As a bodyguard, I have been fortunate to have protected a variety of female principals amongst a cross-section of nationalities and cultures around the globe.
My principals’ ages have also ranged from 4 to 65 years old. Amongst them all, I personally believe the most challenging principals are children. For me, the role of a bodyguard caring for a minor is all about balance, judgment, adaptation and a crystal-clear understanding of the parents’ wishes.
Any bodyguard who chooses to serve ultra-high net worth clients and families is immediately thrown into a world that much of the population will likely never have the opportunity to experience. When money is no object, it affords individuals, their families, and children access to the most opulent hotels, lavish properties and homes; reservations into Michelin star restaurants; holidaying on private islands, and chauffeur driven cars. This lifestyle level requires a massive infrastructure of household staff, house manager, butler, maids, nannies, protection detail, vehicles and drivers. Needless to say, children living within this lifestyle are inevitably shielded from reality.
In my experience, this can present challenges when managing their expectations. Some of the children you find yourself protecting may not understand the word ‘No’ as they have become accustomed to a life of ‘Yes’ at all odds where perhaps everything is readily available and on hand. So, when something isn’t available, or it simply isn’t possible for whatever reason, as the bodyguard, we will have to take the brunt of the fallout of the child’s disappointment, including tantrums, tears, and a grumpy principal. To mitigate unwanted attention to the family or child, we have to be agile and rely on our emotional intelligence, creative flair and grounded appreciation to navigate the situation.
Flexibility is the name of the game when it comes to protecting children. Having a flexible character is an excellent trait and will help as the fluidity of days can rapidly change from one hour to the next. I was once the sole protector for three children. The nature of the job and the family was often hectic, and the logistics of one nanny getting them all ready to go out meant that we were often late. On one occasion, it became clear that we would be at least 40 minutes late for the theatre performance we were scheduled to attend. Since this was unworkable, I had to adapt quickly and come up with a suitable alternative. I found performance and screening times at a nearby cinema, and we successfully diverted our plans. Whilst the children enjoyed the movie, I was able to rebook the theatre tickets for a couple of days later. All this highlights that nothing with children as the protectees is ever set in concrete, and you have to be able to realistically adjust to sudden unexpected changes. However, with a good strong team working together, you will prevail.
Many close protectors who are not parents themselves or who do not commonly deal with children may find the job nerve-wracking at first glance. However, I don’t believe you have to be a mother or father to protect or understand children. I have absorbed good parenting skills simply from observing family members and close friends. However, the best practices and training ground comes from experiences ‘on the ground.’
When it comes to the protection of children, the role of a bodyguard is dynamic and multifaceted. As bodyguards, we are primarily engaged in carrying out a protective role, so it goes without question that we need to start thinking along the lines of precious cargo. The child’s welfare and security are of the utmost importance at all times. Beyond this, we need to also call upon and implement other transferable skills, occasionally imparting a little knowledge here and there and providing presence of mind. We are expected to wear the hat of a role model, parent, teacher, mentor, and playmate.
In general, children can quickly become bored. But it’s fair to say that some children of UHNWs who haven’t experienced a ‘regular’ upbringing can sometimes have difficulty appreciating the simpler and often free things in life. This is where bodyguards can be presented with challenges. We must have the ability to think outside the box and have a bag full of tricks and skills at the ready. Engaging your principal on a level that reflects their age and intellect is advised. This will help them understand your role and the importance of their safety while allowing for some creativity and fun with the role and knowing when to apply discipline.
After a long day at a well-known theme park in Europe, my very young principal became extremely agitated and was exhausted from the long day of fun. As soon as we loaded up in the vehicle to start the journey back home, her blood-curdling screaming and crying began. It was so loud that no one in the car could even hear themself think. She was utterly inconsolable! Just then, I thought to put on music to calm the child down. Never had we all – driver, security, nanny and two children – appreciated the song “Baby Shark” as much as we did at that moment! What could’ve been a painful and very long journey home became a dance party.
With all this in mind, we also have to be conscious not to cross the line and take over the role of the parent or the nanny. That is not our role as the protector, and we have to recognise when we are edging closer to that line to determine when to withdraw. We have all heard that familiarity breeds contempt, so holding boundaries will go a long way in ensuring your success as a bodyguard. When you first begin a new PPO role, you will be under the spotlight to see how you operate around the child, principal, and other key members of the family’s infrastructure. This is your opportunity to show that you know how to work in a team, including embracing and respecting boundaries and each other’s primary roles.
Parental styles can run the gambit across a wide spectrum. I have protected children whose parents are engaging and genuinely wanted to be involved in their children’s day-to-day life. I have also worked for parents who are entirely dependent on the nanny to step in and fill the parental role. To better navigate these nuances, I encourage forging a good working relationship with both nanny and maid. These key individuals are usually in place 24/7 and they serve a crucial function for the family. Working closely with them will provide strong foundations and make for smoother communications across all moving parts of your role, especially when it comes to your planning and preparation for the next day. Nannies and maids usually absorb a lot of information by their mere presence. Take advantage of this and extract as much information about your principal from them. Nannies and maids will often impart invaluable details such as likes/dislikes, hobbies and interests of those you are protecting.
I recall that whilst protecting a very young principal travelling from abroad during a cold winter in London, I had several conversations with his nanny, during which she lamented the lack of opportunity for him to be able to play and roam free. His mum had extremely high hygiene standards and didn’t want him to go to a standard soft play centre. Using my local knowledge and previous experience working with young UHNW clients, I suggested two select members’ only clubs for children, both of which featured a wide range of opportunities for socialisation and creative play. We ended up enrolling as members and visiting both venues frequently. The child’s nanny – and subsequently his parents – were extremely pleased with both clubs, leading to glowing feedback to the main client.
When commencing a new PPO role or joining an existing team that involves a child principal, the onus is on you to watch, listen and learn everything you can about your principal’s personality, behaviours, and how they interact with their parents, nannies, and maids. The information you gather will be invaluable to you! What you observe will also be a good indicator of how you go about your own integration and begin the journey of building trust and gaining respect, both with the child and the parent(s). All of this knowledge gained will undoubtedly give you a head start and aid your success in the critical role of forging a solid foundation with the precious principal you are charged with protecting.
Precious Principals – The Challenges of Protecting Children
By Tracy Webster
Tracy Webster is the CEO of Pinnacle Risk Consultancy, which she founded in 2016 and has since gone on to become a leading security provider and a proud corporate business partner of the British Bodyguard Association. Tracy is a former Royal Military Police officer with experience in SIB (Specialist Investigation Branch). Since her service, Tracy has spent years in the specialist security industry developing a thorough understanding of close protection, residential security, travel risk security, pen testing, TSCM/Bug sweeps, surveillance techniques and undercover deployments.