What's life like as a royal protection officer and do you have to be prepared to take a bullet?

Lurking in the background of pictures of the royal family and shadowing members of The Firm, personal protection officers are ubiquitous to life in the UK's most famous family.

But what does the job really involve?

And do you have to pledge to take a bullet for the Mountbatten-Windsors?

  • It's all about the planning

In short, the answer is "no", says former royal protection officer Simon Morgan, who worked with the Queen and Prince Charles, along with other members of the family during his six years in SO14.

"The perception is that it's all big suits, dark glasses and talking into your sleeve, but in reality we are highly trained individuals," the former Metropolitan Police officer says.

In reality "it's nothing like The Bodyguard", says Morgan, it's all about planning. Everything. In every minute detail.

"The role of protection officers is very much built on planning" and within those plans are "planning for contingencies" should something go wrong.

And this isn't just a vague plan, this really is planning for every eventuality: are there roadworks on the route?

Where's the nearest A&E in case of a medical emergency?

What's the plan for if the car gets a flat tyre?

  • Walkabouts are the worst

As Morgan says, much of the job is all about preparation, so that when an event is taking place it runs like clockwork, leaving the royal protection officer - part of a special branch of the Metropolitan Police - to then focus on all the variables.

"There's an element of uncertainty despite the control," Morgan explains.

"When you go to an event you are looking for what you expect to see and what you don't expect to see...

"You're looking at everyone, wondering why someone is smiling or why someone is not smiling."

The job is a "thinking person's role", he explains, because while you're scoping out the crowd and ensuring your plans are carried out seamlessly, you're also "constantly thinking about how to get the principal back to the car or building, should you need to".

While large scale events like Trooping the Colour contain a lot more "screening and control", walkabouts - when "you have senior members of the royal family getting close to the public and pressing the flesh" - were "the hardest to control", says Morgan.

"You are watching everyone and your eyes are everywhere," he explains.

"I never felt the situation deteriorating or the need to leave, but it was always very pressurised as the royals encourage access to them, but for those 10 to 15 minutes the pressure would be really on.

"You breathe a sigh of relief when you get back into the car."

Simon Morgan worked as a protection officer for Prince Charles, the Queen and other royals. Credit: Trojan Consultancy
  • Surely the job gets you access to some great places?

This lack of glamour also extends to perks.

All royal protection officers, those assigned to members of the Government, former prime ministers, ambassadors, visiting heads of state and other individuals deemed to be at risk are serving members of the Met, with at least 10-15 years of experience before entering this highly specialised field.

"You're in a different environment and in some ways it is a privilege, for example you get to eat at some of the best restaurants in the world, travel on private aircrafts and super yachts, but you're still working, just in a different setting."

While it was a far-cry from his former job as a firearms officer carrying out "not very pleasant jobs in not particularly nice areas... you're not enjoying the food or yourself, you've got one eye on your principal at all times.

"It's a different experience and I can see why those that haven't been in that setting might see it as a perk, but you have to understand that this in not your role, you are supporting the principal and working.

"You go home and the next day you're at the school gate chatting to the other school dads...

"You could be driving a £300,000 Bentley one day and the next you're back in your Ford Focus."

And there's a reason why the perks of the job can't be focused on: blackmail.

"If you miss the experiences that come with the work then you've lost the credible edge and you get lost in showbiz or 'red carpet fever' as we call it...

"If you lose focus you're open to all sorts of problems such as emotional or financial blackmail and manipulation and you can't do the job properly."

Simon Morgan said meeting veterans was among his career highlights. Credit: PA
  • What were the real perks of the role?

While the advantages of the job were not material, the perks of the job were the people you got to meet "who have achieved so much from Olympians to volunteers".

Among the highlights of his career, Morgan puts "visiting what is now the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham to meet returning soldiers with the Prince of Wales.

"Some had horrific life-changing or life-shortening injuries, but they were still so positive.

"Some had lost both legs but were determined they would walk again.

"The positivity they had and the care and attitude of the doctors and nurses, it all sticks in my mind as so humbling."

Simon Morgan worked on the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Credit: PA
  • The role is varied and even saw Morgan become a 'pseudo wedding planner'

One of the biggest events during his years in the job - from 2007-2013 - was the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, but on this, Morgan can say very little, other than that he "was part of a unit at Westminster Abbey" as he is not allowed to "discuss tactics".

Though in the run up to the big day in April 2011 he admits he became a "pseudo-wedding planner".

While Morgan says it would have been "very easy to tell the principal not to do anything and be restrictive", to do the role well "they [the member of the royal family who is being protected] should say what they will do and then you work to keep them safe.

"How do you bring an element of normality to their life?"

Simon Morgan worked as a royal protection officer for the Earl of Wessex, the Queen's youngest child. Credit: PA
  • Being watched 'from cradle to grave'

It's not just out in the public and at major events that royal protection officers are assigned to a member of the family (some are permanently assigned to members of The Firm, while others work on a roster basis and move between them), they literally have a minder at all times.

"Even when the principals are away from the public glare, they still need protection.

"The royal family have protection from cradle to grave, 24/7, 365 days a year.

"All the time."

Even when they are at home, the royals are never truly alone, with a protection officer assigned to them at all times.

Members of the royal family have security 24 hours a day. Credit: PA
  • Just how full-on is the role?

Despite this intense coverage, royal protection officers do get days off, but "when you're on, you're on".

"You could spend the morning in London, then head out to the home counties, then put your principal on an aircraft and they fly off to Scotland and then you wait for them to return later in the day."

While there may often be a lot of waiting there is no downtime on the job.

"There's always work to be done.

"There is no downtime, for example you could carry out a recce for the following day, liaise with another the team if your principal is with them, asking where they are and how their journey is going.

"If the principal is for example on a train, you would be working out what you would do now if something happened, checking roadworks, etc."

But sometimes, while out on the job and with no access to future plans that need to be worked on there could be a lot of waiting around, some "long, cold, wet days, but I never thought 'this isn't worth it'."

Despite leaving the role to set up Trojan Consultancy - a private company offering protection, for example Morgan worked on the wedding of Game Of Thrones stars Kit Harington and Rose Leslie - Morgan says he is unable to "think of a negative day at work".

Simon Morgan worked at the wedding of Kit Harington and Rose Leslie. Credit: PA

Although this was in part due to the rigorous selection process which involved six months of training in which every element must be passed ensuring that only those best suited for the role would end up in it, "no two days were ever the same".

Despite the variety and opportunities the job presented it was intense, as Morgan puts it: "You have to get it right every day, the bad guy only has to get it right once."