One of the SAS Australia instructors has opened up about an embarrassing mishap that saw him put Penelope Cruz in a headlock.
After his military career, Billy Billingham became a celebrity bodyguard and worked with stars including Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Russell Crowe and Tom Cruise.
Speaking to Nova’s Fitzy and Wippa, Billingham told a hilarious story about a mistake he made while working with the Top Gun star for the first time in Rome in 2002.
Billingham was checking out Cruise’s hotel before the star’s arrival, and was immediately concerned that a crowd had formed out the front.
“It was supposed to be all incognito; no one was supposed to know we were going to be there,” he said on radio this morning. “There was already a crowd of a couple of hundred people. I thought, ‘Damn I’m on my own, how am I going to deal with this?’”
Billingham grabbed one of the Italian paparazzos waiting out the front and offered him a deal.
“I said, ‘When we turn up, just leave us alone. Everybody move away from the entrance. Let me have a clear walk to the entrance with him. I’ll stop 10 seconds before and you can get your photographs (of Cruise).’ He said, ‘That’s a deal.’”
Billingham went and picked up Cruise, and by the time they arrived back at the hotel the crowd had grown.
“By the time we get there, there’s about 400 people,” Billingham told the Nova hosts. “I’m like, ‘Oh sh*t!’ I couldn’t even see the front of the hotel.”
While Cruise waited in the car, Billingham found the paparazzo he had made a deal with and told him to keep up his end of the bargain.
“He said something in Italian and everyone just moved out of the way,” Billingham said.
He took Cruise out of the car and walked him up to the hotel entrance where the actor turned around and posed for photos.
Billingham then started escorting Cruise through the hotel’s rotating door, and panicked when he saw a mystery person getting a bit too close to the actor.
“I didn’t have time to look so I grabbed him, I’ve got him in a headlock,” Billingham said about the suspected attacker.
The three of them fell through the hotel door and Cruise quickly informed him that he’d made an error.
“He looks at me and he goes, ‘Oh Billy, meet Penelope (Cruz) my girlfriend,’” Billingham recalled. “We had a proper introduction after that in the elevator.”
Cruise and Cruz started dating in 2001 after his marriage to Nicole Kidman ended. They split two-and-a-half years later.
SAS Australia continues tonight on Channel 7 at 7.30pm