What it’s really like to be a private investigator

Posted by for Careers

Work/Life is Stylist’s regular column about the professional routines of successful women. Here, private investigator Michelle Roycroft talks us through her one-day diary, from morning latte to lights out. 

Michelle, 52, is the founder of professional investigations and security solutions firm Holcon Associates Ltd. She lives in Hertford with her son.

My alarm goes off…

At 5.45am. I head to a Total Body Fit Camp class then return home to shower. If I’m doing surveillance work I’ll wear a neutral trouser suit – ‘dress up to dress down’ is the expression; you can take off a jacket to ‘dress down’ if you need to, but you can’t ‘dress
up’ jeans and a T-shirt.     

I’m responsible for…

Dealing with high-profile and high net worth individuals, who’ve either been the victims of crime or have a crisis situation that needs handling. I specialise in stalking and harassment. It usually starts with a phone call from my client’s lawyers or PR team outlining a situation. I then research the suspected stalker and present my findings to the police. I remain the point of contact between my client and the police for the investigation, attending all hearings and working closely with the Crown Prosecution Service and my client’s lawyers. If a restraining order is put in place, I might arrange a surveillance operation to ensure the stalker doesn’t break the court order or their bail conditions. If we haven’t caught the person in time for a high-profile event my client is attending, I might arrange for additional security in the form of close protection. I have a group
of ex-police and ex-military operatives who I trust implicitly that I call on to help if necessary. 

I got the job…

After retiring from the police force at 46. I built my business from there.

Much of the information gathered is used in court

My typical day…

Is dictated by what happens to my clients. Normally, I have four or five complex cases running at a time, so my day starts with prioritising the most pressing. If I meet with a new client who fears they are being stalked, I will make a risk assessment of their situation and see if it needs immediate police attention. Otherwise, I will look at all aspects of their personal security, from their home environment to their daily routine and suggest changes if necessary – like altering the time they normally leave the house or where they get their coffee. If I’m doing surveillance, it tends to be an earlier start as I need to get my team in place. On TV they make surveillance look easy but it takes years of training. It’s about being seen but not seen, and acting completely normally. I don’t stop for lunch – it’s about eating when you can on this job. If possible, I grab an Itsu noodle bowl. 

My most memorable work moment…

Was the look of pride on my son and daughter’s faces when I told them I was starting out on my own. They put up with my unpredictable hours as a police officer and I felt I wasn’t there for them, so the fact they’ve turned out to be such brilliant individuals makes me very proud. But at this particular dinner, they were amazingly proud of me, and it was lovely. Especially as I had named the company after them.

Covert listening devices go hand in hand with the job

The worst part of my job…

Is seeing the massive impact stalking has on every aspect of a client’s life, particularly if they have children.

The best part of my job…

Is achieving a good outcome for my clients. But often the system has failed the stalkers too, and my clients are absolutely amazing to recognise that. The majority of stalkers have mental health issues and prison isn’t always the best place for them, so it’s about finding a resolution for them as well.

After work…

I love going to the theatre and eating out with friends. I’ll never have more than two drinks and if there’s an urgent situation, I have to go. On the rare occasion I am not out I’m usually home by 7.30pm. Then I’ll cook a fish stir-fry and watch Line Of Duty.

Lily Says:

“Michelle Roycroft is an ex-policewoman and works for my defamation lawyer – she does all of the digging for the hacking.” 

You can read all of the articles from Lily Allen’s special guest edit of Stylist here.

Photography: Gemma Day

Share this article

Recommended by Edwina Langley