A FORMER police driver used by the royals is helping everyone from celebrities to new drivers take on their driving fears. Emily Flanagan meets Bedale’s “road wizard”.
In a career in the police force spanning 30 years, Ian Towning has helped provide a police escort for every member of the royal family and other dignitaries to their chosen destinations through West Yorkshire, where he worked as a police officer.
He worked as part of a motorcycle escort and also as an anti-terrorist protection driver.
Some days the jobs involved escorting Category A prisoners to high security jails, others it would be escorting high profile VIPs. They varied from official visits by a member of the royal family – requiring a full police motorcade because of the increased risk – to discreet security in unmarked cars for unannounced visits.
On completing his 30 years in the police force, Ian, 50, retired to Bedale in North Yorkshire to run a B&B with his wife. But found he was increasingly being called upon to help people with their driving.
Now he has set up a company, Road Wizards, to teach people everything from advanced driving skills for new drivers, to helping people drive efficiently to reduce petrol consumption. But most intriguing is the “counter threat driving” course he has developed, after being asked for advice by people worried about their security when driving.
“People just asked me to go with them as a favour to have a look at their driving and give them some tips. So it just progressed from there,” he explained.
“Then I began to get requests from people who have a lot of money and drive flash cars. They were concerned about burglars, or that they might be followed home. It was people like jewellers, footballers and other people with security issues. From that I developed “counter threat” driving for their safety.”
Counter threat driving was designed to tackle people’s security fears when driving, whether it is someone worried about driving in a dangerous area, to a celebrity wanting to escape the paparazzi.
“It’s the same principles that a VIP driver would adopt, for people who drive themselves. It’s about thinking ahead and developing a plan to deal with problems, things like keeping safe reaction gaps and always having in mind an escape route.” he said.
“For instance, if you were coming up to traffic lights and there was a gang hanging around there that looked like a threat, you would may take another lane, or pull back from the lights, or stop earlier. If you’re stationery, then you’re vulnerable, so you have to think ahead so you can keep moving.
"Other key times when people are most threatened are at the beginning and end of their journey, it’s when people might find out where you live or where you are going.
“Footballers are easily recognised and drive ridiculous cars, but you can teach them to drive in a manner that doesn’t attract attention, or to spot if they’re being followed and what to do if they are."
Surprisingly, one of Ian’s most demanding jobs in the police was as a member of the national escort team for the Tour of Britain cycle race.
His knowledge of escorting teams of speeding cyclists could become very relevant as the Tour de France prepares to stage its opening stages in Yorkshire. It’s not easy to get right, says Ian.
“It’s stressful when you ride in it because the bicycles are so quick and in towns you have a lot of pedestrians and vehicles to deal with. It can be quite demanding and that’s why you have to be specially trained,” he said.
“A pedal cycle can go quicker downhill than a motorcyclist. They average 30mph so you have a convoy of 100 or so cyclists travelling along. It’s like a train travelling along at 30mph or more that’s not going to stop.”
“The way the Tour of Britain was organised at one time, each police force did its own little bit as the race came through their area.
“But it didn’t really work. The race only happens once a year so there wasn’t much opportunity to practice.
“One police force took the cyclists into a supermarket carpark and another took them the wrong way down a dual carriageway, so as a result of that they formed a national escort team. We did such a good job at one of our stages they asked us to come and run it.”
With his business partner, champion racing driver Tim Harmer, Road Wizards also offers coaching sessions on racing fast cars and discounted advanced driving courses to the under-23s as Ian is so concerned at the number of young drivers killed on the roads.
Despite his awareness of the dangers or cars and roads, he said the key was to keep the training fun
“Our ethos comes down to having fun. It should be responsible but still exciting.”
• For more information on Road Wizards, visit the website: roadwizards.co.uk or contact Ian on 01677-450557