Harlan V. Austin has 20 years of field experience as a Close Protection Operative/Bodyguard, seven years of which he served as Director of Security Services for Paisley Park Productions. Foremost in his duties was assuring the safety and welfare of the musical artist Prince, as well as various celebrities with whom Prince collaborated or associated with…
Hi Harlan, first of all, thanks for conducting an interview with us!
Let us ask you our first question right away: Were you a Prince fan when you started working for him? Can you tell us how you got the job at the time?
To be honest, at that time, I was a fan of EWF, Cameo, Ohio Players and Slave. I was certainly aware of Prince, and appreciated his music–he’d made “1999” just before I started working with him, and of course, after “Purple Rain” everybody was aware of him. I certainly became a fan.
I got the gig with Prince because Brown Mark (his bass player) was one of my best friends. I went to a lot of rehearsals and met Big Chick who was Prince’s bodyguard at the time, he and I became friends. He asked me “ever think about being a bodyguard?” I was a freshman in college, and told him that I wanted to play pro football.
Big Chick laughed at me and said, “you’re too small!” At that time, I was 5’11, 200 pounds. My plans were to finish my college education. He said, “you have all the time in the world to finish school.” Well, they went off on the 1999 Tour, and while they were gone, I started to get serious about weight lifting and bodybuilding. When they returned six months later, I was 215 pounds of muscle. “You really DO want the job,” Big Chick said to me…and at age 21, I became part of Prince’s entourage. It was a pretty exciting job for a young guy. The money was pretty good, but mostly it was traveling all over the world, meeting celebrities and of course, my friends all thought I had the greatest job.
How was it to experience the last Revolution concert in Japan 86? I heard it was very emotional and guitar strings snapped during the concert. Can you share a little bit from that day?
Nobody in Prince’s entourage knew it was going to be the Revolution’s last concert. We were all so tired and ready to go home. To be honest, I don’t know about guitar strings snapping. My job wasn’t so much to watch the performance, but rather observe the crowd. For an interesting and rather bizarre story about the trip home, visit www.trueprincestories.com (“Where’s The Rolex?”).
Of course, I was sorry to see the band break up–Brown Mark, Wendy and Lisa, Matt and Bobby were my first experience working with a band, and they were like family. We’d all gotten pretty close traveling together.
How does an average day working for Prince look like, or as a protective in general?
A “typical day” — well, let’s start with the concert. Prince would do a show, and right when he’d finish, I’d take off to do my advance work–securing the hotel for his arrival, making sure there weren’t any fans there, finding an inconspicuous way for him to enter, checking to see that the room was set up with everything he needed–he had particular things that had to be in place for his arrival. Once he arrived to his room, we would have dinner and would watch the tapes of his shows. He watches every single show–always looking for ways to strengthen his performance. Then I’d go do advance work to find a club where he could do a surprise appearance and perform some more.
We often wouldn’t leave a venue until 4:00 a.m. I’d get about 3 hours of sleep, and be up and on an 8:00 a.m. flight to the next city to do my advance work–securing the hotel, making transportation arrangements and planning the safest travel routes. Prince would arrive around noon, and I’d pick him up at the airport (limousine, of course) and get him safely into the hotel and to his room. He was never registered under “Prince” he had a secret name so that people who knew he was in town wouldn’t call hotels trying to find him. He’d sleep, shop, or relax and I would get a little rest, too. But there would be more advance work in order to get him from the hotel to the sound check at the venue and then he’d do a show at 8:00. We’d do this 5-6 days a week. A lot of people who want to get into this business think that it’s all a big party all the time–that’s the perception. I created www.bodyguardcareers.com to help guys who want to get into this business understand what really is expected of a bodyguard for celebrities or executives. I can tell you that the guys who thought they were celebrities didn’t last in Prince’s entourage.
You need to protect your client as a job. Has it ever occurred you needed to step in, when your client (Prince) wanted to do something, and that you needed to advise him not to do it? Could you share a story when this occurred?
I think it was July 1984, Prince wanted to see Michael Jackson perform in a stadium in Texas. We had made special arrangements to be seated on some scaffolding above the crowd. We waited until the lights were down in the stadium, then quietly walked in. Very much on the down-low, so as not to attract any unwanted attention. Well, towards the end of the concert, just prior to the lights going up, we started to leave and a girl spotted Prince and recognized him. We saw that she was probably going to start to make a big deal, and Big Chick whispered to Prince “whatever you do, DO NOT run…” well, he panicked and started to run. Which drew all kinds of attention, and let me tell you, it was a stadium with about 70,000 people and we had a terrible time trying to get him out. Girls went crazy. Crazed fans in a crowd will try to grab hair, or clothing, or whatever they can get their hands on. It turned into a mob scene, and even with 6 bodyguards, we had difficulty getting him out unharmed.
