'Mohammed Al Fayed was a great boss': councillor reflects on army life, Brunei jungles and protecting celebs

Coun Fishwick was elected to the Horbury and South Ossett ward in May.
Coun Fishwick was elected to the Horbury and South Ossett ward in May.

He's served with the Armed Forces all over the world, and looked after some of the world's most famous people.

At 44 years of age, Simon Fishwick has seen and done more than most people do in a lifetime.

Conversations with customers led to him standing as a local election candidate.

Conversations with customers led to him standing as a local election candidate.

These days, he leads a quieter life, selling fruit and veg out of his grocery store and representing the people of Horbury and South Ossett, having been elected as a Conservative councillor for the first time in May.

But the experiences and skills learned during his military years remain with him, and now inform his politics.

Travels in parts of the world as varied as the snowy climate of Norway above the Arctic Circle and the steaming jungles of Brunei have made him particularly fervent about global warming.

"We're still taking climate change for granted here in the UK," Coun Fishwick says, chatting outside a coffee shop on a June day in Wakefield that's gone from nine degrees to 22 in just a few hours.

Coun Fishwick took over Earnshaw's grocery in Horbury from Norman Earnshaw (left) in 2017.

Coun Fishwick took over Earnshaw's grocery in Horbury from Norman Earnshaw (left) in 2017.

"We're cut off from the extremes that I've seen in other places. We're banging the right drum, but we're not doing enough yet.

"I recycle absolutely everything I can at my shop, and my staff will tell you I'm always turning off the lights and doing as few trips in the van as I possibly can. I don't like buying things off the internet. If I can get what I want locally, I'll do that. If I can do my bit, and everyone else does, we can make a difference."

The former soldier-turned-bodyguard says that the public perception of jungles, predominantly informed by reality TV, is wide of the mark.

"You watch 'I’m a Celebrity' and it’s nothing like that," the father-of-one says.

'Top boss': Working for Mohammed Al Fayed for two years was "fantastic", he says.

'Top boss': Working for Mohammed Al Fayed for two years was "fantastic", he says.

"The jungle we went through in Brunei had never been seen by humans before.

"You’re cutting away all the grassland and the groves and you’re going where no man has ever gone before."

After leaving the army, he ran a private security venture in war-torn Iraq, before returning to the UK and landing on the payroll of Mohammed Al Fayed.

Between 2007 and 2009, Coun Fishwick was one man in two teams of 24 with the job of protecting the Harrods owner's family.

Travels abroad has given Coun Fishwick a fervent perspective on climate change.

Travels abroad has given Coun Fishwick a fervent perspective on climate change.

But what was he like to work for?

"He was a fantastic boss," Coun Fishwick replies without hesitation.

"He was exceptionally polite. He looked after you very well. You were considered one of the family.

"From the moment you left your front door in the morning to the time you got to work, which was often Park Lane because he owns most of that, you were completely looked after.

"But you had to make sure you were on your game, and if you had a military background as I did, those credentials helped."

A stringent selection process, which included a fitness test with a boxer and a writing test featuring calligraphy, was required to get the job.

"Mr Fayed looked after you like you were family". The eccentric Harrods owner accused the Royal Family of involvement in his son's death in 1997.

"Mr Fayed looked after you like you were family". The eccentric Harrods owner accused the Royal Family of involvement in his son's death in 1997.

Fayed, who was also owner of Fulham Football Club for nearly two decades, once created front page headlines with his theories about the death of Princess Diana and her boyfriend, his son Dodi, in 1997.

A 2008 inquest verdict unequivocally ruled out any Royal Family or MI5 involvement in the crash, which had been the suggestion put forward by the grieving Fayed himself.

"At the time (I was working for him), he was in the public eye a lot because of the Dodi and Diana case," Coun Fishwick recalls.

"There was no serious threats on his life or anything like that, but we had a lot of surveillance to do."

Having left that role, Coun Fishwick took over Earnshaw's grocery shop in Horbury in 2017, where everyday conversations with his broad customer base led to him standing as a candidate in the local elections this year.

Although elected as a Conservative, he says he is keen to reach out across political lines wherever he can and has backed the ruling Labour group's motion on declaring a climate change emergency.

Besides this, he says the council's priorities should be to do more for Wakefield's younger generation, "because they are the future", and help for the elderly, "because they've done their bit and we need to say 'thank you' to them for that".

And he admits to being taken aback by the heated exchanges in the council chamber he's witnessed already.

"The council meeting last week took me back to having a military lecture. Being in the military you’re expected to be courteous, and listen to people before you start speaking.

"All that shouting and talking over people and arguing back, I didn't like that.

"Afterwards you come out and everyone’s shaking hands, and I’m thinking, “Hang on, this is all a bit of a pantomime”.

"For me it's not about party politics. It's about what's right for the people of Horbury and South Ossett and for the people of this city."

A final reflection is made on his fellow army veterans, a group he wants to see given more help.

“When you leave the army you lose that tight-knit unit - that family that you’ve had," he says.

"They need help being reintegrated back into society and to be kept in touch with those people they're so close to.

"They need that, not just when they leave, but for the rest of their time."

Life as a local councillor might pale in comparison to travelling the world and keeping celebrities safe, but you sense Simon Fishwick is taking this next chapter in his life as seriously as any that's gone before.

Local Democracy Reporting Service

Political shenanigans: Coun Fishwick admits to being surprised by the "pantomime" nature of council meetings.

Political shenanigans: Coun Fishwick admits to being surprised by the "pantomime" nature of council meetings.