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Pope John Paul II visit recalled by security chief
Pope John Paul II in Coventry during his visit to the UK in 1982
Pope John Paul II's visit required months of planning by the security services

The man who was in charge of ensuring Pope John Paul II's safety during his visit to the UK in 1982 has been recalling his experiences.

Geoff Craft, from Woodford, was the Principal Protection Officer for the last Papal visit to the UK.

Ahead of Pope Benedict XVI's state visit, Geoff remembered his role 28-years-ago with great fondness.

"The man had tremendous charisma and the effect on the religious was quite amazing," he told BBC Essex.

Geoff was a member of the Special Branch of New Scotland Yard, who at the time looked after heads of state and government during official visits.

Police officers during the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1982
The assassination attempt on the Pope in 1981 heightened security fears

Being tasked with the role of keeping the leader of the Roman Catholic church safe, just over one year on from an assassination attempt in Rome, he was well aware of the responsibility on his shoulders.

"In 25 years in the Special Branch it was the one morning that I got up and thought 'I don't want to go to work today,'" he said.

"It was the morning of the start of the Papal visit and I thought 'hell, what have I volunteered to do' because if it goes wrong it's down to me.

"But it didn't go wrong, thank God, and the police of this country did a superb job; the Pope did his thing and I think overall it was a great success."

He added: "There was an enormous amount of planning but of course with that particular Pope you could only plan to a degree.

"We actually hit the road with itinerary 41a, with manuscript amendments I think, because there had been so many changes before - but it worked."

Looking back nearly 30 years after the event, Geoff remembered several light-hearted moments during the visit, despite the serious nature of the job.

"I think one of the funniest things occurred at Roehampton, where there was a big open-air event for the religious - that is nuns and brothers and priests," he said.

Former policeman Geoff Craft
Geoff Craft spent 25 years in the Special Branch of New Scotland Yard

"We had been warned in advance by Archbishop Marcinkus, who organised Papal visits, to 'be careful of a phalanx of flying nuns'.

"Everything went fine until we'd got him into the Papal vehicle at the end, whereupon we had a phalanx of flying nuns led by a little tiny contemplative nun.

"She was kicking the shins of my biggest protective office whilst desperately trying to get on the Popemobile!"

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