The expectation is SAS snipers or M15-style men in black suits, shades and earpieces, but heads of state are as likely to be guarded by a young, blonde mum or middle-aged housewife mingling with the masses.
Unobtrusive but just as effective, female bodyguards are in demand — The Duchess of Cambridge (Emma Probert was in front passenger seat of the wedding Rolls), Prince William, David Cameron, Katie Price, Nicole Kidman and Justin Bieber have all ‘put their lives’ in the hands of a woman.
Colonel Gaddafi is protected by a hand-picked army of 40 ‘virgins’ known as ‘The Revolutionary Nuns’ who reportedly carry small firearms under their burkas.
Close-protection specialist Jacqueline Davis has been babysitting the rich and famous for 30 years.
In her new book, The Circuit, she says female bodyguards are as effective as their burly, male counterparts.
“We can go in toilets and don’t stand out in the lingerie department,” says Davis, who spent four years as author JK Rowling’s personal bodyguard and has protected Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie.
“Royals I’ve looked after like it that I can sympathise when it’s the wrong time of the month, or they’ve had a row with their husband.
“If we are looking after males, quite often people think we are the wife, the secretary or the mistress. It gives us a huge element of surprise. It’s got nothing to do with brawn — our job is to cover and remove the principal, not to get in a fight,” she says.
At 5’6”, blonde and a slender size 10, Clontarf-born Lisa Baldwin bears no resemblance to Clint Eastwood in In the Line of Fire. In her late 20s and based in Britain, she spends her days protecting Middle Eastern royals.
“People are not thinking about the big, strong guy any more,” says Baldwin, who decided to become a bodyguard during a chat with her dad. “The majority of my clients are women and children. It’s not a kung fu movie at all. It’s all about helping people.”
Despite being trained in counter-surveillance, bomb disposal and firearms, Baldwin says most people assume she’s a nanny. Once it keeps her clients safe, she doesn’t care. “It defeats the whole purpose,” she says of the macho, suited-and-booted bodyguard.
“People are going to think: ‘That’s the child to kidnap, he’s a high-value target’. As far as anyone is concerned, [my kids] just have their nanny with them. There is a time and a place for the big bodyguard, but we are there to blend in.”
Just like Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston in the hit 1992 movie, The Bodyguard, there’s another good reason why buff, young blokes are not always the best choice. The results of a bodyguard getting too close to their client have been explosive in the past.
In 1980, Detective Sergeant Peter Cross was relieved of his duties amid speculation he had become “too close” to Princess Anne — later selling his story to the News of the World, claiming to have had “intimate meetings” with his principal.
Two years later, Princess Diana’s bodyguard Barry Mannakee was also removed from his duties for being “too close” to his charge.
Meanwhile, in Ireland, Professional Bodyguards Ireland trains men and women in the skills needed to safeguard the stars — including restraint tactics, surveillance, bomb search, defensive driving and hostage awareness and survival. “Our male and female recruits get trained exactly the same,” says managing director Ronan McLoughlin. “Gender shouldn’t come in to it.
“Male or female, I don’t know anyone on earth who’s faster than a speeding bullet. The first line of defence is your brain — and if you have to get physical, you’ve already lost.
“Hollywood has distorted people’s idea of what a bodyguard is. Being a bodyguard is basically about conflict management, not diving in front of bullets — it could be something as simple as handling an overzealous fan.
“A big part of our work is thinking outside the box,” he says, “and women tend to be better at critical thinking. With male bodyguards, sometimes ego can get in the way.”
A basic three-week bodyguard-training course with the Galway-based security firm costs €2,495 — a sum that a top bodyguard could earn back in a matter of days, says McLoughlin.
“Because of the image, it tends to be a male-dominated industry,” he says. “So there’s a lot of money to be made by female bodyguards who are in short supply.
“Typically, on a nice simple job, you could take home around €800-900 a week, right up to earning that much a day for more high-profile jobs.
“We even have a few mums on our books who simply take the lower-risk jobs closer to home. Bodyguarding isn’t your average nine-to-five job — but it’s not far off it.”
* See www.bodyguard.ie