Can he kick it Dad was Diana's bodyguard, now Damon is in spotlight
22:49 GMT, 4 April 2012
On the wall behind the floor mat in the Elgin family home, where father and son Lee and Damon Sansum have been known to kick each other in the head, hangs a framed letter from Princess Diana and her children.
Dated July 23, 1997, a mere 39 days prior to her tragic death, it reads: ‘Dear Lee, William, Harry and I very much wanted to write to thank you for taking such good care of us during our stay in St Tropez.
‘We realise that our presence, along with that of the media, made your job enormously difficult, and for that we apologise! However, we all had 10 magical days — which would not have been possible without your valuable contribution and for that, we all send our warmest possible thanks.’
Kicking king: Damon Sansum hopes to make it to the Olympics in London later this year
The letter is signed ‘Diana, William and Harry’, with each penning their own name.
Sansum spent 10 days in the South of France as one of Mohamed Fayed’s bodyguards looking after the ill-fated princess and her two boys.
As for the head-kicking, it was part of a martial arts apprenticeship which now sees Damon battling hard to earn a spot in the British taekwondo team for the Olympic Games this summer.
‘It was so cool telling all my school friends that my dad was a bodyguard,’ said Damon. ‘I remember waking up and coming downstairs to see my father staring at the television screen. Princess Diana was dead. I knew he had been looking after her just a few weeks earlier. It was surreal.’
In fact, Lee Sansum could easily have been part of the Paris detail. Only because that summer of ’97 had been so busy did he find himself taking some time off while Dodi Fayed and Diana were in the French capital.
Lee recalled: ‘When she came to the St Tropez house, I helped her out of the boat on to the jetty.
‘I remember her first words, “Oh, more heavies”. But she looked happy every day as William and Harry played on the beach and went for ice cream. We chatted.
‘The bodyguards knew they were going to live in America. I had put my name forward for the job. I still feel the inquiry into her death did not uncover all the answers. My biggest area of concern was the establishment not admitting that the couple were under surveillance. We met and talked to the surveillance teams. They were working for either MI5 or MI6.’
Day job: Damon's father was one of Mohamed Fayed's bodyguards and looked after Princess Diana
Sansum had previously spent 10 years in the Military Police. Post-army brought a predictable move into security where Jean Claude Van Damme, Sylvester Stallone and Tom Cruise were among his celebrity clients. Just coincidence, apparently, that all three are seriously vertically challenged.
‘Stallone was a nice guy. He looked tiny but everything was perfectly in proportion.’
A move to Scotland and to Fayed’s Scottish estate in Sutherland was for the benefit of Damon. ‘His mother was having problems with Damon. He was very headstrong. I wanted to get him settled and, as it happened, martial arts proved the making of him.’
Damon, now 25, offers no disagreement. ‘Going to live with my dad brought a big change in my life. I was hard to control, quite self-assured. If I had stayed where I was and not got into martial arts, I could have seen myself running with a bad crowd.’
Kick boxing provided him with focus and a channel for his energy as he went from beginner to world champion. There was an inauspicious start, however.
‘Dad kicked me in the eye in our first practice session in the living room. What kind of parent does that I’m just joking. It was an accident. In any case, I had my revenge a few years later.’
‘We have had our moments,’ conceded Lee, raising his index finger to his mouth. ‘Two teeth there and one here. We were warming up gently and then bang. He punched me in the face. I was spitting out my teeth.’
Personal: The letter sent to Lee Sansum from Princess Diana and her sons William and Harry
Damon’s life was to change again after spotting an advertisement in Martial Arts Illustrated. ‘An initiative called Fighting Chance invited people from various martial arts to go through a talent-spotting programme to find athletes capable of switching to taekwondo. At the time my shoulder was dislocating a lot, making punching difficult.
‘Taekwondo seemed perfect. It is just kicks, no punches. And my strength was always my head- kicking. Unlike kick boxing, it offered me the chance to represent my country. What’s more, the Olympics were on the horizon.’
In just 18 months, Damon has progressed into the British team for the European Championships in Manchester next month. A good performance there could earn him an Olympic spot, although there are places for only two men and two women in his sport.
A recent victory in the German Open raised his stature further in taekwondo circles. And Grand Master Sansum, who operates a franchise for 13 Sansum Black Belt Academies in the Scottish Highlands, is there every step and kick of the way as supportive father.
Their proudest sporting moment to date was competing together in a kick boxing European Championships and both returning home with gold medals in different weight categories.
‘That would be surpassed if Damon made it to the Olympics,’ said Lee.
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