On Alert as a Female Bodyguard

Movie portrayals of bodyguards often belie the reality — and the fact that risk assessment and planning usually take precedence over a gung-ho approach

Electronic and counter surveillance, explosives searching and bomb disposal, firearms training and bullet-proof vests, diplomacy, intelligence and personal security — it’s all part of the training Dublin-born Lisa Baldwin received when she forged an international career as a bodyguard seven years ago.

Baldwin, who is in her mid-20s, is head of the women’s division at the International Bodyguard Association (IBA) in the UK — the biggest such organisation in the world. She started her career as a professional swimmer in Holland and Spain, before getting into the area of personal training in Dublin. Through contacts in the industry, she was offered employment in event security for concerts and celebrity-packed parties, and it was here she learned about the work of the IBA.

She explains: “The association has a base inIreland, but the bigger courses are done in the UK, so I had to travel there and undertake 100 hours of training in order to get my IBA badge. This included a basic master class for five days, then a course in protective driving, explosives searching and electronic surveillance with a former member of MI5. Once I completed that, I undertook firearms training in Slovenia.”

To the average employee, this form of training is likely to sound incredible, given it is rarely witnessed outside ofHollywood blockbusters. Ironically, Baldwin says one of her fellow instructors (who has since passed away) was the inspiration behind the character Q from the James Bond movies.

The market for bodyguards, or ‘close protection surveillance’ as they’re otherwise known, is limited here, as our celebrities tend to be left alone when out in public. So the majority of Baldwin’s work takes her abroad.

However, she believes some Irish elite are shortsighted

when it comes to personal security. “In Ireland, many top business people or celebrities have the old-fashioned attitude of ‘I’ll be grand’, but a lot have poor security and are prime targets, particularly for kidnapping. The Arabs are the complete opposite when it comes to personal secur

ity. Sometimes the VIP will only have a secure driver, but he will spare no expense when it comes to protecting his family. Over there, they see the potential threat their wealth can bring.”

Baldwin is regularly employed by rich Arabs living in or visiting the UK, who, because of their beliefs, tend to prefer hiring female bodyguards. “They don’t like having men near their women,” she says. “Also, females tend to blend in more with the family set-up and are not as easy to spot. People assume we are personal assistants or nannies. In the UK, we call the period from May to September ‘Arab season’, as that’s when our services are required the most, in terms of protecting princesses and their children.”

Baldwin continues: “There is obviously a big Hollywood stereotype of bodyguards with ear pieces or that secret-service vibe, but we prefer a more covert way of communicating with each other without drawing attention to ourselves.”

Her line of work is not without danger, but Baldwin says preparation is key. “You look at each client and assess where the potential threat could come from — is it the paparazzi, a kidnapper, an assassin? The risk assessment helps me prepare for each role; that way, there shouldn’t be any surprises.

“We plan what routes to take when going out, so we can throw people off the scent and not let our patterns become predictable. Sometimes we will bring in a counter-surveillance team if we feel we are being watched.”

Baldwin says the role of a bodyguard does not include taking a bullet for a client if the situation arises. The emphasis is on her security as well as that of the VIP — again, this is underlined by meticulous daily preparation.

“If I’m not happy with the security, I don’t take the contract. I’ve also threatened to walk off jobs because of a potential lapse in security, for example, a really bad driver.”

The main downside to the bodyguard role is the inflexible hours and being away from family for months. But Baldwin says it is also a lucrative career with plenty of scope for travel.

