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Bodyguard: 'I'd Rather Look After 10 CEOs Than a Pop Star'

Bill Gates after being ‘pied’ in 1998
Bill Gates after being ‘pied’ in 1998

Ted Allen regularly flies in private jets and helicopters, checks into five-star hotels and dines at the world's finest restaurants. Then he returns to his modest house in rural Hertfordshire, his wife, who works as a nurse, and two sons. "It's peaceful [in the countryside], away from the rat race".

The luxury is not Mr. Allen's lifestyle, it's a byproduct of his job. For he is working as a close protection operator, or, in the old parlance, a bodyguard – a term he despises because of its thuggish connotations. Not for him a bomber jacket, bulking his frame. Instead, he prefers to dress like a businessman, so he can pass for a member of the entourage travelling with the chief executive or politician he is protecting. He declines to be photographed in case he becomes recognizable to a would-be assailant.

Today he is sporting a dark Daks suit and shiny Church's shoes. However, his shaven head and pumped-up shoulders – the result of 10 years in the special forces and his rigorous gym regime (he takes the British Army fitness test, which includes running 1.5 km in less than 12 minutes, every week even at Christmas) – make him look far tougher than the average executive.

The 43-year-old, originally from south London, is also carrying a bag, which he says never leaves his side, packed with bug sweeping gadgets and vehicle-tracking gizmos. He regularly checks his car for explosives. His Breitling watch has a built-in transmitter that sends out a distress signal, to alert an emergency helicopter to pick him up if he is in a dangerous situation in the middle of nowhere.

Mr. Allen is employed by Pinkertons, established in 1850 in the Unites States by Glasgow-born Allan Pinkerton and is now a subsidiary of Securitas. Pinkerton became famous when he claimed to have foiled a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln in Baltimore in 1861.

All threats are taken seriously by Mr. Allen. Even pie-ing pranksters. He cites the incident in 1998 when Bill Gates was hit in the face with a cream pie. "That should have been prevented. Nobody should have got that close. We wouldn't look at it as being just a cake. It could have been a bag of acid."

Protection for chief executives and managing directors has increased, according to Mr. Allen, as a result of the recession; they receive threats from ex-employees bitter about forced redundancies or investors who have lost their savings. "It might be somebody who's invested with a hedge fund that went bang, so their first point of contact is the company. 'Who's the CEO? That's the guy I want'."

He has been called to protect mega-wealthy clients and their families in fear of kidnapping. For many, it may be more about a perceived threat than an actual one, yet it his job also to provide his clients with peace of mind.

His worst jobs are looking after celebrities. "I would rather look after 10 CEOs than a film or pop star because of the hassle that comes with it. It's the paparazzi, the constant bombardment. If you knock someone's camera out of their hand lawsuits start flying. It's just hassle."

Eighty percent of Mr. Allen's work is corporate protection. It is his job to keep a discreet distance. If an executive is seen with a bodyguard, it could be bad for business. If he absolutely must be introduced, he prefers to be called a "business associate", he says. "I'm not there to be standing around chatting like we're mates and getting to know each other. That's not my job." So Mr. Allen, who never drinks on duty, often finds himself dining alone at The Ivy or Claridge's, at the next table to his charge. His clients frequently forget to make a reservation for him, so he has to throw himself on the maitre d's mercy.

As the Ministry of Defense's budget is cut, Mr. Allen expects to see increasing numbers of ex-military personnel looking for work in corporate protection. But he won't recruit them to his team. He prefers to hire men (he has very few approaches from women) who have worked on "civvy street" for a few years.

"The London market is extremely difficult for a [soldier] because they've come from a hostile environment and are used to wearing body armor, carrying guns, being hot and sweaty in the desert for very little money. You've got to act like a businessman – you've got to conduct yourself in the same way and they just won't fit into the mold yet."

He worries, though, that ex-soldiers, typecast as musclemen, will end up providing security for private contractors in Afghanistan, Iraq and increasingly in north Africa. While the sums earned there can be high (reports of $2,500 a day for some), the downside is the ever-present threat of death. Mr. Allen declines to give his salary aside from saying it affords him a comfortable life.

Discretion is a priority for Mr. Allen, who is infuriatingly tight-lipped about his charges. "I've taken people to [nightclubs] and they've said: 'Ted, this will never get back to the board will it?' What people do in their own lives is fine. If anyone ever asks me to get a prostitute or drugs the answer would be: 'I'm sure you've got enough money to pay someone else to do that. I'm here to look after you.' But if someone he was protecting brought a stranger to their hotel room he would want to see the contents of their bag.

He is also closed about his past in the secretive special forces. He signed the Official Secrets Act at the start of his career and again when the defense department clamped down after the publication of Andy McNab's "Bravo Two Zero" and Chris Ryan's "The One That Got Away" – books that chronicled British SAS patrols during the first Gulf war. He will not even be drawn on whether he saw active service. "Not a lot of people like to talk about that sort of thing, so we don't say we did or didn't." Did he? "We don't like to talk about it." Why? "It's stuff that's gone on in the past."

He is, however, forthcoming about his record in close protection. No one, he says firmly, has died in his care.

Mr. Allen believes he should be able to carry pepper spray or a taser in Britain, like the police. "All you need is that initial shock and awe to get someone away. As it is now, we have to use unarmed combat."

The closest to death he has come was when protecting a wealthy family. "A guy came to the door, [he was] hell-bent on coming in. He pulled a knife and charged me. I kicked him in the chest very hard. He went flying out the door, hit the ground and was out cold, so that was quite nice. He broke his jaw [and] two ribs." His assailant did not press charges. Mr. Allen reflects on the incident: "Being rushed with a knife isn't pleasant but c'est la vie. That's the way it goes."

When travelling for work, he calls his wife at least once a day. If she hasn't heard from him for 12 hours she alerts the office. Is she not in a constant state of anxiety? "I think she [is] but that's the job I do.

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  • A reporter and editor, Robert Frank is a leading authority on the American wealthy for CNBC.