If someone was shooting at the person I’m trying to protect, I’d throw myself in the bullet’s path
Security expert Alan Madill on the dos and don'ts of being a real-life bodyguard - and where the BBC hit series has got it wrong
The BBC's gripping drama Bodyguard, with its glamour, sex, politics and brutal cliffhangers certainly has the Northern Ireland public perched on the edge of their seats. Starring Keeley Hawes as fictional Home Secretary Julia Montague, the six-part series from Line of Duty creator Jed Mercurio revolves around the corridors of power at Westminster, bringing in a dirty power struggle, Islamic terrorist threats as well as romance, suspense and intrigue.
Game of Thrones actor Richard Madden stars as David Budd, a veteran soldier with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder who is assigned to the Home Secretary as her Personal Protection Officer.
One person watching the series unfold with interest and, perhaps even a wry smile on his face, is Northern Irish bodyguard Alan Madill. The 58-year-old security expert from Enniskillen has been involved in personal protection for 14 years, setting up his own business, Aurelius Security and Protection, after serving for 21 years in the RUC.
Alan says the reality of the real-life bodyguard's job is a world apart from the glamorous depictions on television and film.
"No two days are the same," he says. "They are all depending on who the principal is, where you have to go, what you have to do. There can be very much an awful lot of sitting about. You get in the car, drive somewhere, park up, bring someone into a building and you could be there for hours, just waiting.
"I have had so many different clients over the years, I struggle to remember them all. I've worked with camera crews to celebrities and people involved in business and politics.
"I don't pay too much attention to who the principal is. I do a bit of research on them, what they look like - so you know who they are so you can pick them up as discreetly as possible - and where they are going.
"I have looked after film stars. They are principals and I get them from A to B safely. I never really remember who they are. Once the job is done it's done. They are just a face, someone in the back of the car, doing their own thing, and I'm protecting them.
"Unless you are talking about the big film or music stars who want eight bodyguards around them, an ego thing, it's all very discreet. If you were standing at the airport you really wouldn't notice me picking someone up. Discretion is one of the big things, and doing the job quietly and efficiently."
Married with three grown-up sons, Alan is highly trained to deal with any situation on the job. He says a principal being mobbed or put in danger is a 'failure' on the part of a bodyguard.
"A good bodyguard should never get into a position where someone is attacking their principal," he says.
"People have seen these occasions on television or in films where a principal is caught at the door of a car. That is a failure of the bodyguard and the rest of the team. Nothing happens instantly. A crowd getting around a principal does not happen instantly. The team just haven't been sharp enough to evaluate that and get their principal into the car or into a building where they are not going to be pawed over.
"I have the experience to deal with all situations. We are trained to deal with everything and anything that might come up.
"It is just a matter of being switched on and alert to whatever the circumstances are. If you see people gathering, you make sure your principal is far enough away from them, if that is what they want.
"If you have information that something will happen, you probably shouldn't be there. Sometimes the principal will insist that he or she has to go. But I would be advising them to think of their families and find another way. I might tell them to get the person they are going to meet to travel a distance to meet them. It's all down to sensible planning, good research and information gathering."
Alan says his experiences in the police have helped him to become one of the best bodyguards in the business.
"Before I was a bodyguard I was an RUC officer," he says. "I was in the police for 21 years. Skills I learned in the police have lent themselves well to what I do now, things like being switched on and being alert to what's going around you and watching people.
"I have been shot at a few times, but not while I've been bodyguarding in this country. I was shot at when I was in the RUC in Armagh city and I've also been in an explosion which killed one of my colleagues. We were on a patrol and there was a booby trap device behind a wall in a derelict building in the city. When he stood beside it they detonated it, I was across the street.
"I have also been a bodyguard in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I looked after British government officials putting aid in over there. It was a bit of fun for me, it was a bit of fun for most people that do it. We were in armoured vehicles when we were shot at and we'd get fired at and mortared now and again in the accommodation. Nobody takes it very seriously.
"Nothing we were involved in Iraq and Afghanistan was any more than we were involved in here.
"A lot of us were shot at and bombed here, so it was no big deal over there either," Alan adds.
And the role of bodyguarding is not just about being tough - expert driving and critical thinking makes up a good part of the job too, says Alan.
"I can, of course, do evasive driving," he says. "Not so much here in Northern Ireland, I have done it more when I was abroad. I once did evasive driving for over 200 miles. The only time I'd have to do it here is if there was a threat of some description. It doesn't have to be a personal threat, it could be a threat against business. If you thought you were being followed you would carry out a few moves to prove or disprove that to throw someone off the tail.
"The equipment we use day to day can vary. We use radios within a team, we use phones, but we do not carry weapons. We are not allowed to in the UK. Everything would depend on the principal and the level of threat. If the threat level is that high that you are wearing a stab vest or flak jacket I think somewhere along the line the regular security forces or police would be involved. We also used armoured vehicles. We normally use four wheel drives, because they have the ability to get out of places if you are stuck."
Alan says the job is far from the glamorous and exciting life depicted on the BBC's Bodyguard. He says the main character David Budd has broken the cardinal rule of bodyguards - do not fall in love with your principal.
"The TV depictions of bodyguards can be quite glamorous," he says. "It is not a glamorous lifestyle at all. These TV shows are simply that, for TV and film.
"The Bodyguard with Whitney Houston was good up to a point. But a bodyguard will never, should never get involved in a relationship with the client or principal because they are compromised. Because if I was bodyguarding some person and there was a threat on them, then their way to that person is through me. That threatening person could do their research on the team around their target and if a bodyguard was married and having a relationship with a client, that is a way in to them, or if they had gambling debts. That's a road in, they could say they would pay off their debts if they did certain things. You have to be clean and professional and stick to what you have to do.
"A professional bodyguard would not enter a relationship with their principal, like in the BBC drama. If they did they would get themselves out of that situation. You can't do both. You can't remain focused on protecting that person when you are looking at them all the time and holding hands. It doesn't work."
Alan says the most important skill for a bodyguard is discretion.
"Good people to watch are Prince Charles's bodyguard," he says. "You don't see them. There is one guy close to him and a whole team around him, but they are just watching. And that is one of the big things a bodyguard needs to be, is a people watcher and to pick up on body language.
"If you had a crowd of people who are all cheering and clapping and there's someone in the middle of that being very, very serious and watching every move, that could be the person to focus on. But then it may not be, they could be someone there to draw attention. You have to watch everything and try and steer your principal away from trouble."
Alan says the one depiction often peddled on television - that a bodyguard must sacrifice his or her life for their principal is true.
"We do exactly what it says on the tin - bodyguard - so to speak," he says. "That's the name of the game. If there was someone firing at my principal I would throw myself in the line of the bullet. That is the job. You probably wouldn't consciously do it, but because you are switched into protection mode with the principal. You are not jumping in front of the principal to stop a bullet, but to get them to safety. You are in front of them, you are in between them and an assailant. So if there are bullets going, you will catch them."