Out there: He ain't heavy, he's my bouncer

Ritter and Nagel insist the success of their security business results directly from their policy of non-aggression
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Paul Nagel was born 28 years ago in Johannesburg. He left his homeland in 1986, deserting from the South African army, an act he has no qualms about. "I was very unhappy when they posted me to a base outside Soweto. The whole place was surrounded by army bases, it was the only way they could keep five million black people under the cosh." Nagel's disgust with apartheid was so emphatic that he was not even issued a firearm. "They thought I'd probably shoot an officer."

After bumming around the Mediterranean for a year, he landed in England and took the first job he could get, as doorman of a notorious north London pub. Some evenings Nagel would break up half-a-dozen fights, all for pounds 15 a session. One night, he ejected someone for taking drugs at the bar: "The guy came back and tried to stab me with a samurai knife." Nagel escaped with 17 stitches to a wound that severed the artery in his left forearm.

When he learned the pub's manager was charging the brewery pounds 100 a night for security, Nagel bought a company off-the-shelf and got his first security contract, direct from the brewery. Then he added another pub, and another. It was in the World's End, in Camden, that he met his future business partner, Joachim Ritter.

Then a 19-year-old student, Ritter had arrived in London for a break before starting a psychology degree in his native Denmark. At that time, he was heavily into body- building, weighed 18 stone and often picked up cash working casually as a doorman. When he met Nagel, something clicked. "We talked for a while and realised our ideas about security were basically the same. We both believe in karma, that what you do comes back to you."

Ritter and Nagel have built a thriving security business - now renamed as Pantherr - around this simple notion, and they expect their thoroughly- trained employees to have enough wit and intelligence to handle themselves, in almost any situation, without resorting to rough stuff. Their attitude is little short of revolutionary in an industry dominated, as Nagel puts it, "by amateurs, crooks, psychos and cowboys". When word got out that Pantherr was taking a softly, softly approach, many predicted a rude awakening for the two immigrants.

That was just over a year ago. Today, Pantherr claims to be the second largest firm of its kind in London, with a string of contracts that includes the Leisure Lounge, EC1, The Site, Club UK and the newly-opened Venom. Turnover is close to pounds 1 million, and expected to be "bordering on twice that by the end of the year". The company's first division status was established this May, when, out of nowhere, it won the security contract for the Dolce & Gabbana party, attended by supermodels, rock stars and Hollywood big shots. More recently, it secured the Rolling Stones' backstage parties at Wembley, and Stallone's epic launch for Judge Dredd, held in County Hall.

Nagel and Ritter insist their success results directly from their policy of non-aggression, which they institutionalise in their employees. "When someone comes to us for work," says Ritter (now slimmed down to a lean 13 stone), "we have to `Pantherr-ise' him. He has to understand that you don't have to be aggressive to control a situation." The best form of self-defence, apparently, is to keep calm and smile. "If your customers see you're relaxed and can sense you're not scared, then there's no point of confrontation. That in itself defuses most situations."

Another tactic is to deploy female security guards - Pantherr currently employs four - inside club premises. "You need a certain amount of muscle on the door, but once people are on the dancefloor there's not so much need for a muscular presence. And you'd be surprised how effective women can be at stopping a fight."

Unlike many firms who oppose the idea of government licensing of security staff, Pantherr would like legislation introduced immediately. "It's the lack of legal recourse that allows so many violent criminals into this business," says Nagel. "If there were appropriate legislation, we could demand to check people's names against a police record. That would get rid of cowboys, and ensure public safety. It would also mean more work for us."

Pantherr also has a novel approach to that perennial nightlife problem, the dealer. "Others give them a slap, tax their drugs and money, then throw them out. But if you've robbed the guy, beat him and humiliated him, he hasn't got anything left to lose. Of course, he'll be back for trouble, and that usually means customers getting hurt. Far better to have a quiet word, tell him it's time to leave while he's still in front. Let him keep his drugs. That way everybody's happy."

So what happens when diplomacy and New Age niceties fail? Ritter and Nagel insist that when it gets nasty, Pantherr can flex its muscles, too. "Joe Bugner Jnr and Big John", says Nagel, "who handled security at the Kray funeral - they both work for us, and they don't come much tougher than that."

And the mis-spelling. "The two rs are to distinguish between us and other companies called Panther," says Ritter, before admitting, somewhat sheepishly, that "we had the numerology done and it was a better name, numerically, for communications purposes."