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The modern bodyguard

George Foster, strategic account director for Risk Advisory Services (RAS) at Wilson James, looks at the qualities and sought-after skills required by close protection operatives.

Asked to describe a typical bodyguard, most of the general public would probably paint a picture of a James Bond-esque, ex-special forces all action hero. It’s an image exacerbated by TV programmes like The Bodyguard, the 2018 BBC drama where an army war veteran is assigned to protect a controversial politician.

Old and new

While certainly not the oldest profession, bodyguards have been used throughout history to protect people, often for good reason. For example, Abraham Lincoln was said to have stood down his team of bodyguards midway through the play he was watching on the night he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.

Although the fundamental elements of bodyguarding have remained constant through time, the role, as well and the skills and abilities of those performing it, continues to evolve. It is fair to say that the close protection industry is flourishing, but it’s not just the rich and famous that need close protection – high profile business people, or prominent government officials have been known to attract the wrong kind of attention, so they too have to keep themselves and their families safe by employing this type of specialist protection.

Risky business

Although risks can sometimes be perceived rather than actual, it’s not always easy to differentiate and who would take the risk of ignoring a threat to their welfare? Having an effective security solution in place is wholly dependent on awareness of any risks and threats, which is why leading security solutions providers are increasingly adept at ascertaining exactly what type of dangers an individual could be exposed to and configuring a unique solution. A thorough risk assessment and subsequent expert advice should therefore be the first stage in a process of deciding if a bodyguard is required and, if so, what type of person is best suited to the role.

Close protection is not a ‘one size fits all’ discipline. Specialist providers can deploy individuals who are able to protect specific environments and have been given training and support that enables them to perform their roles to the highest standard. Leading companies also offer a range of complementary services including technical surveillance countermeasures and protective surveillance. In addition, residential security teams can provide frontline protection for property, while security trained drivers can ensure the safety of a client to and from a location, whether for business or daily travel.

Contributing factors

One of the key contributors to the evolution of close protection is the diversity of the client base – this is, after all, an international service with many types of people who need protection for a myriad of different reasons. In addition to this is the general security landscape, which has seen the threats and risks that have to be mitigated against change vastly in the last couple of decades.

Then there’s the fact that there are 14,500 Security Industry Authority (SIA) licensed operatives in the UK alone, some of whom might be asked to carry out bodyguarding duties. This level of choice is not always as beneficial as it sounds though, as having an SIA licence does not always make someone suitable for this type of specialist role. Conversely, companies that take the provision of close protection seriously increasingly use high level training and employ psychological profiling to match bodyguard to client, ensuring a more effective and productive relationship.

Diverse approach

So, what are the qualities and skills that a modern bodyguard needs? First of all, forget the traditional stereotype described earlier – not all clients want a male, ex-special forces operative.

For instance, more than ever before, female close protection operatives are in high demand. Why? Contrary to the views of the still prevalent macho sorts within this sector, they often offer a subtle, soft-skilled and multifaceted approach, while possessing the capability to deliver harder skills when required. This immediately lends itself to female bodyguards being assigned to a female principal or a child. Like many other jobs out there, being a bodyguard is about professional relationships and women excel where a high level of emotional intelligence is required.

In addition, bodyguards who are multilingual and culturally aware are sought after. It’s hugely beneficial to be able to communicate with a client in their native tongue and operationally it can avoid a relationship being awkward and a little ‘clunky’ – something that could potentially cause security issues. Cultural etiquette can also be advantageous. For example, how a bodyguard deals with a UK based client will be totally different to that of project involving someone from the Middle East.

In the mix

Although close protection professionals now need to be far more diverse than they ever have been, those with a special forces, military or police background are far from obsolete. The point is that today, the bodyguard or close protection team is not only about the operative and their hard skills, it’s also very much about the client and creating a solution that is right for them and their circumstances. After all this business can be, and usually is, personal.

Contact: Cadence Woodland, [email protected], or visit www.wilsonjames.co.uk.


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