The female bodyguard who protects Kate Middleton
Published 04/07/2011 | 14:02
With her chic black hat and monochrome dress, most people probably assumed the well-dressed woman in the front passenger seat of the Rolls Royce at the recent royal wedding was the bride's designer.
Far from being there to protect Kate Middleton's crisp white frock from creases and spillages, though, elegant Emma Probert was there to protect her life.
The Duchess of Cambridge is just the latest A-lister to put her life in the hands of a lady -- close protection officer 39-year-old Sergeant Probert.
Other celebs to favour a female bodyguard in the past include her husband Prince William, Nicole Kidman, Katie Price and Justin Bieber.
And Colonel Gaddafi is flanked by 40 female bodyguards, known as The Revolutionary Nuns.
With a remake of 1992 blockbuster The Bodyguard in the works, Hollywood may have to rethink its stereotype of the bullet-dodging bloke in a black suit, shades and earpiece.
Less conspicuous but just as capable as their male counterparts, girl bodyguards are on the rise, says Ireland's most in-demand one.
"Kevin Costner has a lot to answer for," laughs bodyguard Lisa Baldwin (27) from Clontarf.
"The reality is nothing like the movie -- it's not all about jumping in front of bullets and falling in love with your client."
At 5ft 6, size 10 and blonde, former professional swimmer Lisa certainly has little in common with big-screen bodyguards such as Costner, Clint Eastwood (In the Line of Fire) and Denzel Washington (Man on Fire).
"When I started out eight years ago, I was the only woman on my training course," says Lisa, who travels the world guarding Middle Eastern royals on holidays. "But now it's becoming more popular."
Clients are starting to realise that women are often a better choice to protect their families. "As a woman, I blend in more easily -- people just assume I'm a nanny or personal assistant," she adds.
With training in firearms, protective driving, counter-surveillance and bomb search, however, Mary Poppins she ain't.
"It's about being able to read a situation, identify threats -- whether it's the paparazzi, a kidnapper or assassin -- and get your client to safety," explains Lisa, who quit university to become a bodyguard after a chance meeting with a bodyguard friend of her father.
"If it comes down to conflict, I've failed my client and myself. I'm dealing with regular people, so more often than not just speaking to someone can solve things.
"As a female bodyguard, you have to have a very thick skin," she admits. "I've had male colleagues tell me to go make the tea or deliberately try to show me up on a job -- but I fought back to get the respect I deserve.
"Unlike a lot of male bodyguards, I have a clean track record -- and intend to keep it that way."
Ironically, in one of the most female-unfriendly professions imaginable, there are times when only a woman is man enough for the job.
"Toilets," explains veteran British bodyguard Jacquieline Davis (50). "We can go in toilets and don't stand out in the lingerie department.
"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.
"[While] if we are looking after males, quite often people think that we are the wife, the secretary or the mistress -- it gives us a huge element of surprise."
During her 30 years on 'the circuit', as the bodyguarding world calls itself, the former London cop has been stabbed in the leg, thrown through a shop window and shot at by snipers. But she says her scariest moment was fending off a 400-strong gaggle of horny women while bodyguarding at a male strip show.
"I am shocked that I'm still alive," jokes Davis, who's also babysat celebs such as Liza Minnelli, Diana Ross and JK Rowling.
"Ultimately, you have to be prepared to take a bullet, especially [in countries] where you're not allowed to carry a hand gun. But the biggest thing about our job is being a diplomat. I have bullshitted my way into, out of and around so many situations."
Negotiation skills and discretion aside, there's another reason why rich Arab businessmen, A-listers and royals may prefer not to hire a buff, young bloke to mind their missus.
In 1980, Detective Sergeant Peter Cross was relieved of his duties amid speculation he had become "too close" to Princess Anne. Two years later, Princess Diana's bodyguard Barry Mannakee was also accused of getting too cosy with his principal.
Although both royals denied an affair, others like Princess Stephanie of Monaco and Britney Spears have 'done a Whitney' by getting involved with their bodyguard.
"Kevin Costner would have been sacked long ago," jokes Jim Shortt of the International Bodyguard Association, which has its Irish headquarters in Co Louth.
"As a bodyguard, often you're dealing with vulnerable women and you don't take advantage of that. That said, what ageing millionaire would want his wife looked after by a fit, handsome young man?"
Wannabe girl bodyguards here can undertake a three-week training course with the organisation for around €2,495 -- a sum that even a rookie could earn back in three weeks, as basic bodyguarding rates start at around €800 per week up to that amount per day for more high-risk jobs.
"In many ways, women can make better bodyguards because they don't have the Men in Black attitude of some male bodyguards," says Shortt.
"People are often surprised when they see me," agrees Lisa Baldwin, who runs the IBA Women's Bureau.
"They expect you to be big and butch -- but when I'm not bodyguarding, I'm just a regular girl who likes to keep fit and go to the movies."
Girls with guns: The world's most famous female bodyguards
Glamorous Russian bodyguard Loginova was killed after attempting to prevent her own Porsche from being carjacked in 2008.
The 29-year-old model ran an agency for female bodyguards to protect Moscow's billionaires. Stripping down for a men's mag, she said: "I do think that a girl should be a girl, not a Terminator."
Bodyguard to Alejandro Toledo while he was President of Peru, former police lieutenant Bardales' career ended in controversy when she was accused of having an affair with her principal in 2005.
Dubbed 'Lady Bi', the 28-year-old was then indicted for illegal enrichment over her lavish lifestyle -- though the charges were later dropped.
The Revolutionary Nuns
Formed in the 1980s, 40 green-uniformed female bodyguards known as 'The Revolutionary Nuns' protect Muammar Gaddafi.
The Libyan leader is thought to surround himself by young women in order to deter Arab gunmen.