This story is a reminder of how working an Executive Protection detail requires the ability to make split-second decisions based on the best information available at the time.
In 2004, I was working overseas in the South of France, working with a television production team. My protectee was an American actress, and my contract and arrangement with the show’s Producer was that my energy and focus should be strictly on keeping her safe.
We were all at the airport in Nice, France, waiting for our luggage and equipment. Everybody was dead tired because the night before, the entire cast and crew had attended a VIP party to celebrate and promote the show. It had been a long day, followed by an even longer night, and everybody was over-tired, some a little hung over, and all of us desperately needed some sleep. My protectee had invited some friends to the party, and they were along with us at the airport, when one of her male friends lights up a cigarette–ignoring the “No Smoking” signs.
A local French man with a chip on his shoulder when it comes to Americans, starts yelling at him, insisting in broken English that he put out his cigarette. Clearly, the guy was breaking the rules. And they start getting into it, yelling and wildly gesturing. I was annoyed, but what was I supposed to do–my responsibility was to look after the star of the show–not her friends. Well, her friend is not only breaking the rules, but he starts acting like an “Ugly American,” and things start to escalate.
The French man is yelling loudly and then starts the shoving. My protectee turns to me and implores “Don, DO something!”
These are the moments when being in Executive Protection can put a person in a real pickle. On the one hand, my protective services do not extend to knuckle-heads in the entourage, and I’m a stranger in a strange land. On the other hand, if I don’t do something to de-escalate this problem, my protectee’s friend might end up in real trouble and I may end up without a job.
I eyeball the Producer, and he’s not speaking up on my behalf to remind her that this is not my responsibility, so clearly, I’m in an awkward position. By this time, the French man has pushed the other guy up against the wall. I walk over and shout out “Security, Security” and pull him off of the guy and put him against the wall. The guy calms down a little, and just then I hear footsteps approaching and I can see the airport police and military guys approaching post-haste.
Remember, this is post 9/11, and airport security is not fooling around when it comes to disruptive behavior. These guys are edgy and the last thing I want is to spend the night in jail in a foreign country, so I slip into the gathering crowd, and go straight to the Producer. “Do you have a good lawyer and some money?” I quickly ask him. The guy nods, and now he’s looking really worried. If this gets ugly, he’s going to have to pony-up some cash, and the expense of a production delay will eat a big chunk out of the budget. On top of that, if I’m arrested, the actress is without protection.
Both guys are detained and questioned by the police. Since they didn’t get a good look at me, I’m off the hook. Thankfully, both men were released and we continued on our way as scheduled. The actress, her friend, well, the entire entourage were singing my praises as we jetted away from France.
Things might have turned out very differently, though.
I don’t regret intervening, but this story illustrates how we so often find ourselves in situations where we are asked to perform duties that are outside of the job description. The trick is finding a way to please the client without jeopardizing our own well-being. Quick assessments and problem-solving are essential skills on the job. The ability to take charge of a potentially volatile situation using the appropriate level of force can mean the difference between spending a lousy, sleepless night in jail or a night in First Class with a good book.
Certified Personal Protection/Anti-Terrorism Specialist