Prince’s Former Bodyguard Wally Safford Talks New Memoir
As a former bodyguard for Prince, Wally Safford learned a wealth of trivia about the superstar. He can tell you how he liked his tea, what kind of pajamas he wore and even his preferred bedspread, which was made of white sequins and beaded pearls.
“If I didn’t know you, I would’ve stole that bedspread,” Safford jokingly told Prince. “I see how you get the women now.”
Safford, a 60-year-old Detroit native, shares these details and more in his memoir, Wally, Where’d You Get Those Glasses? My Life Through the lens of Parliament, Pendergrass and Prince, co-written with Margena A. Christian.
Before Safford worked for Prince in the ‘80s, he provided security for multiple famous acts, including the Commodores, Parliament-Funkadelic, Teddy Pendergrass and Earth, Wind & Fire.
“Everyone has a story,” Safford explains during an exclusive interview with Ultimate Prince. “I wanted to talk about my journey through life. Prince just happened to be at the end of it.”
Among the bodyguard's many unique experiences is a brief stint as one of Prince’s dancers. You can see him in the “Girls and Boys” video and in the Sign O’ the Times concert film, which features the “Detroit Crawl” dance — named for Safford.
Over the years, the bodyguard and Prince became friends, with the Purple One famously penning the unreleased but storied song, “Wally,” in his honor.
“He had a connection with Scorpios,” Safford declares, noting that he, Prince’s mother, Mattie Baker, and Prince’s first wife, Mayte Garcia, have consecutive birthdays in November (10, 11 and 12, respectively). “Mayte was his soulmate. So, it had to have been the same connection. I just didn’t wear high heels. He could get away with it, I couldn’t. I would have broken my ankle.”
Safford’s funny riffs are found throughout the book. And whether he was telling “yo mama” jokes or “frisking him for hits,” his sense of humor was something Prince enjoyed.
“I kept him in stitches,” the bodyguard humbly admits.
One of the most fascinating parts of Wally, Where’d You Get Those Glasses? is Safford’s early life; he grew up in the Nation of Islam, where he received the training he employed as a bodyguard. His family was close to both NOI leader Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X (Safford called him “Uncle Big Red”) and Muhammad Ali, whom Prince liked to ask about.
“Prince used to laugh when I told him, ‘There were only two greats. The first was Ali and the second was Wally,’” Safford wrote.
Safford’s book includes interesting, behind-the-scenes moments of his time with celebrities, who’d surrounded him his whole life. Growing up in Detroit, it was common for him to see Motown stars like Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye around town.
As his career as a bodyguard progressed, Safford gradually moved up in Prince’s circle. He and other guards from Detroit became known as “The Purple Gang” within Prince’s entourage.
After initially handling security for Morris Day and Vanity (of Vanity 6), Safford worked directly for the Purple One. They’d have adjacent hotel rooms so Prince could access the bodyguard at any moment, sometimes waking him up around 3 a.m. for stationery paper so he could write lyrics.
Additionally, Prince and Safford, a self-proclaimed “encyclopedia of music,” would exchange cassette tapes of old songs. “I was thinking about making a playlist with some of the stuff he liked listening to,” Safford admits.
Even while working in close proximity with Prince, the bodyguard found himself marveling at the musician's talent. “He was something to watch,” Safford recalls. “He was unbelievable.”
The many anecdotes in Safford's book include the story of an awkward moment between Prince and Eddie Murphy, as well as Prince’s infamous run-in with the paparazzi during the night of the “We Are the World” recording. (Safford was arrested for getting into a fight with a photographer.)
The bodyguard also talks about Prince’s mood swings and trust issues, which he attributes to Prince’s complicated relationship with his parents.
“As children, when we have a scarred heart, it’s hard to bounce back,” Safford opines.
Working for Prince provided many highs and lows for the bodyguard, who admits working for the Purple One was not for the faint of heart. “I said, ‘Prince, you’re like [horror actor] Boris Karloff. You create monsters.' He puts you on his cloud and then he snatches the cloud.”
Even when Safford's position was eliminated, the good-natured bodyguard took it in stride. “I knew everything had an expiration date,” Safford matter-of-factly declares. “It was just a job. I didn’t get attached emotionally.”
Safford saw Prince a couple more times over the years. Even as their friendship diminished, the bodyguard felt connected to the icon. Safford remembers having a bad feeling, and even taking sick time off work before getting the news that Prince had died.
“I loved him as a brother and a friend,” Safford concludes. “I was little upset, but then I said, ‘He doesn’t have to suffer anymore. Brother can rest.’”