For over thirty years Jacquie Davis has survived as a top operator in a male-dominated profession — the secretive and often dangerous world of bodyguards — or to give the profession its proper name, Close Protection Officers (CPOs). Having risk-assessed and cleared our office for any potential threat-to-life, Jacquie popped over to NMP Live for an exclusive chat as part of our NMP Live Meets series. Watch the full interview or read the transcript below:
In conversation with Jacquie Davis
Why did you leave the Police and become a close protection officer?
I joined in the 1970s and it wasn’t very equal, in fact, when I joined we weren’t even allowed to wear trousers! The pay was really bad, and so a lot of us moonlighted, and I had a particular Detective Sergeant who had his own little agency and they had no women to look after Middle East royalty, and because of that cultural difference they needed women. So I used to moonlight doing that, and then discovered that I could go off and do that in the private world, so that’s what I went to do.
Are most bodyguards six feet tall men with ear-pieces and shades?
What you’ve just described are mostly the guys that are used in the music industry. On the executive side, the corporate side of close protection, it’s very different. It’s obviously well trained and they’re physically fit, but they can be male or female. Don’t be put off by height, because it doesn’t matter how tall or short you are, you can still put somebody on the ground if you need to, and are trained to.
What can you bring to your role that a male counterpart can’t?
I suppose we’re natural nurturers aren’t we? And we tend to be calm, we don’t have the testosterone ‘let’s get in there and have a bundle’. I’ll do anything to avoid that, because if you have a fight you’ve lost. The whole thing is about protecting your client, your principal, and removing them from any threat that you see coming at you. So, I think as a female, we’re really good at talking our way out of situations, and talking our way into places too.
What qualities do you need to lead a team of CPOs?
You’ve got to know a bit more than they do, hopefully. But also on my particular teams I ask everybody for their opinion. So I’ll have done the risk assessment, I’ll have laid out the way I believe the client wants things done, and again, if it’s corporate then they’re going be having business meetings. If they’re foreign royal family they’re probably going to be doing a lot of shopping and eating.
So it depends, you put together your team depending on the criteria for the client. Does the client want to go horse riding? If so, I’ve got to have members of my team that can horse rider. Do they want to go jet-skiing? Again, they’ve got to have those skills.
What characteristics do you look for in a team member?
I like people that are diplomatic, that are quiet, I don’t like show-offs, they don’t do well on my teams. Knowledge. If we’re going to Russia, then I expect people on the team to have been to Russia before and have got knowledge of in-country. That’s what I want from my team.
How important is due diligence when taking on a new client?
Due diligence is huge, because you only ever want to work for someone that’s friendly with your government. You want to make sure that you’re looking after them or working for them for the right reasons and, can they afford you? So you have to look at their credit background, why do they feel that they need close protection? And if they don’t tell you the truth, if they are on a political hit list for example, then we need to know that, or we can find that out. If they’re on a gangster hit list, that’s something completely different. So yes, we have to do a lot of due diligence.
Can you name any of the more famous clients you have protected?
NDAs, NDAs, NDAs [Non Disclosure Agreements]; but a lot of the clients we look after are ultra high net worth individuals, so Russian billionaires, Chinese billionaires, and we look after celebrities if they have a high threat against them. That’s not our sort of thing, as a rule, to look after a celebrity for the sake of keeping fans away. Foreign royal families, who culturally, in the family, the women and the princesses need to have female close protection.
What are the perks of being a CPO?
My job has been fabulous, I’ve travelled around the world, I’ve eaten in Michelin Star restaurants, [flown in] private jets, and that part of life is lovely. But that’s a very small part of what we do. You have a lot of stress, because you are ultimately responsible for that person’s life.
You have the stress of looking after your team as well; being away from home and family, so you do the job but your family get dragged along with it. You’re never home for birthdays, anniversaries, and if you can get home for a funeral you’re lucky.
How great is the personal risk to you as a bodyguard?
That depends on the risk to them. If you’re on a very high-risk job where somebody’s definitely trying to kill your principal, then obviously that’s a huge risk to you as well, because you’ve got to take the bullet if it comes. It depends what country you’re in as well, over here in Europe the risk isn’t so great as it is when you go to high-risk areas like Afghan or Iraq.
Aside from close protection, what other duties do you undertake?
In the corporate world, counter-industrial espionage. Quite often, if you’ve got a company that’s got a new product coming out then it’s all a big secret, and if that secret gets sold to a rival company then we go in and find out who sold it. A lot of the time company boards don’t want their shareholders to know what’s going on, so it’s all done under the radar.
