HE HAS spent years protecting the rich and powerful including the likes of Margaret Thatcher and Prince Philip, and now he has started his own self-defence business to help people protect themselves.

John Keeley, from Ferring, started off his impressive career as a frontline police officer in Sussex in 1995.

He left the force in 2003 and spent several years working in the counter terrorism unit at Gatwick Airport.

The 49-year-old then transferred to Metropolitan Police where he had opportunities to protect the rich and famous.

When asked about what it was like working as a bodyguard, John said: “It was exciting, but there was also boredom which was the main enemy.

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“You have to learn to overcome it to remain vigilant and not let your guard down.

“I started martial arts when I was four. My father was a judo instructor and I got into martial arts that way. I also have a black belt in Aikido and ju-jitsu.

“Self-defence in real life is very different to Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan martial arts films. Films are for entertainment because all the fight scenes are stylised.

“The first time I had to use self-defence was when I was doing a routine car inspection on a highway in East Grinstead. We stopped a car and the driver came out with a knife.

“It was a surreal moment and when you are under stress you lose motor skills. Then, the fight or flight mode kicks in. But then I knew I had to quickly take action.

"I punched him in the face and kneed him in the groin and he was apprehended.

“From that I learnt not to use knuckles to punch but to use hammer fist strikes.

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“In my experience, the most difficult people to deal with are people who have taken drugs because they are unpredictable.”

John then had the opportunity that not many people have... meeting and talking to famous people in person.

He said: “I’ve worked with people like Margaret Thatcher, Prince Philip, Roger Federer and Keanu Reeves.

“I worked with Margaret Thatcher in about 2006. Although she was retired then some former prime ministers still need protection.

“Forget the fact that Mrs Thatcher had the reputation of being the Iron Lady, she was a genuine and nice lady and she remembered everyone’s name.

“I had a strange yet wonderful moment when I was having tea and cake with Mrs Thatcher and Sean Connery and I was having small talk with them.

"Afterwards I had to pinch myself because I was in the same room with two very famous people.

“Working with Roger Federer was absolutely brilliant. I have worked with some rich people who were not very pleasant, but Roger was a great guy. I’ve watched him spend hours signing autographs for fans.

“Roger came to the O2 for a tournament. He was a genuinely nice person and he talks to everyone. From a security’s perspective, he was a great guy to work with because he cooperated.

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"Keanu Reeves also made my life very pleasant and easy. He had no demands and once I travelled on the Tube with him.”

John also did training in combat and arms with security guards locally and internationally.

In 2014 he went to Libya to train the country’s diplomatic protection unit. John then set up a martial arts business called Musashi Ltd.

He also founded a self-defence class called Shield Protection Systems in November 2018.

He runs a class every Tuesday at 7.30pm until 9pm at Impulse Leisure in Manor Road, Lancing. John has another class, Silver Sabres, where he teaches LED Sabre training in Brighton where students learn about traditional sword art.

John teaches students on a variety of martial arts including Wing Chun, Aikido, ju-jitsu and Kapap. With the rise of knife crime and reduction in police numbers, John said: “It’s vital that people should consider taking up self-defence lessons.

“We teach basic skills of self-defence and knowledge of how to escape. The training is personalised and we come up with different techniques for everyone because we have students of different ages and sizes.”

One of John’s students, Sean Clark, 45, from Worthing, said: “It’s worth learning self-defence because there is a rise in local stabbings and you never know when you would need it.

"I’m trained in Wu-tan and once I stopped a guy from stabbing two girls in a restaurant. I was with my brother, who is disabled, and the guy punched him. I stood between the guy, my brother and the two girls.

"I held my hand up in a protective stance and he was surprised by that. It gave me a chance to disarm him before the kitchen staff came and helped. One of the key things I learnt is to look confident because attackers are more likely to leave you alone.”