See a celebrity out in public and more often than not they will be accompanied by a more than physically capable-looking bloke dressed in a suit – sporting sunglasses and a radio earpiece. This tends to be the accepted and glamorised view of close protection work. Undoubtedly there are celebrities, business leaders, high net-worth individuals, and politicians that need protecting, but in actual fact, scenarios like these only scratch the surface of this intriguing industry.
Those Close Protection Operatives (CPO) that succeed in being selected to work with the rich and famous will have been on ‘the circuit’ for many years and will more than likely be former special forces soldiers that form part of an established network of professionals with plenty of contacts and connections. Whereas for the majority of CPOs, work is more likely to involve modest assignments with residential security teams, driving and providing security for large estates.
As with much of the security and investigations industry, close protection assignments can be sporadic – it’s therefore often necessary to bolster income streams with other work such as door supervision work in pubs and clubs and manned security guarding. As a CPO, much like the private investigation industry, generally you will be self-employed and liable to pay your own tax and National Insurance (very few CPOs are salaried ‘staffers’). An important factor in obtaining work within the industry is to have had either a military or a policing background and to have acquired your training through a reputable provider within the industry. Moreover, having the right connections plays a significant part in becoming recognised within the network, particularly in the UK where demand for the CPO tends to be easily exceeded by the supply. While there are plenty of rewards for those who reach the pinnacle, there are also downsides.
Living what most people would considered a normal life flies firmly out of the window, as operatives can be on call 24 hours a day at the beck and call of the principal. Ask anyone on ‘the circuit’ and they will tell you that a great deal of the work can be mundane, such as vetting people who have access to the principal (e.g. make-up artists or caterers when protecting an actress), and can be very similar to the function of a security guard at an office block reception. Not taking anything away from the importance of this job as every role in a security operation is paramount to its on-going integrity and success.
In addition, let’s not forget the risk factor involved; your role is to protect the principal at all costs which, without sounding melodramatic, could entail making the ‘ultimate sacrifice’. For those operatives with experience of working in hostile environments employing the use of firearms; work overseas, especially in the Middle East, is more readily available. Although it is not a legal requirement to have a SIA Close Protection licence to work outside of the UK, it’s generally recognised and readily accepted that having one will help to open doors to a greater range of career opportunities.
Finding work as a Close Protection Officer
The added bonus of having a CPO SIA licence is that it enables the holder to carry out the roles of both door supervisor and security guard, adding another dimension to employment opportunities during periods where CPO work is lean.
The importance of becoming qualified through a reputable training provider cannot be overstated – not least because a training company with a good reputation within the industry is sure to have solid connections that can point you in the right direction to get work.
There are a number of web sites dedicated to CPO work which offer support through forums to anyone involved or interested in the close protection sector – a great place to start and to hopefully gain a foothold in what has become a an extremely competitive industry.