Saturday, July 28, 2007

Amorous males beware


IN NOVEMBER last year, during a food festival in Chiang Mai, a drunken Thai man approached Miss Universe 2005 Natalie Glebova. The youth shook her hand and tried to kiss it.

Enter the bodyguard. Instantly, Noppawan Pookkesorn, who was standing behind Glebova, delivered a karate chop to disengage the amorous man’s grip on her client.

“The man froze and realised that what he did was not good,” recalled Noppawan.

Later, Glebova thanked her bodyguard.

It was all in a day’s work for the 34-year-old Thai woman who has been responsible for Glebova’s personal safety since the 26-year-old Canadian made Thailand her home in August 2006.

It is rare for the bodyguard to karate chop overzealous fans of the beauty queen, who won the hearts of Thais during the Miss Universe 2005 pageant in Bangkok when she greeted the audience with a wai (a respectful Thai greeting). Most of the time, Noppawan’s task is to politely tell Glebova’s fans not to be too obtrusive.

Occasionally, Noppawan has to protect her client from fans – mostly male who, in the words of the bodyguard, “probably want to boast that they’ve touched Miss Universe” – trying to grope Glebova while taking a photograph with her.

But the bodyguard does the fending off gently as she does not want to give the public the impression that the beauty queen employed a minder who is tough and rough.

Early last year, Thai beer brewer, Singha Corp, headhunted Noppawan to be the 24-hour bodyguard of Glebova, who is the brewing company’s corporate brand ambassador.

The former policewoman’s resume is impressive.

Four years ago, Noppawan, a policewoman with the rank of captain, who worked as a nurse at the Police General Hospital in Bangkok, was selected to undergo three months' training to guard foreign dignitaries attending the Apec 2003 meeting in Thailand.

Her assignment was to guard Janette, the wife of Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

And in 2005, she was selected to protect another Australian, Miss Universe 2004 Jennifer Hawkins, who was in Bangkok to crown the next Miss Universe.

Comparing her experience with the two Australians, Noppawan says guarding the beauty queen was more relaxing as she only had to protect Hawkins from fans.

“It was more formal with Janette, as the wife of a Prime Minister could face potential physical threats,” she said.

When Glebova arrived in Bangkok in August, 2006 to make Thailand her home, Noppawan lived with her. And within two months, they became more like housemates.

“After my official duty protecting Natalie, we would talk like friends,” she says. “It was mostly girl talk, such as falling in love during high school.

“Natalie is very nice. She is like a Thai as she has a very soft heart and she is so gentle.”

Any secrets to share about Natalie?

“Yes, but it is top secret!” says the bodyguard, who is also Glebova’s executive assistant. She’s also responsible for the beauty queen’s appointments. “I was trained to keep secret what I learn about the VIPs I keep watch over.”

What about Paradorn Srichaphan, Thailand’s famous tennis player?

Noppawan recalled the first time Glebova met the 28-year-old tennis ace nicknamed Super Ball.

It was when the two Singha brand ambassadors visited children affected by HIV at Wat Prabatr Nampu in Saraburi, Thailand, late last year.

“When we returned from the function, I could see in Natalie’s eyes that she had a good impression of him,” says the bodyguard, who only revealed such intimate information as the celebrity couple had announced their engagement in April.

The glamour of guarding a celebrity has rubbed off on Noppawan. She has been featured in Thai newspapers, magazines and television shows, as the public is curious about the story of a nurse who became the bodyguard of Miss Universe 2005.

The woman, who has travelled to Hong Kong, Australia and Russia to guard Glebova, is in midst of writing a pocketbook in Thai on her life.

“Are you famous?” I asked. With a disarming smile, the bodyguard says, “I don’t think so.”

(Published in The Star on July 28, 2007. Photography courtesy of The Nation)