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Exclusive interview with celebrity bodyguard and CEO Elijah Shaw

Photo Credit: Dwayne Franklin

It's not just the glitz and glamour that comes along with escorting some of the biggest names in Hollywood

Elijah Shaw, known as the "protector of the stars," has provided high security and protection services for many A-list celebrities, such as the legendary Chaka Khan, R&B singer Usher, model Naomi Campbell, rapper 50 Cent, reality TV star Kim Kardashian, comedian Chris Rock, and the list goes on. 

In addition to protecting our favorite singers and actors, Elijah has also offered top-notch security for many politicians and businessmen. 

Becoming the 'iconic man'

Elijah says he always used to dream big, so it comes to no surprise that he now runs his own company. But, before his dream became a reality, Elijah dealt with growing up in the inner city of Chicago in the Ida B. Wells public housing projects. He first attended film school with aspirations of becoming a film director. He started doing security work as a means to pay for school and he eventually turned that into a career.

Unlike most operators, Elijah did not come from a military or law enforcement background. Instead, he saw the opportunities that the private sector presented and he made a long-term career out of it which flourished. 

While working behind-the-scenes for many years, Elijah built up his reputation and made a name for himself in the industry. This led to him starting and becoming the CEO of a successful security consulting firm in 1998 called ICON Global. His Minnesota based security agency provides both executive protection and private investigation services. 

People from all over the world, including Australia and South Africa, 
travel to the U.S. to train with Elijah. 
While Elijah is known for working with celebrities, his client base also includes a number of Fortune 500 companies. He has successfully taken clients in and out of some of the most dangerous places in the world, including Palestine, Angola, and Ferguson during the riots. 

Elijah has a political roster as well, and he's been involved with both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, including the upcoming one in 2016.

Protecting victims of domestic abuse

In addition to protecting his well-known clients, Elijah also provides free security services to women who are victims of domestic violence. 

Elijah says while protecting celebrities, he used to receive phone calls from other people who needed protection but weren't able to afford it. He started volunteering his time to shelters who provide support systems to women. 

"Just because they can't afford my services doesn't mean they don't have a need," he says. 

Elijah launched a program called the ISC Safety Net which provides Pro Bono security services to victims and shelters. Members of his security team eventually started volunteering as well and the program expanded. 

If there's a woman who is a victim of domestic violence and she has to go home to retrieve her belongings, Elijah's crew will escort her to the house or even to and from the courthouse, if necessary.  

What makes a good bodyguard?

Elijah believes having a lot of patience is needed in his industry.

"Once you learn the skill, the craft itself, the big piece there is trying to make sure that you can anticipate the clients' needs," he explains. 

"A lot of times there is nothing going on in our industry and when something happens, we have to react," he adds. "So, having patience and being able to stay focused and kind of remember why you're there are some really good attributes." 

"Anytime I can make it home safe and my clients, that's a positive." 

A typical day for Elijah includes real-world elements, such as problem-solving, logistics, planning, walking around and driving, which he also teaches to those who are training to become a bodyguard.

He says landing his first high profiled client was a rigorous process but it just so happened at the right place at the right time. He then realized this is an area he could excel in. His next move was then heading out to actively educate different clients on why they needed to hire security. After his first client, Elijah learned how to communicate with others and started helping them out as well.

Protecting rapper 50 Cent 

Elijah says he can't poke too much into the lifestyle's of his clients because he wants to protect their confidentiality and the relationship he has built with them, which is understandable.

However, he quickly discussed rapper and Power star 50 Cent. He recalls 50's unfortunate situation back when the rapper was shot nine times. This pushed 50 into the limelight before his debut album Get Rich Or Die Trying even came out in 2003. 

While 50 focused on the music aspect, it was Elijah and his team who handled the rapper's security services and focused on 50's safety so he could make his music. 

"It was a very challenging time in that period there, but he [50 Cent] went on to sell 10 million copies of his first album and again went on to have a very successful career, so I think we did our part," Elijah explains.

The man outside of the job

It's no secret that Elijah is a very busy man, so busy that I'm thankful he even had an hour to spare for this interview. 

Elijah recalls one of his challenging times when he had to take clients to South Africa where there was a terrorism stakeout. 

Seems dangerous, right? 

Does Elijah actually take risks when he's not on duty and what does he do during his spare time?

Sometimes it takes awhile for him to slow down, pause and just do things for himself, he says. Jazz and classical music are some of his favorites because he loves listening to music without words, so he can kick back and relax. Elijah also loves reading and he started hiking and rock climbing. 

