I have watched the video of the Duchess of Sussex being escorted out of a Fijian market due to a “security risk” approximately 30 times. No, I’m not a royalist and, yes, I am obsessed with her dress – but those aren’t the reasons I keep watching the clip. In all honesty, I stopped even noticing Meghan Markle after the first three viewings. Instead, my eyes were drawn to her bodyguard, who quietly and confidently cleared the way for the duchess with a calm sort of authority that I’ve only ever seen employed by experienced teachers on a primary-school playground, all while wearing a black T-shirt and patterned summer skirt.
Whenever I see Markle’s bodyguard part the crowd, a sense of calm falls over me. This is a woman who knows what she’s doing, who is in complete control. This is a woman who would stare down anyone who dared push to the front of a queue. She would get a refund from Ryanair.
It makes sense that Markle would employ a woman as her head of protection. She’s an outspoken feminist, who is fast making a habit of trying to shake up the status quo for the royal family. The Daily Mail reported that Markle had specifically sought out a female bodyguard, snarkily adding, “it took some time to find a woman for the job”, before noting that the woman – whose name Kensington Palace won’t release for security reasons – “cut an unusually glamorous figure for a police officer”.
The Duchess of Sussex isn’t the first royal to have a female personal-protection officer (PPO). Kate Middleton also has one, as does Camilla. And it’s not just the royals – David Cameron was often pictured out jogging with a female bodyguard and Tony Blair had a woman as part of his post-PM protection – a fact that only came to light after she left her Glock pistol in the loo at Starbucks, which, frankly, could have happened to anyone.
It’s not just a feminist statement to have a female bodyguard, it’s a smart move. The “traditional” bodyguard who’s tall and broad and gives off a “don’t mess with me” vibe tends to attract attention rather than deflect it. Tall people are naturally conspicuous; they – quite literally – stand out in a crowd.
There was a time when that was seen as the goal. The bigger and broader, the better. It’s the same flawed Darwinian logic that led to the nuclear arms race – that the best defence is a good offense. But there’s a growing school of thought that the best defence is actually just...not drawing attention to yourself.
The fact that society continues to underestimate women means that female bodyguards tend to be mistaken for friends, girlfriends or even nannies, rather than highly trained combatants
“Nine times out of ten, the people I work for want someone who can blend in,” commercial PPO Lisa Baldwin explained to The Times. “They don’t want obvious security, like the kind used by Madonna or Britney Spears. Those bodyguards, the big guys, actually draw attention to the clients and put them at more stress and risk.”
This idea is one of the main causes behind the rise in demand for female bodyguards. The fact that society continues to underestimate women means that female bodyguards tend to be mistaken for friends, girlfriends or even nannies, rather than high trained combatants. Once in a blue moon, sexism does us a solid and gives power to those it’s meant to take it from.
And it isn’t just one woman’s hunch. Neil Davis, a former army officer, who runs Horizon, a Glasgow-based security company confirms, “There is a very high demand for female PPOs right now. Especially as there still aren’t that many on the Circuit.” David explains that adding women to a security detail immediately changes the group dynamic and lowers the testosterone levels, “If it kicks off in bar and some drunk is causing problems for your client, if a man steps up to confront him then the situation can escalate. If a woman does it, the aggression levels drop because, no matter how drunk they are, most men are conditioned to know it is wrong to hit a woman. A female PPO tends to be better at conflict resolution rather than making the situation worse.”
This line of thinking has made it harder for male PPOs for find work, while female PPOs have, quite literally, a wealth of options – the high demand for women means they get paid more than their male counterparts. And considering a PPO with the Met’s Protection Command can earn up to £100,000 a year with overtime, there’s an obvious appeal.
Naturally, there are some caveats. In addition to having to risk your life, Davis explains that female PPOs tend to be more successful if they have “proper training, the ability to speak an extra language or two, maybe a scuba diving or skiing qualification, so they can always go out with the kids,” which I guess also means you have to be up for hanging out with small children. On top of all that, the lifestyle of a bodyguard isn’t as sexy as Richard Madden made out. In reality, it’s a lot of late nights and waiting around. Baldwin warns, “It’s better if you are unattached, because the hours... you have no life at all.”
So, to the woman whose name I can’t know for security reasons, power to you. Let’s hope that little girls looking up to our newest member of the Royal family see more clearly than ever that you don’t have to marry a prince to be cool.