We undertake a lot of surveillance work. If there’s going to be a company take over, then the company that’s taking over wants to know what the Directors on the other side are getting up to; are they living above their means? Are they out snorting cocaine and dealing with prostitutes every night? They want to know that before they take that company over.
So we do a lot of surveillance work and a lot of counter-industrial espionage.
What can companies learn from you in terms of planning and strategy?
We can certainly teach them planning and preparation as far as risk is concerned because our whole job is to avoid confrontations and letting our principals get anywhere near a problem. So from us, they can learn how to avoid risk, how to mitigate risk, and what to do in the event that the risk occurs.
How do your speeches differ between an after dinner and a keynote?
When I do after dinner speeches I divide the audience up; you’re going to be the bodyguard, you’re the principal, and you’re the bad guys. And we play this whole ridiculous game of ‘this is how I do my job’!
On the corporate side, it’s serious. People seriously want to know about risk management, people seriously want to know how to protect themselves. Over the past couple of years, workplaces such as Charlie Hebdo got attacked, and there are lots of things they could have done to avoid that. Recently, I’ve been teaching a lot of companies what to do in that event of a live shooting.
What are the similarities between the role of a CPO and the corporate world?
As a bodyguard, if we’re going to look after a principal we have to make sure there are escape routes, there aren’t choke points if they’re in a vehicle, so that all transfers over to the corporate side. What are your choke points? What is the risk, to you or to your company? How can you avoid that risk?
And so as a bodyguard, we do a lot of smooth talking of lots of people — our client goes from A to B really smoothly, and they just think that’s fabulous how it’s done — what they haven’t seen behind the scenes is all the route recceing that has gone into that, we’ve had to go to venue, to the hotel, we have to look at those places, is it safe? Can somebody get to you? What happens if a fire breaks out on the 10thfloor? — we only ever put our principals on the fifth floor, because that’s as high as the fire engine ladders will go.
So that’s all those little risks that you have to manage, and in the corporate world it’s exactly the same. Manage the small risks and you’ll avoid the big ones.
Can you give us a couple of personal safety tips?
When you’re driving and you get into your vehicle, the first thing you should do is lock the doors. Put your handbag or purse under a seat, never leave it on the passenger seat because somebody can just break the side window and steal it. Out of sight, out of mind.
If you’re driving at night and you’re going to a 24hr shopping place, make sure you park where there’s a lamp. Never park next to a van with a side door, because that’s quite easy to open the door and bundle you into it.
Once you’ve finished your shopping and you’re coming out to the car park, ask the uniformed security guard to walk you to your car; they’ll be more than happy to do their job. People just think they’re there for nothing.
The same when you’re coming out of your office. If you’re coming out the office because you’ve worked late and you’ve got to go to the car park, ask the security to walk you to your car, or ask them to watch you on CCTV to make sure you get in your car. Before you get in your car, look in it, look in the back seat and make sure there’s no one hiding. If you get in, and you’ve locked the doors, you’ve cut down the risk of being attacked by 90 percent.
If somehow you haven’t done that and you’re attacked whilst you’re in the car, NEVER drive out the car park. Drive into the nearest vehicle, because at 10 mph you’ll set all the alarms off, the most you would do to yourself is possibly break your wrist. And that’s far better than being driven out the car park and being a crime scene 10 miles down the road.
Finally, what should anyone do if caught up in a terrorist attack?
Hide if you can, turn your phone to silent, and text one general text to everyone in your phone book, “help, I’m at…”. Dial 999, if you can. Explain really quietly where you are, what’s going on and where you’re hiding.
If you’re out in the street and this is going on, then street furniture; chairs, dustbins, cones, whatever you can use to fight, fight with. Because if the intruder finds you then you’ve got to fight your way out of that situation. Great for me, I’m trained to do that. However, members of the public, let me tell you, your adrenaline will shoot up, you’ll be really scared and you might freeze. Stick your thumbs in [to the palm of your hand] and pump. Your adrenaline will kick in automatically and you will have a lot more strength than you realise, so if you have to fight use anything you can to fight with, because it’s our life at the end of the day. And what we saw at London Bridge was lots of people fighting those attackers, throwing bar stools at them, dustbin lids, cones, any street furniture, and a lot of people survived because of that.
If you're interested in booking Jacquie Davis to give an after dinner speech, keynote presentation, or consult with your organisation about how to stay safe, you can enquire online, email us or pick up the phone and speak to one of our friendly booking agents. For further information about Jacquie, client testimonials and video clips, view her profile.