Celebrity police officer Harry Tangye on his new book and returning to Cornwall
- Credit: Chris Saville
After retiring from an adrenalin-charged police career, Twitter star Harry Tangye has returned home to Cornwall. Catherine Courtenay met up with him over coffee,
Chasing criminals down city streets armed with a Glock pistol, tackling men with machetes, driving at 150mph on the A30... one after another come tales of high action escapades. An hour after meeting Harry Tangye in a Wadebridge coffee shop and I’m already feeling like I’ve just stepped off a rollercoaster. And that’s even before we get to the bit involving a sinking kayak and a prime minister.
Harry is a recently retired police officer. Starting as a special in his home town of Newquay he went on to join the Armed Response Unit and became a VIP protection officer. From attending fatal road crashes to meeting the Queen and standing an arm’s length away from President Barack Obama, he has many a story to tell.
Over his 30-year career with Devon and Cornwall Police Harry never sought promotion higher than sergeant. ‘I wanted the practical side, to be out and about.’ However, he did achieve fame for his missives on social media. His Twitter account, which began in earnest in 2016 and relayed the day-to-day experiences of fellow officers, attracted tens of thousands of followers, a figure that currently stands at over 44,000.
At a time when ‘the police were getting an absolute bashing’, it was about reflecting the honesty of policing, he says and explaining the other side, ‘not only to the public but also the bosses’.
Even in retirement (he left in 2020), Harry remains passionate about defending the police, and ‘fighting our corner’. His working career was spent mostly in Devon but he’s now moved home to Newquay, where he’s helping the family provide care for his elderly mum. He’s written two books, one about his career, Firearms and Fatals and the second, a novel, The Cornish Scoop. Now at work on his second novel, another police crime drama, he can often be spotted tapping away on his laptop in local cafes.
Harry comes from an unusual family. His uncle was the famous writer, Derek Tangye, whose books The Minack Chronicles, are international bestsellers. His dad, Nigel, was a Spitfire pilot whose first wife was the Hollywood actress Ann Todd.
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Nigel had retreated from the limelight to Newquay with his second wife, Harry’s mum Moira. ‘They had an old Bentley in the drive, but no money,’ says Harry, who spent his childhood roaming the beaches and clifftops that surrounded them.
Nigel died in 1988 when Harry was 19, but he remains a big influence in Harry’s life.
He taught him that fame and fortune isn’t everything, ’that quality of life is so much more.’ He adds, ‘You realise he was never happier than when on the north Cornish coast writing books with his young family.’
Nigel also made sure Harry spoke well. Speaking well ‘was worth a couple of A-levels at least’, says Harry, who readily admits he never enjoyed school and consequently has very few qualifications.
Most of Harry’s knowledge of his dad’s life comes from Nigel’s autobiography. It’s what encouraged him to write his own book about his policing days – a way to record what he did, for future generations.
Speaking of having an older parent, he says, ‘One of the saddest things dad told me was, ‘The only regret I have is that you only know me as an old man’.
‘He was 79 when he died, but I still think I was robbed.’
A second cup of coffee arrives and Harry is now manoeuvring a salt pot and spoon on the table, to demonstrate how three police cars driving bumper to bumper on the motorway at 90 miles an hour can sneak up and corner an offender’s car which is travelling at 85mph. It involves a lot of airfield driving practice and bucket-loads of trust in your colleagues.
Driving at high speed was an everyday occurrence for Harry. On one occasion he managed to get from Exeter to Camborne in 45 minutes, going at 140mph on the A30 – and he avoided hitting a hedgehog.
It’s not just driving fast, but thinking and reacting fast too. As an Armed Response Officer he may be first on scene at life or death situations, like when dealing with a woman being threatened by a man with a machete. Or when, ‘a man has a shotgun in his girlfriend’s face and it’s just gone ‘click’ and she thinks she is going to die... To arrest that person – that's satisfying.’
Over his years Harry has attended many fatal road accidents and again, it seems his dad’s advice, that you should treat everyone with respect and dignity, is what has helped him deal with the trauma.
‘I’ve seen an awful lot of bodies. I stopped counting after 150,’ he says. ‘But I always looked at the eyes. Even if they were under a blanket by the time I got there, I always looked at them. I didn’t want them to be a statistic.’
But the most commonplace incidents are equally important. ‘I never got more satisfaction than when going to a very ordinary job - like someone who’s just crashed their car. Their world has fallen apart, their car is smashed to pieces and you say, ‘Don’t worry about it, it’s only plastic, this is what insurance is for and you are alright.’ You say that to someone and you’ve changed their world at that particular time for that little bit.’
His VIP protection moments have been many and taken him into all sorts of privileged situations, including occasions with the Royal Family and being at the 2014 Nato summit in Wales - which is where he got so close to Obama.
One chapter in his book tells the unbelievable story of when he was providing protection to a VIP and his family who were on holiday in Cornwall. They went kayaking, and Harry was following, at a respectful distance. A couple of hours into the trip and Harry realised his kayak was leaking. After an attempt to bail it out, he continued on, but it got worse. With the VIP paddling away in the distance Harry was forced to part float and part drag his half-submerged kayak to land, which happened to be at a yacht club that was staging an event. With a water-logged police radio, the dripping wet Harry had to ask a barman, in front of the crowd, if he could borrow a phone...
It all ended ok, but Harry was later subjected to much mickey-taking including from the VIP, who he reveals to be David Cameron. ‘He insisted on calling me Bob for the rest of the evening!’
Last summer Harry was asked to work on security for the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, establishing security passes around the access points.
It was a phenomenal atmosphere and a brilliant achievement for Devon and Cornwall Police, he says, so much so that, ‘I reckon the applications for police transfers went up massively.’
Would his dad be proud of his achievements? Harry tells me a story from his childhood.
‘I made this Blue Peter egg box lantern for Christmas. I didn’t have coloured paper, so I used plain paper and painted it with watercolour paint which didn’t stick and went into globules. I didn’t have the right amount of egg boxes either, so I squeezed it all together. I gave it to dad and, honestly, he made it out to be the best thing in the world.
‘So I think he would have been immensely proud, but I think he would have been proud if I had achieved a hundreth of what I’ve done - that was the sort of guy he was.’
Firearms and Fatals and The Cornish Scoop by Harry Tangye are available on Amazon