Matt Fiddes was bodyguard to the former King of Pop, Michael Jackson, for 10 years.
These days he’s an entrepreneur and franchisor of Matt Fiddes Martial Arts, a global network of schools. Since its inception in 1996, the brand has grown and now includes MF Dance, MF Pilates, MF Hero First Aid and MF Performing Arts Schools.
He talks to us about working with Michael, franchising his business and the challenges in expanding to other parts of the world.
How did you meet and start working for Michael Jackson?
I met MJ through my best friend, Uri Geller. He introduced me to Michael when I was 18 years old. He called me in the middle of the night and asked me to come to his house urgently and would not tell me why. When I arrived, Michael Jackson was sitting in the living room and we hit it off right away. Uri wanted to introduce someone to Michael as a friend and who he could trust in his inner circle.
How has your association with Michael – particularly around the 10-year anniversary of his death and [documentary] Finding Neverland – affected your business and brand?
None of his inner circle was expecting that documentary, to be honest. We were expecting a celebration of his music and dance on his 10th anniversary.
It’s not affected my brand or business – I receive thousands of supportive messages. Michael wanted to keep his life a mystery and play the media game.
‘Michael Jackson was a big believer in goal setting’
What advice did he give you when you were his bodyguard and how did that lead to franchising your business?
Michael was a big believer in goal setting. I had about five schools at the time I met him and I didn’t think I could take it any further. He taught me how franchising works.
He and Uri Geller we’re both great business mentors to me – I owe a lot to them. Uri taught me how property is the best investment and pushed me to invest in property with spare funds. It’s the best advice he gave me as I now have a large property portfolio.
What advice do you have for small businesses interested in franchising?
Just pick something you have a passion about and get on with it! Franchising is the best way as you just have to follow a set proven business model. Check the franchiser with great detail and talk to other franchises.
Background check the company and its director to make sure they really have had true success. At the moment franchise is an unregulated industry so you need to do your homework. There is no point trying to figure out a business yourself when you can buy a proven formula for a small percentage and upfront fee in most cases.
Who else do you train?
A lot of the time it’s models or reality stars who are not used to fame and need a little help with self-defence training and social media safety training. I have seen an increase lately in requests for help from reality stars who are not prepared for the instant fame they receive.
What challenges did you face in expanding the business into Europe and the rest of the world?
Language is a tough one as it’s easy to not really know what is going on if you don’t speak the tongue.
Australia has also been a struggle – the time difference is a big challenge. Every country has its own regulations and rules. However, as we expand we overcome all the obstacles. We are always looking for new representatives from each country around the world.
You’ve said that a school careers adviser called you stupid for wanting to be a martial arts instructor. How did you take that knockback and go on to build a business?
Yes, she said there was no way I could make a business and earn a living out of teaching martial arts and forced me to pick a career at careers day. She was tough on me! I was focused on what I wanted to do and nothing was going to change my mind.
I had no qualifications and failed almost everything at school. Four years later I returned to the school to see the teacher in my brand-new Ferrari. She said sorry and was shocked. I am not a big fan of the academic system as it was honestly was no benefit to me and my successful friends. I thanked her as she gave me the motivation to prove her wrong!