Doncaster doorman who worked with with Madonna, Arnie and a galaxy of stars passes on his secrets to new generation

John Lea once took Katie Price shopping for knickers.
John Lea once took Katie Price shopping for knickers.

He's rubbed shoulders with the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Madonna and Arnold Schwarzenegger - and now one of the country's number one door supervisors and security guards has come to Doncaster to pass on his skills to groups of raw recruits hoping to follow in his footsteps.

DARREN BURKE met John Lea to chat about dealing with a drunken Vinnie Jones, buying knickers with Katie Price and how he witnessed the birth of the Kaiser Chiefs' I Predict A Riot song.

Across a coffee table inside the Free2Learn office overlooking Doncaster's High Street, it is difficult to imagine the man sitting opposite has worked with some of the world's biggest stars.

There's nothing showbizzy about John Lea. He's a straight-talking, well-built ex-Army man with a string of fantastic anecdotes which could fill a book.

There's a few that might not get past the lawyers and plenty more which he's keeping to himself, but rather than gossip about the stars, it is his expertise and 35 years in the security industry that he's now passing on to a willing younger generation.

For John has linked up with Doncaster-based training provider Free2Learn to train the doormen (and women) of the future.

The Kaiser Chiefs.

The Kaiser Chiefs.

And he's a man who should know.

From Kylie to Springsteen, Peter Andre to John Travolta, he's worked with them all, as well as the more mundane day to day stuff of making sure there's no bother on the doors of the region's pubs and clubs.

He's also seen some pretty unsavoury incidents - and he's keen to press home the message that working on the doors can sometimes be a pretty frightening and difficult world.

"I think I've seen everything there is to see," he says. "Terrorism threats, trouble causers, diva-esque celebrities and people trying every trick in the book to get past - at one time or another, I've had to deal with them."

Doorman John Lea.

Doorman John Lea.

His entry into the world of security came by default four decades ago.

"I just helped a friend out doing a shift on the doors and he told me at the end of the night 'you are quite good at this' and that's how it started."

John, 54, has worked the doors of pubs and clubs in Doncaster, across York and Leeds as well as around the world in superclubs in Ibiza.

But it's always his celebrity tales that people want to hear.

John once had to confront a drunken Vinnie Jones.

John once had to confront a drunken Vinnie Jones.

"I escorted Katie Price shopping for knickers once," he says. "That was a bit of an ordeal!"

It wasn't his only occasion looking after the glamour model turned author. "One time I was looking after her in a club and she insisted that the toilets had to be totally empty before she would go and use them," he said.

And on one occasion he had to escort a gaggle of female FHM magazine models back to their hotel in just their underwear after their clothes were stolen. "That was a tough gig," he joked.

He says he has worked with many "difficult" characters over the years but refuses to name names, apart from the time rap star Akon had him driving all over Leeds looking for a bottle of his favoured champagne.

"He wanted a particular brand and we were looking everywhere for it," he said.

He classes himself as a friend of superstar wrestler John Cena (the pair have a love of MG cars) and once had the task of turfing footballer turned movie hardman Vinnie Jones out of a nightclub for being sloshed.

"The press were waiting for him on the other side," adds John. "It made the papers."

He was also there on the night in 2000 when Leeds United footballers Ian Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate were accused of GBH against an Asian student after a fracas at the city's Majestyk nightclub, an incident which saw Bowyer cleared of both charges and Woodgate convicted of affray after a retrial.

And the club was also the setting for the story behind the Kaiser Chiefs smash hit song I Predict A Riot.

"There was a gang down one side of the club, a rival gang down the other side and a line of bouncers trying to keep them apart," said John. "The band were in that night watching all this carry on and that's where the song came from."

But now John is putting some of his more hair-raising experiences behind him to concentrate on shaping the next generation of door staff at the Free2Learn offices on Hallgate.

"I can bring the colour and reality of the job to life with my stories," he said. "But I want to put something back. I want to help younger people into the world of work and give them something to aspire to."

En route to collecting their Security Industry Authority (SIA) card, John's pupils are taught skills such as how to spot fake IDs, use radios, drug awareness - and of course, how to deal with rowdy and aggressive customers and removing them from the premises without causing pain.

"I've been called every name under the sun and dealt with some very aggressive people," said John.

"But you have to stay cool and calm. It is when you lose your cool that a situation can develop very quickly into one you can't control.

"Things have changed massively over the years. It used to be about a couple of hired heavies, the biggest, baddest, meanest guys in town keeping people out. But doormen are the ambassadors of a venue.

"They are the first people customers encounter so we want that experience to be a good one. Treat people with respect and they'll treat you with respect."

Scott Lowe, one of John's students, said: "Since I started the SIA course with Free2Learn I have gained lots of experience in what the course is all about, as well as gaining confidence in myself and in the work I am doing.

"My tutor makes me feel welcome and really involved in what we are doing.

John is a very experienced man in this area and I’m really glad he is sharing that knowledge with me and my group.

David Ravensdale, Head of Traineeships at Free2Learn said: "We've built the security course around John. He brings it to life but our pupils can watch and see what he does and how the best way to deal with situations is.

"He is someone they can look up to. And what's more, the training is completely free and the pupils get their SIA badge at the end of it which Free2Learn also pay for.

"These courses help unlock the door for many people into the world of work. They get multiple qualifications and the chance of employment at the end of it."

Free2Learn Doncaster, is a rapidly expanding Adult Education Provider offering a range of Traineeships, Apprenticeships and Diplomas across South Yorkshire and the surrounding areas. The Door Supervision course has new courses starting every week, and Free2Learn encourages anyone who is interested to get in touch or drop in for more information.

For more details about Free2Learn, visit 65 Hallgate, Doncaster, call (01302) 373003 or visit www.free2learn.org.uk