From The Queen’s Guards to The Royalty Protection Squad, Royal security is one of the most efficient and organised branches of any security detail in the world. Royal security in its most basic form has been around as long as the Monarchy itself. In medieval times, Kings would not only have employed their own security detail but would have been more than capable of looking after themselves, on the account of the order of the day for medieval kings being actual combat. Nowadays, it’s fair to say the need for a bloodthirsty and fierce Monarch has passed. Security for the Royal Family is now settled into two divisions. The Army and the Police.
The Army is responsible for guarding the Royal Residences and supplying soldiers to guard at high-risk events and places. The Army guards usually come in the form of the famous sentries in the bearskin caps and scarlet tunics (which are only worn for half the year, for the winter they wear grey overcoats). When the first regiment of foot guards (Coldstream Guards) was formed in 1650, the Army have always been heavily involved in guarding the Monarch. Having said that, the Coldstream Guards, during the removal of Charles I, did become allegiant to Parliament instead of the King, meaning that when the Grenadier Guards were formed a few years later, they became known as the ‘1st Of Foot’.
The Police have also been responsible for Royal security but not for as long as the Army. A specialist division of the police called the ‘Royalty Protection Squad’ was formed in 1983. They were formed during the fears of an IRA attack on The Royal Family. As it wouldn’t be practicable for the Army to guard The Royal Family quite as needed, a special division was set up in the Metropolitan Police.
The Royalty Protection Squad are one of only a few units in the UK Police which are fully and consistently armed. Before the IRA ceasefire, even the houses of the Queen’s obscure cousins were given 24-hour protection. Although this had been scaled back, some fairly minor royals are still considered to merit the protection of the special officers. In 2000, when Princess Beatrice went studying in Switzerland, The Queen ordered an RPS bodyguard to be sent to Switzerland to watch over Princess Beatrice.
Famously, Diana, Princess of Wales, chose to cast off the constant surveillance provided by the Royalty Protection Squad after she divorced Prince Charles. Some security experts considered it left her dangerously exposed when she died in a Paris road accident in August 1997, although Trevor Rees-Jones, a former member of the protection squad who had joined Mohamed Al-Fayed’s security set-up, was by her side.
Protecting the royals from the threat of assassination was a hectic job in the nineteenth century. Queen Victoria was subjected to five attempts on her life. Security scares are relatively rare these days although the most minor security breaches claim plenty of coverage in the national press.
In the summer of 1999, Prince Charles was forced to alert the special officers on what the tabloids delighted in calling “his James Bond-style watch” when he was threatened with a harpoon gun while swimming in the Mediterranean. The waterproof alarm watch, believed to be worn by Prince William as well, sets off security men’s pagers.
Prince Charles & Camilla, Duchess Of Cornwall were once caught up in an encounter with protestors at the Students Fees protest. Their car was badly damaged as they travelled back from an official function. The reason for this encounter was put down to poor planning of the route and the unpredictable nature of the riots. Both Charles and Camilla were uninjured and fine after the encounter.
As a result of one particular incident in 1982, where a man broke into Buckingham Palace, a permanent base for the Police was built inside Buckingham Palace, costing over £1.2 million. This is where the Royalty Protection Squad have been based since.
Catherine, Duchess Of Cambridge was granted her own 24-hour protection squad shortly after media interest in her picked up and ages before marriage was being considered.
Despite all this heavy security, there have been many incidents of security breaches over the years. Here is a list of some of the most famous and some of the most interesting:
June 1981: Marcus Sarjeant, 17, fires six blank shots at the Queen as she rides along the Mall during the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony.
March 1982: Michael Fagan breaks into the Queen’s bedroom at Buckingham Palace. She wakes to find him sitting on her bed.
1989: Mentally-ill Michael Crook walks past two armed guards at Buckingham Palace and tries to talk to the Queen near the stables.
1990: Stephen Goulding breaks into palace grounds. He claims he is Prince Andrew Windsor and says the Queen is his “mum”.
July 1992: Kevin McMahon, 25, is arrested inside Buckingham Palace grounds twice in one week. His first foray forces the diversion of a helicopter carrying the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.
1992: An intruder walks into St James’s Palace and drinks a whisky in Princess Alexandra’s private apartment. 1993: Anti-nuclear protesters scale the walls of Buckingham Palace and hold a sit-down protest on the lawn. 1994: A naked paraglider lands on the roof of Buckingham Palace. American James “Fanman” Miller is fined £200 and deported. 1994: Security at St James’s Palace is described as “abysmal”, following a break-in at the Prince of Wales’s apartment. 1995: Student John Gillard rams the gates of Buckingham Palace in his car at 50mph.
1997: An absconded mental health patient wanders the grounds of Buckingham Palace.
December 2002: A drunken reveller enters St James’ Palace late at night and reportedly knocks on Princess Anne’s door, asking for directions to Victoria station. He is arrested before anyone can answer.
November 2003: Daily Mirror reporter, Ryan Parry, reveals details of life at Buckingham Palace after spending two months working undercover as a footman. He got the job using a false reference.
June 2003: “Comedy terrorist” Aaron Barschak gatecrashes Prince William’s 21st birthday party at Windsor Castle. Wearing a dress, beard and sunglasses he gets up on stage and kisses the prince on both cheeks.
December 2003: A 27-year-old man is arrested in the grounds of Buckingham Palace after climbing a wall.
September 2004: Jason Hatch, a Fathers 4 Justice campaigner dressed as Batman, unfurls a banner on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.
May 2004: Michael Hammond cons his way into Windsor Castle by pretending to be a well-known senior police officer. He is jailed for four-and-a-half years.
April 2005: Journalists working for the Sun newspaper drive a van carrying a fake bomb into the grounds of Windsor Castle, days before the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles.
The price of the 24-hour protection squad is well in excess of £50m a year, but is it worth it? Well, yes. So far, it has proven to be effective both as a deterrent and in action. Only time will tell just how good the current system is but it’s never let them down before!