LAURA Kuenssberg, the BBC’s political editor, made news last month when she attended the Labour Party conference accompanied by a bodyguard, who had been assigned to her after she received threats from online trolls.

The un-named man, a former soldier now employed as the Corporation’s security consultant, was an imposing figure. Other close-protection (CP) personnel who have been photographed with celebrities such as Beyonce, Jennifer Aniston, Taylor Swift and model Bella Hadid, look even more so.

But it’s not just celebrities who need such close protection: in these uncertain times, increasing numbers of business executives are seeking it too. And, it turns out, you don’t need to be physically imposing to be a good bodyguard: diplomatic and communication skills are just as important.

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Paul Muir knows this as well as anyone. The 34-year-old, from Vale of Leven, runs a thriving company, Horizon, which provides CP services to senior business executives. It also specialises in residential security, security chauffeurs and event security. At its base in Bonhill it provides an ingenious range of medical training courses.

Training for close-protection, its core offering, is carried out over 30 days, led by experts on the subject, at the old Freeport shopping outlet at West Calder, and aims to train students to deal with “high-pressure and sometimes dangerous scenarios”. It includes a four-day, interactive “Hostile” package that involves the use of simulated weapons and pyrotechnics “to mimic hostile environment situations”. During these re-enactments, says the company, students “will become confident in dealing with various, somewhat dangerous, situations whilst protecting your VIP”.

Muir says: “The guys can use these locations for their driving techniques, they can walk through with their ‘weapons’. We use pyrotechnics, simulation grenades and Airsoft (replica) weapons to make it more realistic.”

Muir himself is ex-military. Between 1999 and 2005 he was part of the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment, and did operational tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland and the Balkans. After leaving the army he joined the private security industry, working in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and London in personal security details and CP duties. He spent two years in Afghanistan on a private contract: “Most guys will do just six months to a year, but I liked that one. We were living in a villa in the middle of Kabul; we were a small team and it was a nice easy job, looking after a European Commission ambassador out there. After that job I stayed with the same company and went to London to look after the Sultan of Oman when he came here.”

Muir was blown up in both Iraq and Afghanistan; he sustained injuries in the first but escaped unscathed in the second, in which a suicide bomber blew himself up at a Kabul checkpoint. He worked on anti-piracy operations for two years in the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC), the navy-patrolled route through the Gulf of Aden. In 2012 he formed Horizon, and he runs it with Allan Wright and Chris Campbell. They have 25 contractors.

Among its growing range of services is Hostile Environment Awareness Training (Heat), aimed at hotel and tourism operators, oil and gas workers, NGOs and others. “We went out to Tunisia after the terror attack there [38 people were killed in the attack in Sousse, in June 2015],” Muir says. “We went to the Imperial Marhaba, the hotel where it happened, and met the general manager. He burst out crying when he saw us, but he said he just didn’t have the money to pay for our services. We ended up picking up a contract with a five-star hotel chain next door and after we delivered that training we picked up another 16 of its hotels in the Middle East and Africa. We do all their security risk assessment, medical training and active shooter training, and provide close protection for its executives. The chain has recently opened a hotel in Iraq and when their executives go there, they will take some of our CP guys with them.

“Heat and active shooter/lone wolf attack training are becoming quite big in the UK at the minute,” he adds. “We only used to deliver it in the likes of Iraq and Afghanistan but now there’s a demand for it here with UK companies – banks, hotels, museums and events staff. It will be for just 20 selected staff, who will be trained to know what to do if someone comes in with a gun.”

Horizon provides security risk-assessments to at least one leading football team when it plays overseas: advance CP personnel check ahead of the players’ arrival to make sure that everything is as it should be. And residential security teams can be hired for around £750 for a couple of days to safeguard wealthy footballers’ homes when they fly abroad to play.

Close protection services, Muir says, “are offered usually to ultra-high-net-worth individuals. We don’t get a lot of that in Scotland,” he adds, though he does name one high-profile billionaire who hires a private-security team. Clients have different demands when it comes to close-protection. “Some will request bigger males clearly for a show of wealth and power, others request females if there are wives or kids to look after.”

This is especially true in the Middle East – Emirati families usually ask for females for the wives who can’t be seen with men in public.” (Horizon is keen to attract more female students as there is a high demand for them).

“Some people,” says Campbell, “just want an average sort of person who doesn’t look any different and will just blend in.”

“You can be a grey man and not be noticed,” adds Muir. “It could be that this type of person is providing close protection without actually being that close – they can be 10, 20 metres away.

“The client might be a female who might be out shopping. If she buys personal items she might not necessarily want have a security guy staring over her shoulder. It might be that you’re providing a surveillance close protection, surveilling the client at a distance while letting her do what she wants to do, and if anything happens, you can rush in, rather than being on her shoulder all the time.”

Not all CP specialists are armed. “In the Middle Eastern hostile regions they’re always armed unless requested by an NGO. Let’s say Save the Children wants CP without weapons. You can have CP guys without weapons but have QRF [Quick Reaction Force] guys sitting back with guns to provide cover if and when needed. We have armed security out in Bulgaria looking after high-net-worth clients that have business down in one particular area, where there happens to be a Mafia presence.”

Muir is happy with the advances made by the company in the space of five years but he is looking forward to the next step – aviation security. He is currently attending a seminar in Dubai with the Emirates airline, and will do a presentation on control, restraint and hijacking scenarios. Beyond this, Horizon is also looking to expand its CP and training services to south-east Asia and central America.

The more that global tensions and public anxieties continue to rise, the greater the demand for CP, Heat, Active Shooter and medical services. There are currently more than 14,000 licensed CP operators in the UK alone. The mood of the times has been good for companies such as Horizon. “That is the case, unfortunately,” concedes Muir. “Other people’s hard times are bringing more work to us. The attacks in London and Manchester have triggered reactions from some of the major banks down there. The fact that people were knocked down and killed on London Bridge has re-emphasised the need for emergency medical training.”

Asked what qualities are needed to make a good CP operative, Muir responds: “They need to be loyal, trustworthy, honest, physically and mentally fit, a team player, with the ability to work on their own under real pressure.” Horizon currently has 86 CP specialists working in Afghanistan, 31 in Basra and Baghdad and four in Kurdistan, and is aiming to set up in Syria. Next year it will be pushing to find more full-time clients in need of close protection worldwide.

The market for this, it seems, is big, and is getting bigger all the time.