Woodbury businessman spent 20 years as security for the British Royal Family
While most of the world watched in excitement the televised wedding of Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Richard Lett, chief executive officer of Woodbury-based LeClair Group, was able to watch the fairytale unfold right in front of him.
“I just kept thinking, My goodness, I’m here, this is real,” Lett said. “Crikey, I’m just a few feet away and this is history.”
Lett, 51, wasn’t simply a guest at the wedding, he was actually head of security of the event.
Lett served as protection for the Royal Family for more than 20 years.
“It was just an amazing opportunity,” he said. “How many would love to do that job, right?”
In 1980 Lett, who lives in Minneapolis, joined the metro police in London, where he served as a police officer.
It was in the late 1990s that an opportunity arose to enter into the Royalty Protection Department with Scotland Yard.
Lett’s primary duties were to serve as protection detail for Princes William and Harry in addition to running security for many of the large national events.
It was early in his career with royalty protection that the country was rocked by the death of Princess Diana in 1997.
“I was looking after William and Harry in the aftermath of that,” he said. “You can imagine it was a tough time for those two young men – my heart really reached out to them.
“Not only was the nation dealing with the thoughts of losing an icon on one level, but on another she was their mother.”
It wasn’t always unfortunate circumstances for Lett, though, since he worked security for a number of royal events throughout the years.
“I seemed to be a bit of a wedding specialist,” he said.
In 2002 Lett coordinated security for the wedding of Prince Edward (Prince Charles’ brother), and in 2005 he coordinated security for the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
The latter wedding actually proved to be a bit challenging, Lett said, because the ceremony had to be changed from a Friday to a Saturday because of the death of Pope John Paul II and the related funeral services.
“If you can just imagine just having to do organization of anybody’s wedding, let alone a member of the British Royal Family,” Lett said, “and then having to change the date .”
Lett also coordinated security at the wedding of one of the sons of Queen Elizabeth’s cousin.
For Prince William and Catherine’s 2011 wedding, Lett was actually invited as a guest to the wedding, since he had been at St. Andrew’s University working security for Prince William when the two met.
Lett ultimately declined the invitation. Instead he opted to head security at the event.
“The best thing I can do for a wedding present is I’ll run the security detail rather than be a guest,” he said. “I knew what William would want in terms of sensitivity to intrusion.
“It’s very easy for security to take over somebody’s event and sort of ruin it.”
Lett also helped coordinate security for Queen’s Jubilee in 2002 and 2012.
Most of the time, Lett said, the members of the Royal Family were just regular people.
“When people meet you, or they meet me, or they meet anybody, there’s always that reaction of ‘You’re just like me,’” he said. “They’re wonderful people.”
However, Lett said, the lives of the Royal Family are not easy.
“It’s a really tough goldfish bowl to live in,” he said. “It’s an amazing life that you lead, but the tradeoff is you have no anonymity, the tradeoff is that you become public property.”
A PRIVILEGED CAREER
The secret to succeeding at protecting the Royal Family, Lett said, is to take it day by day.
“You do your job, make sure you plan ahead, keep your eye on the future, understand the threats,” he said, “and keep a calm head on you.”
Being a part of the royalty protection department proved to be a full-time job for Lett, but it wasn’t so all-encompassing that he couldn’t have a private life.
“I had a good social life, but I always had a part of my brain ready for a call,” he said. “It wasn’t until after I left that I realized how much of you is actually on standby.”
Lett said he felt very privileged to have his career for as long as he did.
“I was just this regular guy with a modest education,” he said.
A NEW CHAPTER BEGINS
It was in 2009 that Lett had a chance encounter that would change the rest of his life.
Lett was in Mumbai, India, accompanying several members of the Royal Family, and several dignitaries, for a ceremony at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, commemorating the victims of a terrorist attack the previous year.
As it would happen, Lett bumped into a woman named Margaret LeClair, from Minnesota, who happened to be staying at the hotel at the time during a mission trip.
“We bumped into each other and had a cup of tea for about an hour,” Lett said. “We just made a connection, so we ended up in a crazy long-distance relationship.”
Lett and LeClair eventually fell in love.
“I began to think that I’d give all this up if we could be together,” Lett said.
In 2012 Lett resigned from the Royalty Protection Department in favor of commanding the VIP protection operation in Central London for the London Olympic and Paralympic games.
“The reason why I was happy to take that engagement was because it was time limited,” he said. “(Margaret and I) had a landing mark.”
In 2013 Queen Elizabeth II made Lett a member of the Royal Victorian Order in the 2013 British New Year’s Honors Awards for his loyal service to the Royal Family.
Lett and LeClair eventually married and Lett moved to Minnesota with his new bride.
“I suppose I never read the small print in the Minnesota marriage certificate,” Lett said. “I think it’s one of these bullet points on the back, ‘If you marry a Minnesota woman, thou shalt move to Minnesota.’”
Lett didn’t take the normal route to Minnesota since he opted to sail from London to Duluth, Minn.
“I raced sailboats all my life,” he said. “I sailed to Minnesota just to prove how connected Minnesota is to the rest of the world.”
For his voyage Lett sailed across the Atlantic from England to Rhode Island and then sailed through the Great Lakes to reach Duluth.
In Minnesota Lett eventually became the CEO of the LeClair Group insurance firm, which was founded by his wife’s great-grandfather.
One might think that royal security is a far cry from insurance, but in fact there are a lot of similarities, Lett said.
“(As security) your job is there to protect somebody from harm and negate the risk of something happening to them,” he said. “You have insurance so that if something were to happen, you cover the risk.
“If you think about it, I used to be an insurance policy and now I kind of educate people about and sell the insurance policies.”
Lett said he is just as passionate about protecting families and businesses as he was about protecting the Royal Family.
“Everything I did around my old job, service, professionalism, is what I’m doing here,” he said. “My commitment to educating individuals, families and business owners about health insurance and benefits is no less than my commitment to protecting the British Royal Family.”
Nowadays Lett has basically cut ties with his past life, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t still think about it from time to time.
“I read the newspapers like everybody else now,” he said. “Even though I was part of that, now I’m just a spectator.
“It’s a wonderful cherished memory.”