Needless to say, Prince never ran again.
Bootlegging can be a major problem for a musician, are there any tactics or any special procedures you need to take to prevent illegal recording?
Bootlegging was happening then, and of course it is still going on. To be honest, my primary job was to protect Prince and his entourage. We would coordinate with the venue’s “house security” regarding video cameras or tape recorders. Of course, if we happened to see someone with a recording device, we would either try to confiscate it ourselves, or alert the venue’s security staff.
Reported recently, Prince disapproves of having his photo taken in public. Have you ever had to confront a fan or an overzealous photographer about invading his privacy?
Yeah, he doesn’t really like having his picture taken. It is something that is just one of his personal preferences. Of course, it’s hard when you’re in the public eye. It is just a wearisome part of being a celebrity–privacy sort of goes out the window. I remember one time in Los Angeles, we were at the Grammy’s, and went to Carlos & Charlie’s afterwards. We went to leave, and some photographers snapped some pics. Big Chick told me to confiscate the film. These were paparazzi, and I knew it was going to be a bad deal, so I said “no.” It was not something I said very often, but I knew these pro photogs, who would probably sell their grandmas to hang onto that film would have the law on their side. So Big Gib and Wally were sent to snatch the film. Thank goodness I said no. As I suspected, our boys had to be bailed out of jail the next morning.
Under what circumstances would you draw your weapon to protect a celebrity client? Any close calls in the past you remember?
My feeling is that if I have to draw my weapon, I’ve failed at my job. Drawing a firearm is the absolute LAST resort, because if it gets to that point, it means I intend to use it, and it could cost someone their life. It’s something you should never have to do. Really, physical force of any kind should not have to be used. In my consulting business, I advise potential bodyguards that “size doesn’t matter” to a certain degree. It’s the perceived threat due to your size, but ultimately you need to have outstanding negotiation skills and treat people respectfully in order to diffuse any situations.
Do you remember how Greg Brooks and Wally Safford became dancers? Why did Prince pick them out of the bodyguards?
They could dance better than Gilbert and me?! I really have no idea how Wally and Greg became dancers. I know Prince liked them a great deal.
Was there a difference between fans from different countries? Are some more ‘aggressive’? Can you say something about that in general?
Absolutely, fans are different all over the world. I found that the Asian fans made my job so easy. They would remain seated, and politely clap–it was almost like being at an opera concert.
The most difficult concerts were in the States. That was where we’d have problems: fights, guns, bomb threats. European audiences were somewhere in the middle, but seemed to have the most appreciation for music. I remember in the Netherlands Prince did a show where 70,000 fans all had lighters, and would flick them to the beat of the music. That was really something to see.
Do you have a favorite Prince era? Maybe a film, a tour or just everyday protection?
Purple Rain — you always remember your first! That was the biggest and most exciting tour. It was a massive production, and such a spectacle. I am really grateful for the time I had with Prince. I was constantly awed by how very hard that man worked. He never became complacent. His work ethic influenced me a great deal and I feel like he helped teach me to be successful. I also made a lot of wonderful friends and business contacts.
After all these years, I am still in touch with a lot of people who worked on that tour. Purple Rain was a kind of phenomenon and I think it really cast a spell on all of us who were involved.
About Harlan V. Austin (Aka Hucky)…
Harlan V. Austin has acquired over 20 years of field experience as a Close Protection Operative/Bodyguard, seven years of which he served as Director of Security Services for Paisley Park Productions. Foremost in his duties at Paisley Park was assuring the safety and welfare of the musical artist Prince, as well as celebrities with whom Prince collaborated or associated with – Lenny Kravitz, Madonna, Morris Day, Sheena Easton, Chris Rock and Kim Basinger to name a few.
Over the years, Mr. Austin has served as a Close Protection Operative (CPO) to clients attending high-profile events including the American Music Awards, the Grammy Awards, the Academy Awards, the NBA All-Star Weekend, and various film premieres. Past clients include local political figures, foreign dignitaries, and celebrities ranging from musicians to actors to sports personalities.
The recent Family Jamm Benefit Concert in Los Angeles was a favorite protective assignment in which Mr. Austin assembled a team of top-notch CPO’s to safeguard such luminaries as Patti LaBelle, Sheila E., Carmen Elektra, and Nicole Ari Parker.
Mr. Austin’s CPO career has led to worldwide travels, including security details in Europe, Mexico, North and South America, Asia, Scandinavia, and the Caribbean. He has extensive training in the Martial Arts and is seasoned in controlling armed and unarmed persons. He is small arms qualified, and is certified in basic life support procedures such as advanced first aid, and CPR. Mr. Austin is also a member of ASIS (American Society for Industrial Security.