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How Princess Diana's death turned bodyguard's son into an Olympic hopefulPosted on Fri, Nov 12, 2010 at 12:43 pm
by IDMA Editor
HE protected the world's most famous woman during her final weeks but Lee Sansum turned his back on being a bodyguard to the stars.
Lee was in St Tropez as minder to Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed as the lovers enjoyed a holiday amid a blaze of publicity. A few weeks later, they were dead after the car crash in a Paris underpass.
Dodi's terrified father Mohammed al-Fayed begged Lee to move to London to guard his family.
But he refused the offer and opted for a post on the then Harrods owner's estate in Scotland.
Then he left altogether to teach martial arts to local children, including his son. Now Damon, 23, is fighting for a place at the London Olympics.
Lee, 48, said: "I am incredibly proud of Damon and everything he has achieved but, in a way, neither of us would be where we are now if it wasn't for what happened to Diana.
"After the accident, Mohammed al-Fayed asked me to move to London with Damon to look after the family down there.
"He was even offering to put Damon through private school but after everything, I just didn't want that for him.
"I wanted him to have as a normal a life as possible." Damon was 11 when his dad - who also guarded Sylvester Stallone - first introduced him to martial arts in the living room of their Sutherland home.
He has gone on to become a champion kickboxer, winning several UK and European junior titles and clinching three senior world titles.
He has been picked from thousands of candidates in an X Factor-style martial arts competition to train for the 2012 Olympics.
And he is switching from kickboxing to taekwondo and moving from Forres, Morayshire, to the Olympic training village in Manchester in the hope of competing at the Games.
Watching Damon work his way towards securing a place on Team GB must reassure Lee that he made the right decision - although switching sports is no mean feat, even for a world champion.
Damon said: " There is a huge initiative going on at the moment to see if people can cross over disciplines in time for 2012.
"I have been doing kickboxing a long time.
"With the dad I have, I don't think it would ever have been any other way but it means it's a bit strange for me because the sports are quite different.
"And I am training harder than ever before, which is saying something, given I was working as a kickboxing instructor before I came down here.
"Still, I can see the impact it is having. "It is too early to say if I have a chance of making the Olympic team because I have only just started.
"But while people who have been doing the sport for a long time can only expect to improve by one per cent or so over the next couple of years, I can expect to improve a lot more, so we will just have to wait and see."
Former soldier Lee left the Military Police to go into personal security in the 1990s, spending four years working for Fayed.
The only reason he was not with the Di and Dodi in Paris was because of his work rota. His friend and fellow bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones was badly injured in the crash.
Lee said: "When they were killed, I had just come off duty and had come home for a couple of weeks.
"I had been away all summer so we were having a family barbecue and heard the news like most people did on the TV.
"It was difficult to take. Trevor was a very good friend of mine, we were really close so that was upsetting. e close protection teams are close knit, we are like family. Then there was Dodi, everyone forgets about Dodi.
"That was difficult because at that time, I had spent more time with the Fayed family than I had with my own.
"It was a real personal thing, especially after having been in St Tropez with Diana.
"We were used to seeing celebrities but even so Diana was the most famous woman in the world at the time.
"We weren't in awe, we just knew it was going to be hard work. She was such a down to earth person, though, she made everyone feel at ease.
"It was probably the best 10 days I had in that job because it was challenging but she was very appreciative and the boys, who were obviously a lot younger then, were really lovely."
It wasn't long after the accident Lee landed the job working in Scotland for Fayed.
He planned to work for the Egyptian for the rest of his life. He said: "I felt a bit like Magnum PI of the Highlands.
"I was a single parent to Damon at the time and just really enjoying being more settled."
But when Lee met his now wife Kate, he quit and moved to Forres with Damon to start a new life.
With black belts in jujitsu, karate and kickboxing, he had trained special forces and elite military police.
Starting the Sansum Black Belt Academy seemed obvious, especially as Damon was already showing promise.
Lee said: "I don't think when I first started teaching Damon that he even knew I could do martial arts.
"It was 1998, I was still working for Fayed and there just wasn't much else to do in the village where we lived.
"It wasn't long after that though we moved to Forres and I started up the academy."
There are now 14 Sansum Black Belt Academies across the Highlands and islands with an amazing reputation for producing martial arts champions. And Lee was inspired by the drive, determination and success of his son to train for the European Championships in 2008 - years after retiring from competitive fighting.
While Damon claimed the honours in the 85 kilo category, Lee took gold at 90 kilos.
Lee said: "I was inspired by what Damon was doing and competing together was a real highlight for me.
"I also fought in the World Championships last year at the age of 47 but that really is the last fight for me.
"I have relaunched my world championship programme, though.
"So I am currently training nine Scottish athletes for the 2012 championships."
And while Damon is gearing up for his Olympic bid, Lee has also started a new initiative to help former soldiers re-adjust to civvy street, in between occasional security consultancy work.
He said: "There are a lot of ex-servicemen out there with post traumatic stress and dealing with a lot of problems.
"But I find when they come to us, we have the mechanisms to help them and we understand where they are coming from because I have been there."