16th October 2016, 11:15 pm
But his toughest gig was not on the battlefield — it was guarding estranged Hollywood couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
Mark, known by his nickname, Billy, was their eyes and ears for 18 months and became so close to their children, he reckons he was their unofficial father.
Now he is entering the world of showbiz as a new instructor for Channel 4’s “SAS: Who Dares Wins,” which is back tonight.
He joins Anthony Middleton, Jason Fox and Matthew Ollerton to put 25 civilians through an SAS selection test in the Ecuadorian jungle.
It’s not for the faint-hearted, and one thing is for certain: Brad Pitt should not apply.
Billy, 51, says, “Brad wouldn’t last long because he wouldn’t have any cream to put on his face. It would be too sweaty and uncomfortable for him. He’s too pretty! But Angie could do it. She’d probably be the only one with balls at the end. She would stick it out.”
Channel 4 signed Billy — who is also an MBE — after being impressed by his credentials.
His depth of experience also landed him the gig with Brangelina.
Billy admits, “I was Brad and Angelina’s head of security. The military set me up perfectly for what I did with them. The biggest concern for them was the kidnapping of the kids, it’s all about money.”
Working with the Hollywood stars meant Billy grew close to the couple’s six children — Maddox, Pax, Zahara, Shiloh, Knox and Vivienne — and he was one of the few staff members they trusted to be around the family.
He recalls, “Angie and Brad are very worried about who goes near their children. It was clear from the start we had a great chemistry and they trusted me with the kids. We got very close, I was living with them all the time. I could take the kids anywhere I wanted to on my own,” he continued. “No one else was allowed to do that. Even when I wanted to bring in extra people, they wouldn’t let any of those near the kids. They could look out for them from a distance but they couldn’t physically touch them. I took them swimming. I fathered them, basically.”
Stalkers were another big issue for the A-listers.
Billy recalls one particularly hairy incident involving Angelina.
He explains, “We had stalkers in Chicago and New York which I had to deal with. Angie was filming in a crowd and everyone’s got smiles on their faces except for one guy. He looked angry. A few days later, we were coming off set and this guy came running down the road with photos to be signed. Angie wanted to get out of the vehicle and do it but I said no. I went and got the photos and took them to her. She was like, ‘Wow, these are personal photos.’ The guy ran off, then reappeared days later near the hotel, so I got him arrested,” he added.
“He’d been following Angie all over the States. To me, it was a John Lennon classic,” Billingham continued. “Whenever she was on her own in pictures, he was smiling. Then whenever she was with Brad, he had this angry look on his face.”
Billy reveals he was more worried about people attacking Brad than Angelina, saying, “People love her but hate him. You have to figure out a way of protecting them from all that. It was challenging, but interesting.”
Protecting celebrities from crazed fans requires careful planning, but Billy found he also had to protect their image too, even carrying spare clothes for his charges in case theirs got stained or crumpled.
He says, “It’s not so much about the physical side, but more about the social side. I had to make sure their image was protected, that they were dressed properly and not doing silly things that could be caught on camera.”
The task was harder than it sounds, according to Billy, who says Brad and Angelina lacked some very basic social skills.
He explains, “What surprised me was their low level of common sense. I found it crazy when they would ask me questions like, ‘How do I go down to that bar?’ and ‘What do I need to do to get there?’ They’re not stupid, but because of the world they live in, they just haven’t done something like that for so long. I found that weird.”
As well as looking out for would-be stalkers, assassins and kidnappers, Billy had fun with the couple, especially joker Brad.
He says, “Once, it was Angie’s birthday and we were all sitting in an Audi Q7. I hadn’t been working with them long and suddenly Brad has locked the doors and farted and we couldn’t get out.”
Yet while he spent time with Brad and Angelina’s children, divorced Billy found the job kept him away from his own six children, so he had to quit.
He says with a shrug, “I never had a private life. I was exhausted. I lost direction in my own family life. In 17 months I was only home for six weeks. It was just too full-on. I still do bits and pieces for Brad and Angie. She recently went into Iraq for the UN and I looked after her beforehand, got her ready for it and looked after Maddox when she went in.”
Angelina shocked the world last month when she filed for divorce from Brad, ending their 12-year relationship.
Loyal Billy — who has also looked after Russell Crowe, Sean Penn, Tom Cruise and Kate Moss — says he was just as shocked by the split as everyone else.
