The BBC’s hit thriller Bodyguard is the biggest new drama to be launched in the UK this year. It’s had the British public on the edge of their seats and the radio stations and papers have been reviewing it daily. Young adults have a new job to aspire to and the Bodyguard lead role has shown a side of the job away from the Hollywood stereotypical black Ray-Bans, heavily armed, egotistical operator.
In a matter of just weeks the Bodyguard has had to deal with a suicide bomber on a train, a sniper attack and bombing assassination attempt on his principal and has been rigged unknowingly with a person borne improvised explosive device.
The Bodyguard role especially at government level, with many being former military and having previously conducted tours of Iraq and Afghanistan, means operators have a level of situational awareness that you just can’t switch off when you’re not protecting the principal. During normal everyday life like entering a restaurant or cafe on your own, you always sit to give yourself the best view of the whole establishment and identify potential exit routes and refuge areas. In crowded places like tourist attractions, shopping malls or on trains, it’s quite normal to be profiling people as they walk past you and be well aware of when the situation around you doesn’t seem quite right. Therefore it’s realistic that on the train, the Bodyguard realised that something wasn’t right and went to manage the situation. Many viewers commented that you wouldn’t leave your kids, but when the alternative is potentially allowing a suicide bomber to blow up the train, and the catastrophic outcome that might have had, then there are few other options available. In these circumstances someone has got to step up to manage the situation, and someone with his level of experience and training would naturally step forward to do this as we saw in 2015 when two US soldiers overpowered a terrorist on a French train who was carrying a range of weapons including high powered assault rifles.
The sniper attack isn’t one that we’ve seen in Europe under the new terrorist or extremist group threats, and for someone begrudging a politician it’s an extremely difficult method of assassination to use due to the fact that the target was in a heavily armoured vehicle moving at speed in a built up area. More unrealistic though was the Bodyguard leaving the principal once the threat had reduced to go and engage with the sniper. As a bodyguard your number one and only priority is protection of the principal. There are occasions when you have no option but to stand and fight, but in this case the principal would have been moved to a place of safety to await reinforcements and all the time with her bodyguard by her side.
The bombing at the university event raises the ultimate question you are asked as a bodyguard, would you take a bullet for the person you are protecting. With prior planning and preparation you can greatly reduce the likelihood that you will encounter some form of hostile threat. But realistically there are situations that you can’t, or it would be very difficult to plan for, like an attack by a close aide or from those with insider help. You know when you take the role of a bodyguard that one day you may have to make the ultimate sacrifice to give your principal the highest possibility of surviving an attack.
It wouldn’t be a gritty BBC thriller without a steamy relationship between the lead characters, and in this case close protection certainly became too close protection. Realistically though the bond that you form as a bodyguard with your principal can be very close. You’re there when they wake up, when they go to bed, you meet their family and friends, you see them happy, sad, laugh and cry. You spend more time with them than anyone else and you live the situations and life they are leading. It’s a very privileged position and it would be naive to think that some bodyguard principal relationships don’t over step the line from that professional bond. But this would be the end of your bodyguard career if found out.
In the bodyguard role you are privy to highly confidential and sensitive information just from working in such close proximity to the principal. It’s realistic that you wouldn’t always have affiliation to their political party and that their political agenda may conflict with your views or affect people close to you in a negative way. To do the role professionally you need to cast your own views aside and focus on providing safety and security. Those around you will try to use your position to try and gain an advantage in finding out confidential and sensitive information from you before it’s released to the public. A very difficult situation to be in, trying to appease requests for information whilst retaining your confidentiality to the principal, as ultimately if the principal’s confidence in you is lost, so is your career.
The hours as a bodyguard are long with a lot of time away from home. Realistically relationships are strained and you can spend more time with the principal’s children than your own. When with your family relaxing can be difficult when you’ve been working in a high stress environment with minimal time to recharge and fit back in to normal life, before repacking and leaving for your next task. To add to the difficulties of family life as a bodyguard, with many bodyguards being ex military, most of which will have completed operational tours in hostile environments, then realistically there are Bodyguards out there working with some level of PTSD. Some will find the role a welcome distraction from the issues that they can face on a daily basis, but for others the environment maybe isn’t the best place for them to get the support they need and this could affect their judgement as we saw with the Bodyguard on a number of occasions.
The final scenes showed the Bodyguard escorted through the streets strapped with an improvised explosive device. Realistically this couldn’t happen as there is no way that you could secure the area around him safely enough as to not harm innocent members of the public should the bomb blow up and unfortunately in these circumstances the sacrifice of one would have been made to protect the majority. Thankfully though the hero survived and a second series is on the cards after the massive success of the first with the Bodyguard most probably returning to protect a Royal Family member or visiting dignitary. The series was an accurate portrayal of Bodyguard life albeit condensed into a short space of time and given some classic BBC drama and grit that the British public have loved.
Tom Richmond, former Army Captain with the Royal Military Police Close Protection Unit and Managing Director of The Security Advisor (www.thesecurityadvisor.co.uk)
For support with PTSD contact Combat Stress, the UK's leading military charity specialising in the care of Veterans' mental health www.combatstress.org.uk