Technically, still serving in the army, watching the clock tick down and entering my termination period, I had all my deck laid out. My giirlfried of 9 years had already set up in Dubai and was now very successful in her field of employment. She had made many contacts out there with high flying, western businessmen and Emiraties alike, which was one of the reasons that I decided to go down the Executive Protection route opposed to HECP. I've done my time in the sand pit and have had my fair share of lucky escapes too. I felt I needed a differnt challenge With different problems and solutions. During previous visits to Dubai, I had met some influential businessmen who were looking for short fix security solutions and did not feel they wanted to go through the large, established companies, who inevitably would take a larger sum. So the solution was there for me. My partner would be the point of contact, passing the jobs onto me As they presented themselves. So here I was, in the UK waiting for my time to run down before starting my new life in Dubai., when I get a call from the partner asking could I provide Executive Protection for 3 days in London. Of course, the answer was yes and I was (rightly or wrongly) treating it as a live trial run for when I got to Dubai.
Due to the nature of the task, I have withhold names, places, times etc.
The question was posed to me on a Sunday and I didn't hear anything else until I received an email the following Thursday from the Principles PA Outlining a very in depth itinery In parts, but very loose in others. I was to collect a vehicle from a hire company that is affiliated to the Principles business, prior to collecting him at Heathrow On the Friday. I drove my own car to a reputable long stay car park, situated not far from Heathrow and grabbed a cab to collect the Company Car, armed with my own Satnav, as I didn't know London too well and had no time to Recce. Apart from my Satnav, I carried a small overnight bag and a nifty little med bag that I made up. I had no picture of the Principle, however his PA had provided his name, written in Arabic, on an A4 piece of paper that I simply printed off. Hoping for a discreet executive saloon, I was slightly dismayed when I met at the Hire place and given the keys of the vehicle. No formal hand over. No signing of forms. Simply told them who I was and shown the vehicle - a large, silver Toyota Land Cruiser! I knew the Arabs loved their Land Cruisers, but the last time I drove around London was emotional enough without a manual geared 4x4.
The meeting with Mr A at the airport went smooth enough. Only travelling with hand luggage, he was one of the first passengers though customs, saw me proudly holding up his name card and bounded over to introduce himself with a perfect, crisp English accent. I suggested we have a coffee so that I could get the mandatory introductions and actions on out of the way, however he suggested we do it in the car on the way to the hotel. As I had been provided very little information on him by his PA (even a search on the internet didn't bring up much) I had to ask him outright what he percieved to be the threat against him. "No threat" he said with a smile. I continued to drive to the hotel, surrounded by the foulest smelling cigarette smoke. He was the boss and he could do what he wanted in his vehicle I suppose (I'm a non smoker, so guess this is an occupational hazard).
we arrived at the fairly centrally located hotel, grabbed our bags and as I was making my way to the reception desk, Mr A walked straight to the elevator, beckoning me to follow him. I now realised one of my many mistakes that day. I didn't have a clue what was going on, as where the itinery was specific in timings, places,meta, it did not mention hotel, restraunt or theatre bookings. I felt I was flying blind And I was uncomfortable, but remembered my training and tried to stay flexible. We took the elevator to the 4th floor and I followed Mr A to a room at the end of the corridor. Upon knocking the door, it was opened by a tall, leggy blonde who Mr A introduced as his friend from collage days (He had studied in Oxford in the 90s and they were class mates). I was handed a key card and was followed by Mr A to a room across the hall. Mr A then explained why he had hired me.
The threat was not from attack or espionage, but from surveillance. Although very successful in his own right, he was due to inherit a large family wealth. Although his father (who was now deceased) was happy with his sons personal life, his influential and somewhat controlling mother was not. He had met Helen whilst studying in Oxford and had entered into a relationship, however his mother refused to recognise it other than him sowing his oats before marriage to a Muslim girl. Throughout the years, Mr A traveled frequently to the UK and always met up with Helen, however the last time he travelled on a 'business trip' he discovered that he was under surveillance and cut his liaison with Helen short. Nothing was said by his family upon returning home, however his wife did let slip during an argument. So here I was on anti-surveillance duty.
Using the itinery and discussing with Mr A his needs for that weekend, I formulated my plan. He ate in the Hotel that evening with Helen, before retiring to a quiet lounge. I carried out low level 'patrols' and was confident that he was not under surveillance (I had enquired if he had used this hotel previously, which he stated no. He usualy used one on the other side of town. Helen had booked it and paid the deposit, so there was no trace to him And text him the details) The next day was spent shopping in a well known department store. I liaised with their own security and they couldn't have been more helpfull. I then drove the pair to a west end show, again carrying out low level patrols of the theatre, trying to see if anyone had cameras, etc. To be honest, the large sign stating that no pictures were to be taken and the presence of the Ushers were enough to put me at ease.
Saturday down and it was time to drop off Mr A at the airport on a morning flight. He was already waiting in the corridor for me when I exited the room and we left the hotel and got straight in the car. The Bill had already been settled and Helen was still in bed. I stayed at the airport with Mr A and we shared a coffee before he left. An intelligent man of very few words, but I liked him. He thanked me for 'helping him out' and gave me a nice tip. I tried to protest, however he was very insistent. Having dropped the car off and collected my own, I drove home not in content at earning a good wage, but annoyed at the things that I had done wrong.
A few days later I received an email from Mr A's PA stating that he was very happy with the discreet service provided and would I consider it on a more regular basis. I stated I would, however I would be relocating to Dubai soon, therefore it would be cheaper to get someone London based. The reply came within minutes which stated that money would not be an option. Fine, I thought, but it's on my terms. I decide what car to use from the pool of hire cars the Company uses, notbthebsqme one every month as had previously been the case. I choose the Hotel, varying it each time. I get time to recce the theatre and restaurants the he will be using. He was to stop sending messages to Helen on his personal mobile and was to use a 'business' one instead. I even suggested that he take a break away from London if he was that concerned of surveillance, to which a reply came back that I was to visit the office when I got to Dubai and sign a contract.
I wouldn't say that the job was a total success. I got lost in London, but played it down as anti-surveillance drills. I had no itinery and didn't even know the threat when I took the job on. I was concerned that Mr A was going to some length not to be ssurveilled, however had not considered his mobile phone! But I learnt from that job. Nobody can be 100% certain that they are not under surveillance, but Id be surprised if we were that weekend. It also proved that Executive Protection is not all about being a muscle bound ape, pouncing at every perceived threat. It's about remaining discreet. Allowing freedom of movement for the principle, safe in knowledge that you are close by, but not intrusive.
Live and learn and never make the same mistakes twice!