Now he is focusing on becoming a star himself.
Season 1 of “Who Dares Wins” was a big hit for Channel 4 last year and Billy believes the new one will be just as good.
He says, “I have to take my hat off to the guys for having the balls to do it. Some performed pretty bloody well out there. The most important ingredient for any SAS soldier is his mental capacity. It’s not about your image or shape, it’s whether you can think and operate under pressure. It’s so important to know if a guy is someone you can work with … a team player and dependable. It doesn’t mean you want to go drinking with him, but when the s— hits the fan, you know you can trust him with your life.”
Brangelina's British ex-bodyguard reveals how he 'was basically a father’ to their children, how the A-list couple's biggest fear was 'the kidnapping of the kids' and how 'people love her but hate him'
- Mark Billingham says couple feared children would be held for ransom
- Decorated former British Army soldier spent 18 months as security head
- He has spoken of security measures and numerous run-ins with stalkers
A former bodyguard for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie revealed today that the estranged couple feared their children would be kidnapped and held for ransom.
Mark Billingham, a decorated former British Army soldier from Walsall, spent nearly 18 months as head of security for the Mr & Mrs Smith stars and their six children.
According to The Sun journalist Jen Pharo, Mr Billingham said: 'The biggest concern for them was the kidnapping of the kids, it’s all about money.'
He added that the couple were extremely focused on protecting their six children - Maddox, 15, Pax, 12, Zahara, 11, Shiloh, ten, and twins Vivienne and Knox, eight.
Mr Billingham said Pitt, 52, and Jolie, 41, trusted him with the children so much that as he bonded with them, he 'could take the kids anywhere I wanted to on my own.'
He also said that the former power couple were constantly uneasy about who would go near their children, to the point that they were mindful of security professionals.
'Even when I wanted to bring in extra people, they wouldn’t let any of those near the kids,' he said.
The added guards 'could look out for them from a distance but they couldn’t physically touch them'.
Mr Billingham spent so much time around the children, he said he felt like he 'fathered them, basically.'
DailyMail.com has contacted spokesmen for both Pitt and Jolie. Representatives for Pitt have declined to comment.
Mr Billingham - who also has provided protection for Russell Crowe, Sean Penn and Tom Cruise - said he spent much of his time keeping Pitt and Jolie protected from stalkers.
He recalled a chilling situation that even reminded him of the murder of John Lennon in December 1980 at the hands of crazed fan Mark David Chapman.
'Angie was filming in a crowd and everyone’s got smiles on their faces except for one guy: He looked angry,' Mr Billingham said to The Sun.
'A few days later we were coming off set and this guy came running down the road with photos to be signed.
The security guard said that Jolie wanted to get out of the vehicle to do it but he denied her and instead got the photos himself and took them to her.
After seeing them, he said she was surprised how personal the snaps were.
Mr Billingham said when he confronted the man, 'the guy ran off - [but] then reappeared days later near the hotel - so I [had] him arrested.'
He later learned that the man had been 'following Angie all over the states.'
Mr Billingham also explained to The Sun that the Fight Club star needed more protection than the Maleficent beauty.
'People love her but hate him,' he said. 'You have to figure out a way of protecting them from all that. It was challenging, but interesting.”
Mr Billingham, who also has six children, said he eventually had to quit the job because he 'lost direction in [his] own family life' amid the endless hours keeping an eagle eye on the famous family.
'I never had a private life - I was exhausted,' he told The Sun, adding he still does occasional freelance work for the stars, who parted ways amid Jolie's filing for divorce from Pitt last month.Mr Billingham said: 'In 17 months, I was only home for six weeks - it was just too full-on.'
Separately, Mr Billingham told The Times journalist Ben Machell how he operates, saying: ‘It's mostly word of mouth. I'll get a call from Angie.
‘She'll say, “Hey Billy, I've got this thing in Baghdad. Can you come and help me out?” “Yeah, no problem at all.”
‘I'll fly out to Jordan, meet her and the kids there, then take her to meet the UN. Just sort her out.’
He also spoke of lighter moments and that Pitt once played a practical joke, explaining: ‘It was Angie's birthday and we were all sitting in a frigging Audi Q7.
‘I hadn't been working with them long and suddenly Brad has locked the doors and farted and we couldn't get out. He won't have a problem with me telling you.’