Don’t be fooled by Christi Maherry’s appearance. She’s a pretty blonde with a slightly self-effacing manner. But if the need arises, she could inflict serious injury that would leave you reeling – if you ever recovered enough to reel. Maherry, 46, used to be an expert in unarmed combat in a special VIP protection unit, guarding the likes of Nelson Mandela and Prince Philip, or taking tea at the White House. She’s still in security, but now concentrates on the cyber kind as the MD of her own company, LAWtrust.
Maherry laughs off the idea that she grew up wanting to be a bodyguard, but she always loved security and applied to National Intelligence when they ran a recruitment drive. “I went there a week after my 18th birthday. I was so young and naive,” she remembers. “I moved from Durban to Pretoria and it was such a huge culture shock for me that every weekend I went home.”
Women were not allowed to join the VIP Protection Unit until Maherry wrote a motivation for why they should be included, and became the first woman on the team. “There was a lot of resentment from the men,” she says.
“I always believe that anything men can do, women can do better. Now with hindsight, I know that women still do things better, but men can pick it up too.” She smiles as she says it, but you know she’s serious.
Maherry would always question orders if they didn’t make sense to her, but she was soon knocked into line. If she lagged behind the team on training runs, the men were made to do pushups until she caught up. “I learned very valuable lessons about loyalty and team work,” she says. “We didn’t do James Bond stuff and I know nothing about spying, but it was quite exciting and it was tough.”