He tells a quick story of one recent hiking adventure of when he was in Colorado and the park ranger told him if he stayed after dark, he would be able to see all of the stars which was up a cliff. So, he stayed till dark and viewed the stars but then he had to go back down the cliff alone and in the pitch dark.

He has also traveled around the world five times and has touched every continent except Antarctica.  

He has had the pleasure of capturing some amazing photos while documenting his world travel experiences, and recently launched a website called where he hosts the photos. The proceeds from the site go towards purchasing cameras for inner city youth to equip them with a means to a creative outlet. 

Experience fulfillment by giving back

Elijah attributes part of his success to growing up with a very close family unit. He was close to his mother and grandparents who he says keeps him straight. There's a lot of pressure that comes along with being a bodyguard. Elijah says he likes talking to his mother, the woman who empowers him. 

Elijah also loves giving back and says it feels natural to him.

"I see all the time, people that are 'successful' or have a lot of money or a lot of fame and they're not happy," he says. 

"And, if I can look at their lives, because again, I observe it from a different point of view then the people who are usually in their immediate circle, part of the thing is they don't feel fulfilled. And, you won't get fulfilled from buying things or spending money." 

"I think people find fulfillment from helping others, and I think anybody would want to help somebody if they sat down long enough and thought about it. So I just say, "hey, what can I do to help somebody," and how can I tie that into things I do everyday so it doesn't feel like work." 

Misrepresentations of a bodyguard

When I asked Elijah, "what are some of the misrepresentations of being a bodyguard?" he laughed a little and said there were a lot.  

"People equate what I do as 'The Bodyguard' [movie] or they think the people who do this type of work are some of these big knuckle draggers who want to get into a fight, ex-football players, or they think I'm out of the special forces who wants to be a sniper or something like that," he explains. 

I confessed to Elijah and said before talking to him, I automatically thought of his job as being like Kevin Costner's role in The Bodyguard movie. 

"I get it, heard it before," he says laughing. 

Elijah says, sometimes clients have these unrealistic expectations as well. 

Interested in becoming a bodyguard? Here's some advice

Elijah says it's very important to know the business side of things. This means, taking business courses or partnering with somebody who you trust and who's good at the business part. 

He also explains how many people assume a bodyguard typically jumps infront of bullets, but that's not what Elijah and his team does. Their job is to make it so their clients don't end up in a situation, plus he's protecting their brand. 

"It's never one thing, it's always a series of things that lead up to an event, an occurrence or an altercation and being able to identify those things," he says. 

Open communication with clients is vital and making sure the client can go about their day, smoothly with little intrusion as possible. They have to know what the client considers an intrusion so they can help avoid it.  

Also, Elijah has all of this behind-the-scenes access with celebrities because he knows how to be a fly on the wall.

People always want to know certain things about celebrities and of course, they will automatically assume bodyguards may know some gossip, being that they're constantly around. But, Elijah is very tight-lipped and says bodyguards have to learn to keep their mouths shut. A celebrity has to feel comfortable knowing, for example, the bodyguard won't just pull out their cellphone and take a video of a secret project and post it on Instagram. 

"The minute someone thinks their trust or privacy is violated or they get the impression, then they'll just move on to someone else," he explains. "That word will spread to other people in the industry that you can't be trusted."

Elijah also says, "Make sure you understand what it is you're getting into."

He advises researching the security/bodyguard field because many people wind up saying, "oh wait, this isn't what I thought."

You have to put your best foot forward, Elijah says, and if you come off as just wanting to be a celebrity too, you won't last long in the security business because people will see right though that. 

"This is a tough industry to get into, but once you're in, you're in," he says. "Once you have a good name, that good name can carry you to places inside the industry." 

"However, you can also get blackballed in this industry. So if you get your name sullied then people just don't want to take the chance, they don't want to take the risk," Elijah advises. "Don't do things that will get you ostracized in the industry." 

"Some people see the glitz and glamour side of it, so they see exotic locations, or they see the private jets, or they see access to the award shows, and all of that is cool."

Elijah further explains, "The work is the stuff that doesn't get publicized... that's the extremely long hours, and it's the extended long periods away from your family, and it's the not knowing what your schedule is and it's the doing a task over and over again and that might be a very monumental task but not receiving any type of "thanks" for that task. And, that's the job."

Follow Elijah on Instagram and Twitter.

Check out his bodyguard blog for a glimpse of what it's like behind-the-scenes. 

DID YOU KNOW: Elijah also made an appearance in Usher's "Confessions" video.

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