Who is the toughest bodyguard

From elite soldier to bodyguard: an interview with Brangelina's ex-bodyguard

Who are the toughest bastards in the world? There are some contenders: MMA fighters, Shaolin fighting monks, the American Navy Seals, the German GSG 9, or the Israeli Sajeret Matkal? All good suggestions. But many say that the toughest elite unit in the world is the British Special Air Service (SAS). No wonder, then, that after serving the crown, many SAS members go over to protecting the rich and famous.

Mark "Billy" Billingham was with the SAS for 27 years. He has fought in Iraq and received the Queen's Commendation for Brave Conduct after arresting an IRA sniper whom he presented himself as bait. He also holds the prestigious title of MBE, Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, and is currently featured in a survival show on British television featuring the name SAS: Who Dares Wins wearing. But before that, he worked as a bodyguard for Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Kate Moss, Russell Crowe and Clint Eastwood.

Sean Penn. He's a great guy - really super nice - but guess what? He can take care of himself.

VICE: Hi, Billy. How did you come to protect world famous people?
Mark "Billy" Billingham: That was just the obvious step. I got the first requests to help out with A-list celebrities when I was still part of the regiment. The first was Tom Cruise. A friend recommended me, and then it all fell into place.

Why do so many ex-SAS guys work with world famous celebrities?
It's mostly done through word of mouth. Celebrities want the best protection, and that's exactly what the SAS offers. Most of them have already had SAS bodyguards, so of course they still want the best.

How difficult is it to become a member of the SAS?
Let me put it this way: there were 280 applicants and seven of them were accepted. These are the toughest physical and mental tests you can imagine. You have to be a physically robust person Red.], But the most important thing is your mind. It's about how you think, how you see things, how you interpret. Whether you have integrity.

What makes people like you such good bodyguards?
As a bodyguard, everything revolves around proactive action. It's not about being a heartthrob with six pack abs. It's about knowing where the escape routes are, having alternative plans, assessing situations. For us, it's always about keeping calm under high pressure and avoiding conflicts. When everyone else loses their head, ours is still sitting and staying cool.

The Hollywood couple Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt

Were there celebs who were so bad that you wished you were back in the war zone just so you didn't have to have anything to do with them?
So far everyone has been really nice, I have to say.

What about Kate Moss, what was she like?
She was Kate Moss. She was different. She was professional and good at what she was doing. I didn't get to know her that well because there was a lot going on at the time. We had our hands full with the paparazzi who followed us everywhere. But she respected me and always did what I asked, we had a good working relationship.

Who is the nicest person that you have taken care of?
I spent most of my time with Brad and Angelina so I'm probably biased on that point.

What are the two of them like as humans?
Very professional, very motivated, a lot of energy - even more than me. They were so good at planning their lives and always finding time for their children and their charity projects. In all honesty, I think it's incredible — the two of them are under so much pressure to look and be good all the time, while each one looks for a weakness or an eyesore because that sells better. Getting along so well under these circumstances is an accomplishment.

What was your worst experience with a celebrity? I guess most things are pretty trivial, but have you ever really worried?
Definitely. As you said, most of the time you are more concerned about what to do when a dress gets a coffee stain. But I remember an incident with Brad and Angelina at a Toronto film festival. I was alone with the two of them in the car and the driver almost exploded because of the crowd. It was pure chaos, people tried to open the car doors and blocked our way. They tried to drag me out of the car. Brad and Angelina expected a solution from me. The solution was to get the vehicle out of there, get out of downtown, and cancel the party Brad and Angelina were going to give. We're lucky that we didn't run over anyone.

Do you sometimes have to act against the wishes of your protégés in dangerous situations?
My job is to protect clients at all costs. When I tell them that a situation is unsafe, they usually accept it. You can override it, of course, but so far I've always been lucky that my clients do what I tell them to do.

Which client was your toughest case?
Sean Penn. He's a great guy - really super nice - but guess what? He can take care of himself.

Thanks, Billy.

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