Quick thinking, diplomacy, and a willingness to snorkel with pigs: Celebrity bodyguards explain what it takes to protect the stars and billionaires

1. Communication and diplomacy are more important than size.

Polly Wilton Intelligent Protection
Intelligent Protection’s Polly Wilton on a job in the Bahamas in July.
Courtesy of Polly Wilton

Contrary to popular belief, size isn’t key to being a good bodyguard, all three experts told Business Insider.

Instead, people with “softer skills” such as communication and diplomacy make more effective bodyguards, Bomberg said. Multiple languages also help, given the company’s international work — some of the firm’s employees speak four languages.

“Some people in the industry make the mistake of assessing the quality of someone by the figure on the scales,” said Graeme Dyson, a bodyguard and manager at Intelligent Protection who previously worked as a counter-terror police officer.

“This doesn’t happen with other professions — no one judges their doctor’s skills by how tall they are or what they weigh and this should be the same for a professional bodyguard.”

“Celebrities in particular like to attract attention to themselves by overtly using bodyguards like these,” he added. “However, when it all goes wrong, and they need a different level of protection and professionalism, it is companies like Intelligent Protection that they come to for help and advice.”

2. Flexibility is key, even if it means you end up in weird situations — sometimes involving pigs.

Exuma pig
Officers had to swim with Exuma pigs on a recent job.
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty

Protection tasks can be “frustrating,” as officers spend hours planning an event only for everything to change at the last minute, Dyson said.

“Some of the clients you look after lead very chaotic lives and you need to be able to adjust to not being in control of where you are, who you are with, how long you’re staying and where you’re going next,” he said.

“Flexibility, adaptability and being able to think on your feet” are key, he added. For example, he said, a Middle Eastern royal ruined detailed security plans for a restaurant meal by changing his booking at the last minute, and bodyguards had to adapt quickly.

One training exercise two years ago involved going undercover and swimming with pigs in Exuma, a collection of islands in the Bahamas where two James Bond movies were shot.

Bodyguards had to pose as tourists — to practise protecting their clients without their realizing — and ended up swimming with pigs and sharks, traveling by powerboat and jet ski, and even snorkeling to stay incognito.

“It doesn’t get much more surreal than that,” Polly Wilton, another bodyguard who was on the trip, told Business Insider.

3. Clients’ lifestyles are going to be like nothing you’ve seen before.

Miranda Kerr Cannes
Intelligent Protection worked with Miranda Kerr at Magnum’s event at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015.
Andreas Rentz/Getty

Being a bodyguard to billionaires, royals and celebrities offers a glimpse into their lifestyles — for better and for worse.

“You have an insight into how multi-million-pound companies work and the influential circles they move in,” said Wilton, who served in the British Army before joining Intelligent Protection.

“When protecting UHNWI [ultra-high net worth individuals] you have exposure to their unique lifestyles and the vast difference to what normality is to them.”

Some bodyguards might “get used to going to good restaurants and eating expensive food, staying in the best hotels,” Dyson said. “Some begin to think that is their lifestyle and not the clients’, and try and do the same thing when they are not working and bankrupt themselves.”

“I have seen a few people ruined by trying to keep up with a client who is financially completely out of their league,” he added.

4. Some clients might be harder to deal with than others.

bodyguard
A scene from the BBC/Netflix show “Bodyguard,” in which Richard Madden’s character protects the UK Home Secretary.
Netflix

Bodyguards also have to get used to client’s whims and behavior.

Some are “shockingly horrible,” Dyson said. When one former client got into a bad mood, he would fire “people on the spot because he didn’t like their socks,” he said.

But “others are really considerate and come across as very genuine, decent people no matter their fame or wealth,” he added.

The job also has its perks from time to time: Dyson ended up as an extra on the “Sherlock” TV show while looking after Cumberbatch and had dinner with “Monty Python” cast members on another job, he said.

You can see Dyson behind Cumberbatch in the bottom-right photo here.

5. Men aren’t necessarily more effective bodyguards than women.

Polly Wilton NATO
Polly Wilton working at the NATO Ambassador’s residence in Kabul in 2009, as part of the Royal Military Police at the time.
Courtesy of Polly Wilton

Protection services are still a “male-dominated industry,” Wilton said, describing it as a reality perpetuated by “the old cliché that men are stronger than women.”

But the demand for female bodyguards has been increasing over the past few years: The Duchess of Cambridge, David Cameron, Tony Blair, JK Rowling, and Beyoncé all have female bodyguards, author Robert Ryan wrote in The Times of London in 2017.

“UHNWI are becoming more security wary,” Wilton said. “With the increased use of social media, them and their families are more exposed.”

In cases like this, female bodyguards have an advantage because they look less imposing and therefore draw less attention to those being protected, Wilton said.

Bodyguards with large, imposing figures “actually draw attention to the clients and put them at more stress and risk,” bodyguard Lisa Baldwin told The Times. “In a playground I just look like a friend or a nanny, especially if I dress down.”

Lone females and clients with children tend to request female bodyguards in their protection teams, Wilton said. Baldwin also noted that Muslim families who prefer that women not mix too closely to men may also prefer female officers.

6. Always be prepared for attacks and disasters. They can happen to anyone.

Graeme Dyson bodyguard in Paris
Graeme Dyson working in Paris.
Courtesy of Graeme Dyson

Disasters can happen to anyone, so it’s important for normal people to be prepared and vigilant too, the bodyguards said.

“The world is changing,” Bomberg said. “The rise of global terror groups such as ISIS has meant that you are not even safe on a beach vacation in the Mediterranean, drinking coffee in Paris or at a concert in London.”

Dyson added: “Everyone should have a basic understanding of first aid, be able to perform CPR, control bleeding and apply a tourniquet.”

“Just those basics alone could save your life, the life of a loved one or a stranger in the case of a traffic accident, an accident at work or a terrorist incident,” he said.

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