are given tasks and projects will help them develop their skills and CV, we aim to provide a valuable internship programme for all those who join it.

How we recruit them:

Through word of mouth, friends and family of staff and associates, through our HR department who receive numerous applications a day for work experience / internships. Through our sister businesses.

How hard they have to work:

We ask them to work normal office hours and they are invited to attend events should they wish to gain experience in that area. We expect a good work ethic and attitude, internships are a great opportunity to prove yourself to the Quintessentially Group and interns are often offered jobs (if a role is available) if they excel.

Opportunities not normally available:

To gain valuable insight into the luxury market on a global scale. With over 60 offices worldwide and 32 sister businesses across the luxury market they have the opportunity — all under one roof — to experience numerous areas of business, develop skills, experience and confidence. They are also given the unique opportunity to be part of the ‘VIP’ world — when working at our events. Quintessentially are involved throughout the year with numerous high profile events, from charity galas, to film premiers and private screening, seasonal parties and luxury product launches, all of which have VIP guests in attendance. Interns working in the relevant departments involved with these events have the opportunity to gain insight into this notoriously hard to access, private world.

The opportunity to shine — Quintessentially is an entrepreneurial company, which consistently strives to produce the highest levels of excellence across all sectors of business we are involved in. If an intern works hard, proves themselves and showcases that much lusted ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ they will more often than not be offered a job at the end of their programme.

Auctioning of internships

The Quintessentially Foundation held a small internship auction in April 2010. We offered internships from companies such as Christies, Storm Models, Burberry, Sotheby’s, the Caprice Group and the Quintessentially Group and auctioned them off onto eBay. We raised GBP 15,000 which 100% went to SOS Children’s Villages, Room to Read, The Place 2Be and The House of St Barnabas.

Do let me know if I can send through any more information.

On a separate note, it would be great to meet for a coffee / lunch to discuss other editorial opportunities — let me know if it’s something you have time to do?

Best wishes,

Graduate Fog wrote back:

From: Graduate Fog
To: Quintessentially
Wednesday 14 September 2011, 3.26pm

Thank you for your email, which I read with interest.

However, I have some concerns about its contents – and would be grateful if you could answer the following questions too:

– If your interns do proper, useful work for Quintessentially and you pay them less than the national minimum wage (NMW), can you explain how you feel this fits with our NMW law? There is no legal definition of an ‘intern’ but the legislation states that anybody who fits the criteria of being a ‘worker’ (with set hours and responsibilities, not free to come and go as they please, not just work shadowing and not doing is as part of their course) must be paid at least the NMW for their work. (This is £5.93 for over-21s, rising to £6.08 on 1 October). All employers must pay this and an intern cannot waive their right to these wages, even if they say they are prepared to work for free in order to gain experience.

– If you are concerned that your current policy on using unpaid interns may not fit with the National Minimum Wage law, are you prepared to review it now that I have brought it to your attention?

At Graduate Fog, we believe that unpaid internships exploit those who do them — and exclude those who can’t afford to do them. We believe these internships are getting longer and longer — with less chance of a job at the end of them. We believe that it is a myth that unpaid internships lead to paid, permanent jobs — now, they are actually replacing paid, permanent jobs. Many employers are unaware of the damage that the practice is doing to young people’s futures. Is Quintessentially one of them?

We look forward to hearing from you.

With many thanks

A day later, we had heard nothing – so we chased Quintessentially:

From Graduate Fog
To: Quintessentially Press Office
Thursday 15 September, 4.01pm

Hi [name removed],

Can you just confirm when you will be able to respond to this?

Many thanks,

This came back:

From: Quintessentially Press Office
To: Graduate Fog
Thu, Sep 15, 2011 at 4:16 PM


Thanks for your email and apologies for not coming back to you on this yesterday.

My company director would be delighted to speak with you further about this – please can you send me your number so that she can give you a call?

Best wishes,

Pay Your Interns is an online campaign – so it is vital that all communication is written, so that we can post it publicly online for everybody to follow. We are not interested in having cosy chats on the phone. So we replied:

From: Graduate Fog
To: Quintessentially Press Office
Thu, Sep 15, 2011 at 4:22 PM


Thanks for this, but we would prefer to keep all communication on email. Just let me know when we can expect a response from your end.

Thanks again,

Weirdly, they didn’t seem to be getting it…

From: Quintessentially Press Office
To: Graduate Fog
Thu, Sep 15, 2011 at 4:25 PM


She’d like to speak to you personally before responding — do you have a free minute?

Best wishes,

So we wrote back:

From: Graduate Fog
To: Quintessentially Press Office
Thu, Sep 15, 2011 at 4:31 PM

Hi [name removed],

As I said in my previous email, I would to like to keep all communication written.


By the next day, we had heard nothing. So we sent this:

From: Graduate Fog
To: Quintessentially Press Office
Date: Fri, Sep 16, 2011 at 3:55 PM

Hi [name removed]

Can you confirm when somebody from Quintessentially will be able to respond to the discussed questions? We will be updating our database early next week so would like to hear back from you by Monday lunchtime. I would be grateful if you could let me know if this will be possible?

With thanks again

Then came this, from Quintessentially’s co-founder and managing director, Katie Marshall…

From: Quintessentially (Managing Director)
To: Graduate Fog
Fri, Sep 16, 2011 at 4:03


Please can you let me know what questions you are waiting for answers to.


Katie Marshall
Quintessentially Communications

So we forwarded the email:

From: Graduate Fog
To: Quintessentially
Fri, Sep 16, 2011 at 4:05 PM

See below. [all previous emails were forwarded]

Thanks again,

Then everything went quiet. So on Monday we chased again:

From: Graduate Fog
To: Quintessentially
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 at 11:55 AM

Hi Katie,

Can you confirm that this email reached you on Friday and that Quintessentially will be able to provide some sort of response today, by 4pm? We will be blogging about this tomorrow.


20 minutes later, this arrived:

From: Quintessentially
To: Graduate Fog
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 at 12:13 PM

I am on holiday and will respond to you on Wednesday



(And by the way, this last message was not a generic out-of-office response — we know because we got one of those too).

Annoying, isn’t it? After Katie wanted us to be available instantly to speak to her on Thursday, she has now gone on holiday until Wednesday — and has not apologised for missing our stated deadline of Monday. Oh well, perhaps they’ll email now…?

*Have you interned for Quintessentially?
What sort of work were you doing? Was your role more like work shadowing – or do you think you qualified as ‘worker’?

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