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Irish Independent – “The Irish Bodyguard” (28th April, 1999)

April 2, 2011 ARTICLES No Comments

With the Celtic Tiger in full roar Ireland’s wealthy individuals are increasingly turning to the services of bodyguards. Chris Lowry talks to Noel Whelan, National Director of the Association in Ireland.

With the Celtic Tiger in full roar Ireland’s wealthy individuals are increasingly turning to the services of bodyguards. Chris Lowry talks to Noel Whelan, National Director of the Association in Ireland.Every week, according to the latest estimates, there are five new millionaires created in Ireland. That adds up to a lot of envy, vulnerability and potential customers for the bodyguard industry. 

The Irish branch of the International Bodyguards Association drew attention to these facts of modern life this week, announcing that it is running a series of courses aimed at boosting membership.

The Irish branch of the International Bodyguards Association drew attention to these facts of modern life this week, announcing that it is running a series of courses aimed at boosting membership.

But new members won’t be created overnight. The business of bodyguarding is not as simple as many in the public believe.

“People think of a bodyguard and they think of a seven-foot guy with muscles bulging out of his neck who issues threats a thug, in other words,” says Noel Whelan, National Director of the Association in Ireland.

“It’s not like that at all. A bodyguard’s most important quality is maturity, and he certainly won’t draw attention to himself,” he says.

Bodyguarding has come a long way from its origins in past centuries, when kings in battle would surround themselves with 250-strong human shields that would absorb spears and arrows. The invention of guns forced VIPs to employ far smaller groups of people who would be pro-active in anticipating and eliminating threat.

This remains the key difference between bodyguards and other security personnel. “Army and police forces are reactive, waiting for a situation to arise and then dealing with it, whereas most of the bodyguard’s work is spent anticipating a situation and preventing it from happening,” says Noel Whelan.

The buzzwords are threat analysis and risk resolution. At the outset of a job, the nature of any threat is studied closely – for example whether it is general or specific.

But before even agreeing to take on any client, the first question is: can that person be protected?

“There is no such thing as 100 percent security. When determining if a person is too high a risk, bodyguards will take into consideration whether, for example, any attack is more likely to come from a professional or a politically motivated individual,” Noel Whelan explains.

“If it’s a professional, he will use a car bomb or shoot from distance. He won’t come up close. But a politically motivated person may come within five yards, what we call the `secure zone’.”

Noel Whelan is acquainted with the various different political sensitivities of the late twentieth century. His work has taken him around the world several times and he now spends much of his time abroad in his capacity as an international instructor.

He has recently returned from Equador, and other important assignments have been in countries in both North and South America and in Eastern Europe. The security situation varies, but one factor applies everywhere: Murphy’s Law.

“Whatever can go wrong in bodyguarding will, and you have to be aware of this. Whereas in other jobs people plan for what goes right, we have to plan specifically for what might go wrong.

“But no matter how difficult the situation, you can always improve it through good planning. Russia, for example, is extremely violent, and a few years ago 50 bodyguards were being killed there every year. We’ve now trained them properly and already the death toll is a tenth of what it was.”

The problem in Russia was that bodyguards had a macho, “look-at-me” approach, and were becoming involved in confrontations. The three-pronged approach of the International Bodyguards’ Association, on the other hand, is: avoid the situation, if you can’t avoid it escape it, and if all else fails, hit and run.

These guidelines look set to become more important as Eastern European violence, and crime in general, spills over into Ireland as an inevitable consequence of increased wealth. Businessmen from former Soviet countries and elsewhere regard Ireland as attractive, not least because it is not too closely connected to “the imperialist governments.”

The internationalisation of bodyguarding means that trade skills are becoming universal. But there are still differences from one country to the next.

James Breletic works as a bodyguard in Atlanta, Georgia but has visited Ireland a number of times and is acutely aware of one key difference in working conditions for all security personnel: weapons are illegal here.

“I have the greatest of respect for Irish bodyguards and the Gardai, but the reality of the situation is: the bad guys have got guns,” he says.

“I’ve worked in law enforcement and for government agencies, and I’ve been shot at. But the idea that you stand behind a patrol car while someone shoots the car full of bullets…I don’t think so.”

Noel Whelan disagrees. “The fact that we don’t have weapons can actually make you a better bodyguard, you are forced to handle the situation in other ways. A bodyguard’s most important weapon is his mind.”

In fact, bodyguards in America and here have far more that unites them than divides them. Although James Breletic’s weapon of choice is a .40 calibre Glock and he carries a machine gun for certain assignments, he is clear about the need to prevent a situation arising rather than ever having to discharge his weapon.

“You anticipate trouble and avoid it. I don’t box with the boxers, I don’t spar with the martial artists. I don’t walk away from my protectee to fight; I get myself and the protectee out of there,” he says.

He also explains that the job of a bodyguard is to protect his client not only from physical threat but from any embarrassment in the news media.

He cites the example of a visiting sports star he was protecting as with all bodyguards, he won’t divulge the name who wanted to visit Atlanta’s trendiest night club.

“This particular individual liked to be with women, a lot of women,” he says.

“He already had one on each arm when we got to the club, but once inside, we found that this particular sports figure has decided he wants to beat up this pretty girl.”

James points out that he wasn’t being paid to attack his protectee but he did have to intervene. “I got between him and the girl and basically used verbal judo. I explained that I couldn’t let him embarrass himself like this and that he either agreed to stop or the entire protection detail would be withdrawn. He’d be left in the club alone, and would have no way of getting home.”

The tactic worked and the sports star complied, and indeed thanked his bodyguard once he’d cooled down. James also advised him to apologise to the girl and give her tickets to an upcoming game, which the star did. The result was that the next day’s papers had a story about the generous sports star giving tickets to a fan.

Protection of this kind doesn’t come cheaply. James Breletic explains that “you pay for what you get” but that a standard, two man detail can cost as much as $3,000 a day.

The most expensive fee he has personally ever charged for one of his teams is $17,000 for three days but he estimates that particularly security-conscious stars (he doesn’t use the word paranoid) could spend that much every day as a matter of routine.

The equipment varies in price, from a $400 hand gun right down to something as simple as a women’s sanitary towel. “People laugh their asses off when you tell them you carry sanitary pads,” says James. “But if you think about it – if you get cut, shot or stabbed, what’s going to absorb blood the best?”

This is the sort of improvisational approach that a bodyguard requires, he says. “Common sense is the most important quality.”

Noel Whelan adds that being a good physical fighter is not important, and may even be counter-productive. “You can be the best fighter in the world but everyone has their off days.”

Perhaps it is for this reason that women make such good bodyguards. As well as being less confrontational, there are practical advantages. A bodyguard should blend in at all times, and if the protectee is female then it will obviously look odd if her male guard follows her into the toilet, for example.

Both women and men undergo the same basic training, which at the International Bodyguards Association involves a intensive, week long course of 12-15 hours per day. After that, it’s all about acquiring experience.

But don’t go into it with the wrong idea, says James Breletic. “There have been some good movies about bodyguards, such as Clint Eastwood’s In The Line of Fire which was right on the money. But that film The Bodyguard, with Kevin Coster shooting blindly in the dark and the whole thing of getting involved with Whitney Houston, that’s not how it works.”

* For information about bodyguarding, contact James Breletic on 085 125 2288

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