When all eyes are on the Prime Minister, it’s easy to miss the dozen or so men standing in the background or shadowing him closely in the car behind. But one thing is for sure – they’ve not missed you.
As former PMs Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were driven out of Downing Street each day, Greg Allison was part of the elite team of protection officers assigned to watch the watchers.
It takes regular police officers years to work their way up to such a specialist position. But with his Royal Marine training, Greg was a natural choice for the job.
During the six years he spent with the Metropolitan Police he took part in anti-terrorist patrols, armed response call-outs and CID work.
But it’s the four years he spent as part of the protection team that really put his experience as a Marine to good use. The Marine’s are the Royal Navy’s elite and you won’t even get through the training if you can’t prove you’re alert and ever-ready.
As part of the protection team, Greg would prove that every day, accompanying the PM through the streets of London, making sure he was safe during official visits and guarding Downing Street from intruders.
‘It sounds exciting, but it wasn’t really,’ laughs Greg.
‘You don’t get a lot of face time with the PM, or anyone else working up on Downing Street. They’ve got a lot to be getting on with so you’re just there making sure everyone’s OK.
‘I hardly ever spoke to Gordon Brown, but his son Frazer used to come out and say hello to us. When I resigned from the police, Gordon Brown sent me a letter saying thanks for all your help and for looking after us and for your kindness to Frazer.’
Greg, who grew up in Portsmouth and still lives in North End, adds: ‘People said to me you don’t get protection officer until you’ve been 15 years in the police, but I just thought I’d give it a go and applied.
‘It could be stressful. Police officers on the whole are under a lot of stress. When I was in the protection team there wasn’t as much paperwork to do, but you’ve got to look after people, you’ve got to be switched on when there’s big crowds, or when the Prime Minister is leaving Downing Street. London can be a dangerous place.’
This wasn’t the first time he’d looked after high-ranking dignitaries. Greg joined the Marines fresh from leaving school at 16 and spent time guarding the gate at the barracks in Plymouth.
‘The Marines has got the longest, toughest, most varied training,’ he adds. ‘It’s nine months long, a 30-week course.
‘But I was stuck on a gate all the time, I wanted to join up and go and do things but there weren’t even any exercises going on.’
He left the Marines when he was 18 and worked for the Metropolitan Police until 2009 when he went on to start a new chapter in his life that would combine both experiences.
A friend and ex-Marine colleague told him about Lee Matthews, a former paratrooper, who was setting up a martial arts company to teach children and provide them with positive role models.
For Greg, who started karate training when he was five, it sounded like a great idea. A key philosophy of Lee’s plan was that all the instructors would have military experience themselves.
Greg, now 28, met up with Lee and became a part-time instructor for his British Military Martial Arts (BMMA) school, initially taking classes for children in the Portsmouth area.
It took off quickly and Greg, who is married with an eight-year-old son, soon found he had a decision to make – stay on with the protection team or quit and concentrate on BMMA full time.
Adult and women-only classes now take place and Greg’s youngest recruit is four. Classes use a mixture of martial arts and the kind of circuit training the military relies on to get its troops battle-ready and fighting fit.
‘I think a lot of parents hadn’t really seen anything like it before,’ he says reflecting back on those early classes.
‘A lot of martial arts schools don’t take children that age. When I started martial arts I was about five and had to stand on the sidelines in an adult class and copy what they were doing.’
He adds: ‘Classes are very varied. They have lots of fun and get really fit and we also talk to them about stranger danger, how to treat people with respect and the benefits of being fit and healthy.
‘The classes for kids and adults are very high energy – they do lots of running around, their fitness levels go through the roof in a very short period of time.
‘In the new year people sign up to the gym and turn up and stand on a cross trainer for an hour a day for about a month but it’s just boring. With martial arts classes, all you’ve got to do is turn up. The instructor will do the rest for you, they motivate you. In an hour – 45 minutes, you’ll have burnt 600-700 calories.’
Greg thinks those who come to his classes respect him because they know he’s come from the tough military background and knows how it feels to push your body through the pain barrier.
But he admits he’s been surprised at how unfit the general public are – and worries that children aren’t learning key messages about health and fitness.
‘If children are used to sitting in front of their X Box or Playstation they’re not really doing much exercise,’ he says. ‘Children aren’t as vanity-conscious as adults, so they can sit there and don’t really notice they’ve put on a little bit of weight or they’re not as fit as they should be.
‘It has been a bit of a shock to see how unfit a lot of people are. But when I was working for the police for such a long time I saw a lot of police officers who, because of the long hours and the stress, had got into that pattern of being unfit. I found it a bit of a challenge to stay in shape and that’s a big part of the reason why I left. I’ve always been fanatical about training and staying in shape but I was having trouble with my fitness levels.
‘So yeah I have noticed with surprise how unfit a lot of people are. But I’ve been equally surprised at how fit they get after such a short time.’
n To find out more about BMMA and Greg’s classes log onto britishmilitarymartialarts.co.uk