My Life as a bodyguard

A bodyguard! You don’t look like a bodyguard.”People exclaim every time I tell them I was one.

Well, it’s like this. Sometimes a path in life opens up and you step onto it, allowing yourself to travel to a destiny you had never thought possible. My journey into this field of work came upon me quite suddenly and quite by accident and changed my life forever.

The year was 1991, during the first Gulf War. I worked 12-hour night-shifts at the BBC World Service radio station in a building called, Bush House. We were at war and my job was to protect a famous Iraqi Journalist (famous in his own country), making him a target for different political factions who disagreed with his political nightly rhetoric on air.

From 7 pm until 7 am, I sat just outside his recording studio and, half the time, wondered what the hell I would do if Iraqi terrorists, Saddam Hussein supporters or just a good old fashioned mentally disturbed person should actually make an attempt on his life. I had no firearm, no baton, handcuffs or any other weapon…oh I lie, I did have pepper spray in my bag. The nights were long and boring, except when he took his breaks and we crossed over to The Strand Hotel before the bar closed at midnight.

One night, as I walked back into Bush House with him after having a cup of tea across the road, unbeknown to me I was spotted by a man who worked for a Saudi Arabian Prince. I was in the private security firm’s uniform and must have looked as though I knew what I was doing and of course, I did.

Two nights later I was approached by this man who was waiting on the steps of Bush House at 7 pm. He quickly told me that he was looking for a bodyguard for a top-tier Saudi Princess.  He asked me if I was interested in having an interview and then left me with his business card.

I allowed two days to go by before ‘phoning the number. I then arranged to meet the man at the Sheraton Hotel in Knightsbridge the following afternoon. The interview went well, I thought. He said he was interviewing all week and would let me know. These interviews were being conducted on behalf of the Princess and the only candidates were former Military Police personnel, which I was, policewomen and Special Branch officers.

A week went by and I got the call. The job was mine if I wanted it but I had to start straight away. By this time the first Gulf War was coming to a close and I told the man who had interviewed me that I could start within the week. I said goodbye to my Iraqi journalist, handed in my notice and flew to Cannes to meet the Princess, where I would hopefully pass a couple of final field tests.

Day one – Checked into the Ritz Hotel, Cannes, and was given a suite of rooms all to myself and as much room service as I wanted. I was picked up in a Mercedes early in the evening and was driven to the private motor boat, which actually looked more like a small ship with four decks. I was then met by the man who had interviewed me.

“You are going shopping with the Princess. Do not call her: Your Highness, call her ma’am. Do not look as though she is important and you are a bodyguard. Make it look as though you and she are friends but where she goes you go and that includes the bathroom.”

I met the Princess, her English was pretty good and her first words to me were, “You are very thin.” We set off shopping to, Dior, Versace and every other designer shop you can think of. In the second shop she wanted to try on a dress. I saw a door and led her towards it, thinking it was a dressing room. I opened the door and, just as she walked in behind me, switched on the light only to find that I had taken her into a rather large broom closet…First disaster.

Later, in a tea room, she introduced me to another Princess who was married to her husband’s brother. They spoke together in Arabic and I sat and did the body-guarding stuff, which entailed looking around me, keeping my eyes on the two women’s handbags (worth more than I made in a month) and generally making sure that no one came too close.

Disaster, number two – A man approached the table where we sat and where I had eaten all three cakes ordered; you see it was the, done thing to order the cakes, but not to actually eat them. Their figures were most important to these Saudi women who are naturally big-hipped anyway. It was, I learned later, my job not to embarrass the waiting staff by leaving uneaten cakes on the table and I was therefore expected to scoff the lot, and the Princesses would not take no for an answer amidst my protestations.

Now back to the man. He came closer and closer to the table and I swear I thought he was going to do a runner with one of the handbags. I stood up and when he got to within touching distance of one of the Princesses, I put my hand on his shoulder and told him in my toughest voice to “Back off.” The Princesses looked at me in dismay. They were not amused. The man continued to stare at them and then back to me: “This is our cousin,” my Princess told me. “Go, wait in the car.”

It was a terrible first day on the job. That night, after I had gone to dinner with the Prince, Princess and their rather large entourage, the man who had interviewed me escorted me back to the hotel. He gave me a beautiful string of pearls and earrings; a gift from the Princess. She had told him I that wasn’t suitable but, now, here’s the funny thing.  The other Princess, the sister-in-law, was newly-married, naïve and had hardly ever travelled. Everything frightened her; crossing the road, crowded places and Western life in general. She asked for me, told me I had made her laugh, asked me to work for her, travel with her and everything was signed and sealed within two days. I spent the next twelve years with her and had one adventure after another; good times and very bad times, but I will leave these stories for another day.

By the way, I learned over the years that the original Princess, the one I was supposed to work for in the beginning, had no sense of humour at all. In fact, she was unlikeable in so many ways that I thank God to this day that I shoved her into that broom closet!

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