Training female bodyguards in India

By Sunanda Parmeshwar Mumbai, March 10 (IANS) One of the last glass ceilings for women is about to shatter. Smart yet tough Indian women are all set to become bodyguards for jet-setters and corporate honchos. A Mumbai-based private detective and security consultant, Raj Talele, is the latest to fulfil the increasing demand for women bodyguards. He has announced specially designed workshops for women, training them physically and mentally to work as bodyguards. “In Mumbai, there is a growing demand for bodyguards for VIPs and celebrities in different fields. However, in the absence of trained womanpower, all vacancies are filled up by men,” Talele told IANS. He has hired professionals to teach women martial arts like karate and judo, yoga and swimming in the workshop that starts March 15. Though Talele’s workshop has attracted nearly 60 women applicants, he will select 25 females with the best all-round potential for the first batch. The participants should be between 17 and 30 years of age, he said. The intensive physical and mental training sessions will be held at Worli, south central Mumbai, for two hours daily for a period of two months. “Along with martial arts, the girls will also be taught on how to improve their communication skills and their self-confidence,” Talele said. In many cases, men guard women celebrities too, even though the latter are often uncomfortable with the arrangement, but there is little choice. Talele hopes to fill this void with his workshop. Mumbai’s Joint Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) K.L. Prasad said: “The Mumbai police force does not have any female bodyguards. Actually, even the number of women police constables is very low.” The official said that when a woman VIP visits the city, a regular woman constable is provided to the dignitary. “These lady constables are well-trained in the use of small weapons like pistols but are not trained to carry out the functions of a bodyguard,” Prasad said. Though the training will be given free of cost, some amount of money will be reduced from their first salary, Talele explained. “I have linked up with some companies that are on the look-out for women bodyguards. After the training, the girls will be given placements in those firms,” he said. Since the response has been overwhelming, Talele plans to start the second batch from April 1. The city does have a few security agencies that employ women guards. One of them is the Tops Group security agency, which has nearly 200 women guards for various public events and private clients. “We are the pioneer in training women as bodyguards. They are trained in martial arts and crisis management for three weeks before they are deployed in the field,” said Deepak Monga, senior corporate manager of the firm. They are deployed at functions or events attended by women celebrities and even child artistes who specifically ask for female security personnel as they feel more at ease with them, Monga added. Property Guards, another security agency, also employs women to guard city malls and family members of celebrity clients. Its chairman, Vikash Verma, said the firm has nearly 100 women security guards who have undergone three months’ training.

Female bodyguards: A muscled option

It was close to midnight. Sarita Mehra, a senior executive at a multinational company, was driving back home from the office. Suddenly, two men on motorbikes zipped by her, making obscene gestures as they sped by. “It had been going on for days. These men always harassed women drivers,” Mehra told DNA.

The next night, however, Sharma was prepared. As soon as she spotted the culprits, she pulled up by the side of the road. The bikers stopped and menacingly approached the car. What the goons weren’t expecting, however, was the woman seated in the passenger seat getting out and fighting back. She kicked one in the groin, while punching the other’s face.

“We had called the police earlier, and within minutes the men were nabbed,” said Jyoti Singh, the woman who rained down the pain on the eve teasers. Singh belongs to a growing breed of women bodyguards who are trying to make the city safer for other women.

With incidents of sexual crimes on the rise, security agencies are cashing in on the idea of providing personalised security services for women, by women. “Our clients feel comfortable around female bodyguards,” said Deepak Monga, head of marketing and communication, Topsgrup security agency.

However, the service does not come cheap. Priced between Rs 35,000 to Rs 50,000 per month for an eight to 12 hour shift, it is affordable only to high profile clients.

Despite steep rates, the demand in Mumbai and other urban areas is growing. According to industry estimates, there are nearly half a dozen security agencies in the city, employing 30 to 50 women bodyguards each. “We started out a year ago with only a small number. Now we have 60 women bodyguards working actively across India, 45 of which operate in Mumbai alone,” Monga added.

Women bodyguards are also ideal for ‘covert security cover’, when clients don’t want to bring unnecessary attention to themselves.

“A man with bulging muscles will not only scare away potential molesters, but also colleagues and acquaintances,” laughs businesswoman Leena Shah, who has a woman bodyguard posing as her personal assistant. Others like Swati More and Deepa Patnaik guard children of the rich and the famous at schools and playgrounds while pretending to be nannies or maidservants.

Meanwhile, security agencies are busy touting the idea of female bodyguards as a solution to crime against women. “Once the trend catches on there will be a drop in incidents of harassment, and rape,” feels Monga. That remains to be seen, but efforts to make Mumbai a safer place for women seem to have begun.