Have you ever dreamed about what it would be like to be a V.I.P or a celebrity for a day? To be escorted around, surrounded by highly trained bodyguards at all times? Chauffeured to your every destination and to have all booking, route-planning and dietary-requirements taken care for? So had I…
Phil James is a Personal Protection Officer, who has worked with and protected different V.I.Ps and celebrities around the country. He is local to Lincolnshire and knows my family through holiday/business connections. I had actually come across one of his websites during some research into local companies. I remember thinking ‘that looks like a pretty cool job!’.
Phil was recently given the task of finding a suitable candidate to play a V.I.P role; helping to complete a final exercise of a Close Protection course, and suggested we meet for a coffee to discuss this. I was very intrigued and happy to oblige.
I was a little bit nervous to meet an ex-police, highly trained, professional bodyguard by myself on a quiet Monday afternoon, but I’m naturally very clumsy when it comes to hot coffee, so I figured I’d be well-armed by the time he arrived. He’s an absolutely lovely guy, professional but genuinely friendly and, after hearing about the details that the day would entail, I left feeling very excited about being involved in this training.
Phil introduced me to the course leader and they recommended that I choose a very glamorous shopping partner to join me, so naturally I chose the lady who gifted me with the same should-be-V.I.P-anyway genes. Hi mum.
Before the day began, we were asked to send over specific information sheets including an itinerary, specifying times and addresses of locations (from which they would plan our best route). Then a profile about each of us, including likes/dislikes, career path, hobbies, interests and a recent photograph. And finally a page to specify any allergies or health information that they may need to know. After that, all that was left to do was wait for the day to arrive.
The team arrived promptly at 10am, dressed in full suits (as they do for high-profile clients) where the course leader introduced us to the team leader and ran through our itinerary. For clients that aren't high-profile, the team wear casual clothes to avoid unnecessary crowd attention, but for high-profile clients attention is hard to avoid.
The course leader made us feel as comfortable as possible by explaining any changes and answering any questions that we had; the foremost question being 'what happens when one of us needs the toilet?'. We were relieved to discover that the personal protection officer (PPO) would wait for us outside (but close-by).
Our task was to act like real V.I.Ps; to not fuss over the PPOs or ask if they were OK, because they didn't know any different - we had to hide our excitement and act as if this were the norm. This, of course, made it tricky to get any photos but the course leader was documenting the day which has given me access to some better images. The rest are done using my phone, as slyly as possible.
All doors, including car doors, were opened and closed by our PPOs. I tried to hide my special-treatment-smile as I was helped into the lead security vehicle. (That's right, there was a convoy!) Inside our vehicle was my PPO (sat directly in front of me, and instructed to cover me if anything happened) and the driver who had our destinations and routes planned for us. The second car contained 4 other PPO students, the team leader and the course leader.
Inside our car was a selection of chilled beverages that I had listed as 'likes' on the previously filled-in information sheet, some tissues (for my hay-fever), my favourite mints and even mum's favourite magazine.
The V.I.P treatment didn't stop there...
Our first location was
Doddington Hall, where we had a wander around the India Jane shop and then enjoyed some lunch at their restaurant. Not only had they organised the most comfortable, secure and private table, but they cooked our food in our favourite water (Elderflower flavoured) and lunch was paid for by the course. Lunch was absolutely amazing, the best meal mum and I had eaten in ages, here's a snap of her sea-bass:
The gardens were quite quiet and only the head-PPO came with us because Doddington Hall have their own security, so he blended in well into the background, appearing as a business man having lunch. Look how well he blended in to the environment, yet we felt completely safe the entire time. We weren't prepared for the next part of the day - Lincoln city centre.
The cars pulled into the Bailgate just outside a large hotel, the PPOs got into a box formation around us and started to escort us down the hill. I don't think I had ever seen Steep Hill so busy - so many people turned around to stare at us, some whispering "Look! Bodyguards!" and some cocky girls tried to flirt with the men towards the edge of the formation.
The bottom of the hill was less busy so they spread out to protect the largest area possible:
This became the most memorable part of the day - having shop doors opened for us, having traffic stopped when we wanted to cross a road and even having our shopping carried for us (apparently it makes a good defence barrier!). Here's a snap of me with the 5 PPO students:
We made a few unplanned stops at a coffee shop, for example, and visited my sister at work. Everything was handled brilliantly, even while wearing suits in 30 degree heat!
The entire time our comfort was more important to them; they asked us if we enjoyed our meal, if the air-conditioning was OK and even offered us advice on places to shop. They had really done their research and made us feel like we weren't simply surrounded by strangers. They knew the area well and made an effort to laugh at our terrible jokes. They even got us a thank you card.
We couldn't have asked for a better day and we wish them the best of luck with the rest of their course.
Here's a final photo of the whole team (including team leader and driver):
Special thanks to Rick, course leader, for the more obvious photos and a huge thank you to Phil James, for inviting me into this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Although I definitely wouldn't say 'no' to another opportunity...