When CEOs, celebrities, and the ultra-wealthy require personal security, they hire men and women with certain skills. Bodyguards create a physical barrier between their clients and anyone who wants to harm them, but there’s a lot more to the job—and a lot that people don’t understand about it. Mental Floss spoke with many senior security experts to get a better understanding of what it takes to defend others. Here’s what they had to say about working in the safety industry.
Having a large physical presence comes in useful when handling crowd control or trying to manage hordes of shouting teens. However, not all “close protection specialists” must be the size of a pro wrestler. Anton Kalaydjian, the founder of Guardian Professional Security in Florida and former head of security for 50 Cent, adds, “It really depends on the customer.” “It’s similar to looking for a car.” Sometimes they want a large SUV, and other times they want something that blends in. Not a monster, but a regular-looking guy in clothes without an earphone is required.”
Bodyguards may or may not be armed, depending on the situation—protecting an artist at a concert is different from carrying the loathed CEO of a pharmaceutical company. Relying on gunplay, according to Kent Moyer, president and CEO of World Protection Group and a former hire bodyguard London for Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, suggests the security expert has already failed. “People don’t realize we’re not in the business of fighting or drawing guns,” Moyer explains. “We’ve been taught to take shelter, evacuate, and get out of harm’s way.” The idea is to avoid using force.” Moyer claims that if a guard has to draw a gun to respond to a gun, he is already behind. “I failed if I fought. If I pull out a gun, I’ve failed.”
Companies concerned about retaliation amid layoffs have raised red flags about workplace violence. Alan Schissel, the founder of Integrated Security and a former New York City police sergeant, claims to assign guards for “hostile work termination” appointments. He said, “We get a lot of requests for armed security in a discrete manner while someone is being fired.” “They want to make sure the person does not return and retaliate.”
TMZ.com, a celebrity news and gossip website, can be a great resource for security professionals who work with celebrities. “I adore TMZ,” says Moyer. “It’s a gold mine for me to know who has bodyguard issues or who has been arrested.” Such information is excellent for generating customer leads. Moyer also believes that the site’s well-organized team of photographers might serve as a suitable training ground for security drills. “You can view paparazzi as a threat, even if they aren’t, and consider how you’d handle it.” Furthermore, having cameras present before a celebrity arrives can sometimes reveal information leaks in their operation: If photographers are given advance notice, security should be enhanced, according to Moyer.
Some believe that because guards are frequently seen within arm’s reach of celebrities, they must be having similar experiences. Not at all. “A common misunderstanding is that we live the same lives as celebrities,” adds Kalaydjian. “Yes, we fly on a private jet from time to time, but we don’t appreciate the perks.” Although we live in their home, we do not utilize their pool. You keep to yourself and go about your business.” Guards who get caught up in a fast-paced lifestyle don’t stay long, according to him.
Being surrounded by a group of serious-looking folks isn’t necessary for everyone. It’s a status symbol comparable to an expensive watch or a fast automobile. When no threat is present, firms may receive calls from people searching for a way to stand out by employing a fleet of guards. Schissel describes it as a “luxury amenity.” “It’s more of a look at me, look at them” mentality, Moyer agrees. “There is no real danger.” It’s all about the performance. Those I decline. We provide actual security.”
Guards frequently know exactly how to access and exit venues without stumbling for instructions or interacting with site security because they research out areas ahead of time. As a result, CEOs and celebrities, according to Moyer, can get more done in a workday. “If I’m driving you to Warner Bros., I’ll know which gate to enter, I’ll have credentials, and I’ll know where the bathrooms are.” More work done in a day equals more money, which translates to a return on the security investment.
When deciding whether or not to hire a new employee, Kalaydjian eliminates anyone who wants a piece of a client’s popularity. He says, “I’ve seen guys do things they shouldn’t.” “They’re doing it to attract attention.” Bodyguards who share photos of themselves with customers on social media risk losing their jobs: no one will take a “buddyguard” seriously. Kalaydjian recalls the one occasion he smirked while guarding the same client for 12 years, something so unusual that his boss noticed. “On duty, it’s just not the side you represent.”
Celebrities retain their exposure by interacting with their followers on social media, which often entails tweeting about their vacations and events. It might provide fans a unique viewpoint on their daily routine. It’s a road map for someone who wants to hurt them. “Sometimes they won’t even inform me,” Kalaydjian recalls, “and I’ll see on Snapchat that they’ll be at a mall at 2 p.m.” “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have known.”
Don’t assume a performer surrounded by menacing personal protection team is covering the tab the next time you see them. “A lot of celebrities can’t afford full-time protection,” adds Moyer, referring to the 24-hour security provided by his and other agencies. “Sometimes, the film or TV show they’re working on pays for it. They either lose everything or start getting the bare minimum once the performance is over.”
Only a few bodyguards will refer to themselves as such. Because the term “bodyguard” conjures up images of large, incompetent males, Moyer prefers executive protection agents. “There is a large number of dysfunctional people in the industry who have no official training,” he says. A former childhood friend may be promoted to “security,” a position for which they are unlikely to be qualified. Specialized training classes are available from Moyer and other firms, with Moyer’s taking cues from Secret Service regulations. However, Moyer warns that enlisting hyper-motivated combat professionals such as Navy SEALs or SWAT team members isn’t the answer. “SEALs enjoy engaging in combat and killing the bad guy. Our goal is to avoid being in the same room with the bad guy.”