Does the BBC’s Bodyguard get the profession right? We asked a real one to appraise the first episode

Richard Madden stars as Sergeant David Budd, tasked with protecting Home Secretary Julia Montague (Keely Hawes) in the new BBC drama

Christopher Hooton
Monday 27 August 2018 12:52
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Bodyguard - BBC Trailer

Type “bodyguard” into IMDb and you’ll find matches spanning film and TV titles well into the hundreds. The line of work has been getting the thriller treatment for decades now, but the BBC’s new effort – succinctly named Bodyguard – hopes to be different by focusing specifically on Police Protection Command.

Sergeant David Budd (Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden) is an officer of this exclusive branch of the Specialist Operations directorate of London’s Metropolitan Police Service, tasked with protecting Home Secretary Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes).

Episode one was broadcast on BBC One on Sunday night and opened with a tense terror plot sequence on a London-bound train, before delving into the day-to-day life of a bodyguard and the constant state of risk assessment and split-second decision-making it requires. But how accurate was its portrayal of the profession? We debriefed with Matt Fiddes, who served as a personal bodyguard to Michael Jackson for over a decade (spoilers ahead if you are yet to see the episode).

In the opening scene, where Budd defied the counter-terrorism experts and saved the would-be suicide bomber’s life, do you think he was being foolhardy? Would he really have been praised for his heroism, or criticised and maybe even disciplined for not following what the experts wanted to do?

MF: I believe he would have been both criticised and disciplined – yes – for not letting higher authority experts take over. They are highly trained and know what to do. Budd would have had limited training in that area and he put multiple lives at risk.

Even when I was protecting Michael Jackson there were times when myself and other team members were warned if situations became too dangerous for the public. The police had the right to take Michael to the nearest police station and we would not even be able to travel with him. We had no say in the matter, which caused huge disagreements between us and the heads of local police. Our attitude was ‘wherever Michael goes, we go.’

In the end, we had to brief Michael that if crowds at huge, outdoor public appearances became too intense, he would be scooped up and away by a police van, and we would have to follow or be told where he was a few hours later, which he felt uneasy about.

The police and their specialists have the right to overrule your position as a bodyguard. If you get in their way you are seriously breaking the law. I believe – had things gone wrong – that Budd would have been dead or in jail. The special gun squad’s job is to protect the masses, i.e. the public, not an individual.

Fiddes was happy putting his clients’ lives before his own, until he had children

Budd suggested a different route for the car carrying Montague home after performing a “dynamic risk assessment”. What might he have spotted on the road ahead that would have led him to do so?

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This is very normal and we had to do this many times. Paparazzi mainly on bikes... a certain car that seems to be on our “tail” for some time. The other security personnel and I would always update each other on how many cars, bikes etc were on our tail. Busy traffic jams were a huge threat. We avoided known dangerous areas. Traffic lights turning red were always an issue when we were followed. Most of the time we had no choice but to change the route.

Nothing suggested Budd didn’t act correctly in the scene. Although there would have been a series of cars as part of Montague’s protection and not just one. The cars block off trouble – a lead car and a tail car. Michael Jackson always requested armour-plated cars too, which were hard to find but essential in keeping your client safe.

Would the police investigate all the known associates of a protection officer for a high-ranking politician to assess possible threats? Would David Budd’s time in Afghanistan and the Home Secretary’s foreign policy stance be flagged as a potential issue/conflict?

Police protection and royal protection officers are the highest levels of security/bodyguard protection. From my knowledge of friends who work within that industry, they are checked to the highest level. They would know about his background. A full background intelligence would have been done.

Spending so much time in the same room, I imagine most bodyguards develop a close relationship with the people they are protecting?

I was a friend with Michael before protecting him. I had rooms that were interlinked and held a key to his. However, other hired help would refer to him as “Mr Jackson” and his personal information was kept from them. Conversations, calls coming in – if they asked us questions we would dodge them. They could be friendly to Michael but not be his friend. Michael understood this too. Even when I was out in public I would refer to him as “Mr Jackson” or “sir”, while behind closed doors it was Mike. You do feel sorry for the client sometimes or want to build a friendship to prove your loyalty to them. The key is to change the staff often. And no one had access to his numbers or private space.

Budd spots the terror plot while off duty. Did you find yourself assessing security threats whilst not on the job, or is it possible to tune out?

It becomes part of you. Even now when out with my family or around famous friends I am very protective. With Michael we would drive two or three times around a location we were meant to visit while he was with us – award shows etc – and always do a visit a day before without him. We’d even drive as far as 1000 miles to do a “recce” and practise scenarios where something goes wrong and how we would get him out safe and quick. Secret exits etc.

Once you’ve been a bodyguard at a high level you will never be the same. You experience things no one else would. Michael would get a death threat per week – you can never switch off. A bodyguard should be willing to put their life before their clients, which I was happy to do until I had children, and then Michael was good enough to have me in lower key positions. I would try and prevent from a distance rather than being stood next to him. It all depends on your client.

It would be quite normal for Budd to be suspicious. I doubt someone at his level would use a train though to be honest, as he himself is a terror target.

Bodyguard continues Monday night (27 August) on BBC One.

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