Interview: Mark Hamilton, security adviser to Paul McCartney
By lie Thomas
SIR PAUL McCartney has caused a stir in Mark Hamilton’s office in Leith. The head of Edinburgh private security firm G4S Events had been due to arrive in New York at 15:30 the next day to prepare for McCartney’s two gigs at Citi Field, the home of US baseball team the New York Mets.
But now the former Beatle wants Hamilton in the Big Apple early to accompany him to an interview on the Letterman Show on Wednesday night. Hamilton’s assistant is desperately trying to work out a new schedule which will allow him to meet all of his commitments over the next 24 hours, including co-ordinating security for the British golf open championships at Turnberry and dropping in on Bruce Springsteen at Hampden Park that evening.
But Hamilton, 53, is unruffled by this latest turn of events. After setting up his own events security firm, Rock Steady, in Edinburgh nearly 30 years ago, he is used to the challenges thrown up by the demanding entertainment industry. Rock Steady was sold to London Stock Exchange-listed G4S in what is believed to have been a multi-million-pound deal last year, but Hamilton continues to work with his old clients after agreeing to manage a new events operation for G4S.
This year will mark the 20th anniversary of Hamilton’s working relationship with McCartney, for whom he acts as head of security. What sounds like a rock’n'roll job to outsiders has become run of the mill to him. Born and bred in Gorgie and now a resident of Musselburgh, Hamilton’s smart but ordinary appearance in a bright tie and shirt offers no clues of his celebrity-packed lifestyle.
It is only after passing through the unassuming blue front door of the G4S Events office on Constitution Street that the true nature of his profession becomes clear. The rich burgundy walls house a collection of entertainment memorabilia that would stop any music fan in their tracks.
Among the mementoes from Hamilton’s three decades in the business are a framed poster and drum sticks from Led Zeppelin’s much-hyped comeback concerts at the O2 arena in December 2007 and a signed poster from Canadian soft rock star Celine Dion.
True to the discreet nature of his profession, Hamilton will not give much away about the personal lives of his clients, saying only of McCartney that he is an “absolute professional” who “cares deeply” about the safety and welfare of fans at his concerts. But as he chats about the health of the private security industry, dropping names such as Lady Gaga and celebrity events organiser Harvey Goldsmith, it quickly becomes clear that Hamilton is among the Edinburgh business community’s best-kept secrets.
While other industries are fighting to stay afloat during the recession, Hamilton argues that events security, which was only born as an industry 30 years ago, is going from strength to strength.
Although the pressure on UK households is now greater than ever, Hamilton says that the live music industry is experiencing a revival, resulting in lucrative contracts for G4S Events, which provides stewards and crowd management expertise. Hamilton says that live concerts, once thought to be in terminal decline, have been the unexpected beneficiaries of the music download generation. With bands struggling to make the same profits from downloads as they did through the sale of CDs, more and more acts are turning back to the stage and fans appear to be lapping it up.
“People don’t have anything tangible to hold on to when they download to their iPod,” says Hamilton. “So they really want to experience that live show and see the band and performer in the flesh. It has really worked out quite well for us, it has given us some resilience against the recession.”
Although he admits that many of the tickets for this year’s festival season were sold last year before the recession hit, Hamilton says he is busier than ever. This summer, G4S Events will provide security for 250 venues in the UK alone. So far this year, the roll call includes T in The Park, which Hamilton has worked at for 16 years, Oasis at Murrayfield and Take That’s concerts at Hampden Park.
“Obviously this year a lot of the tickets had already been sold in 2008, so there is a little bit of a caveat to that but at the moment it is still looking quite healthy,” he says.
Rock Steady contributed revenues of £10.5m to the G4S Group after its acquisition in March last year, and Hamilton says the events business has since signed a number of significant contracts, including a five-year deal with the SECC in Glasgow and Rangers Football Club. The acquisition by G4S, which offers a diverse range of services from landmine clearance to cash transportation, has also helped Hamilton break new ground outside the entertainment and sports industry. Earlier this year, he provided security for the meeting of G20 finance ministers in Sussex and the full G20 summit hosted by Gordon Brown in the London Docklands.
“The G20 Summit was not something we really could have coped with before because it required a certain degree of specialist knowledge, particularly around risk management and the protection of ministers of state, which is not something Rock Steady was really involved in. We did some things like that but not at that level.”
Hamilton is hoping his decades of experience at football matches – Rock Steady was the first company to provide private security at a football match at Ibrox in the late eighties – will also put G4S Events in the running for the 2010 football World Cup. Contracts are under negotiation for the event in South Africa and Hamilton is hopeful he will receive a positive telephone call from Cape Town shortly.
He says: “G4S has quite a significant presence in South Africa. They (the organisers] are still considering their options at the moment. Various people have been appointed but we’re still in the running for something.”
Although the financials of last year’s takeover remain shrouded in secrecy, Hamilton and his wife Sylvia, who held a minority stake in Rock Steady, are understood to have done very well from the deal. So how has he found the transition from owning and managing his own company to working for a global giant which last year boasted a turnover of £5,942.9m and employs 585,000 people? G4S was formed out of the merger in 2004 of Securicor and Group 4 Falck’s security business.
Hamilton tries his best to appear comfortable with the new arrangement under which he reports to Doug Hewitson, managing director of G4S Security Services in the UK. He says: “The change has never been a problem for me. I never thought of myself of not being answerable to somebody. I had two people to answer to every day: my customers and their customers.”
However, he is keen to stress that G4S Events is not a division but a business in its own right. “The UK business’s headquarters is in Sutton (in Surrey], the headquarters of the events business is here in Edinburgh.”
He similarly makes it perfectly plain that Edinburgh is not likely to lose another thriving business any time soon, categorically ruling out a relocation south of the Border.
“I’m thankful I’m only there (at the G4S UK headquarters in Sutton] on the odd occasion. Somebody said to me are you going to move down south then? I replied that I have resisted that for my entire life.
“When I started Rock Steady, Harvey Goldsmith said to me: ‘Why don’t you start an office in London?’ I said: ‘Why would I want to move down to London? I was born and brought up in Edinburgh.’”