Security professional Nguyen Van Nam (R) and his team protect A.J. of Backstreet Boys when the band arrives for a show in Ho Chi Minh City in March 2011.
There are generally two perspectives on bodyguards.
They are either ugly, rude, tough, dumb-looking guys; or men in black, with chiseled looks, sunglasses and earpieces.
Neither presents a true picture, avers Nguyen Van Nam.
The deputy director of the IPS Company, which has provided security services for several major events and shows in the country involving celebrities, says like any other job, this is one that you develop skills and experience in, and the focus is on planning and managing things in as low key a manner as possible.
IPS was in charge of security arrangements for the Vietnam segment of the “This is us” Asian tour by US pop band Backstreet Boys, and the second live show in the country by Korean band Super Junior.
Given that any slip-up can prove costly to both the celebrity being protected and the security firm providing the protection (a celebrity getting hurt can cost the firm up to VND5 billion, Nam said), it is likely that those who come in the way of fans wanting to get close to their heroes and heroines face some ire.
Thousands of teenage fans of South Korean ten-member boy band Super Junior (better known as Suju) shocked security guards by using their motorbikes to chase their idols’ cars from Ho Chi Minh City to Binh Duong Province, where the show took place on May 7.
Many fans from Vietnam, Malaysia, Korea and Japan also camped in front of the stadium from dusk till dawn to catch a glimpse of their idols. Some fans even booked rooms in the luxurious Intercontinental Hotel to be able to approach the boys.
It was up to Nam and his colleagues to ensure that the fans did not get too close for comfort. And to do this, Nam said, what is required is not James Bond like driving skills or black-belt competence in the martial arts. What you need is quick thinking, he said.
“We often change times, destinations or create a diversion. We carefully discuss details with the organizers to figure out the most effective way, check out every location. We meet the organizer’s demands, and in return, they must satisfy our requests as well.”
When Korean superstar Jang Dong Gun came to Vietnam in 1998 for the first time; he asked Nam’s team to give him some freedom.
“Jang requested us to let him buy things by himself, and went to the supermarket behind our back. But he was recognized by numerous fans at the supermarket and got stuck. His manager kept calling us to rescue him and it was really hard to get him out of there. He has not asked for freedom since,” said the senior bodyguard, smiling.
Normally, when celebrities request private time, IPS boys try to blend into the stars’ surroundings unobtrusively, as they did when the members of the Backstreet Boys band toured Ho Chi Minh City, Nam said.
Once the artist is back at the hotel, the bodyguard’s job is not finished. He might have to stay outside the artist’s room or stay in an adjoining room to make sure unauthorized people are kept at bay.
The security teams for foreign shows are paid well for their services. Nam’s company gets from VND400 million to more than VND600 million for a two-or-three day show.
Part of the premium rates paid for security is also to maintain confidentiality about the celebrities as well as other aspects of an event that organizers do not want the public to know.
Not many companies can get such assignments.
“There are around 500 companies in Vietnam providing security services but only a few of them like mine, Yuki Sepre and Long Hai, have enough staff to support such big events which need 300 to 600 trained staff for providing outer protection,” Nam said.
Yuki Sepre gained fame by winning contracts for big events like the Super Junior and Air Supply concerts. The company’s head, Nguyen Van Tung, is not only a professional bodyguard but also a popular actor in many local TV series, usually playing the part of a well-built, handsome but gentle character.
Bodyguards who work for security firms earn between VND3 to 5 million (US$150 to 250) a month and more for taking part in big events. Nam and Tung said that to get the job, they have to be aged between 18-50, have at least a senior high school education and be “well behaved.”
Nam’s and Tung’s teams also have a few female bodyguards, who took up the job for different reasons. About 10 percent of the bodyguard force in Nam’s company is female, mostly between 22 and 35 years old.
Duong Thi Thu Thuy, 27, said she become a bodyguard because she loved local pop idols My Tam, Dam Vinh Hung and Korean movie stars. She said protecting superstars is the most interesting part of the job, one that once had no room for women.
Huynh Doan To Thu has been a bodyguard for around 10 years now. The graduate of the University of Pedagogy says a passion for “danger” kept her from pursuing the teaching career that she’d trained for.
Nam said that many of the bodyguards are early retirees from the army who are self-disciplined, trained in martial arts and are given advanced training by the security firm that employs them.
The security industry emerged in the 90s in Vietnam with the advent of the market economy, when foreign stars started performing here, but it was only in 2001 that the profession was formally authorized.
However, those aspiring to be part of the security industry have no place to train, besides the Vocational School for the southern region in Bien Hoa Town, Dong Nai Province. The school, run by the General Staff of Ministry of Defense, trains and awards trainees diplomas for becoming a security guard.
As the industry grows, training is provided in more areas. Some of the professional security companies train their staff in preventing and fighting fires and in providing emergency aid.
The next step, Nam feels, is the establishment of a union for security personnel so that the job brings greater benefits and attracts more people.
“The rights of bodyguards like employer’s liability insurance (VND60 million at maximum for each person), and fair competition will be guaranteed with the founding of a labor organization.”