Sunday 23 October 2016

Tradition is the only block on women joining the SAS, say TV fighters

Published 12/10/2016 | 02:51

Jason Fox (left) and Anthony Middleton (right) appear with former celebrity bodyguard Mark Billingham in SAS: Who Dares Wins
Jason Fox (left) and Anthony Middleton (right) appear with former celebrity bodyguard Mark Billingham in SAS: Who Dares Wins

Women could soon be in line to join the Special Air Service (SAS), according to ex-fighters featuring in Channel 4's SAS: Who Dares Wins.

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Anthony Middleton, who leads 25 ordinary men being put through the brutal paces of SAS training in an Ecuadorian jungle, said it was only tradition holding back the forces from employing both genders.

Speaking during a training session in east London, he said: " We (on the show) stay authentic to the actual selection process of no women allowed. But that doesn't mean that we won't consider women for the future."

His co-star, Jason Fox, said: "It's just tradition. It's to do with that old-school mentality that frontline troops going back through history have always been men.

"We've seen it change recently with women training up to be infantry soldiers, so who knows? Look forward into the future and it could be that that changes all over the armed forces and, if that's the case, then women will be on the show."

Matthew Ollerton, a former marine and special forces operative, said: "At the moment we do offer a similar course through our company called Break-Point, which has a higher percentage of women come in than men."

The three former servicemen were training at Work Gym, part of The Office Group in Old Street, ahead of the second series of SAS: Who Dares Wins, which begins on Monday October 17, at 9pm on Channel 4.

Filmed in the "humiliating and punishing environment" of the jungle near Coca in Ecuador, the show will test the psychological and physical strength of the contestants - of various ages and backgrounds - but not all are expected to make it through.

Later in the course, individuals are targeted for their personal weaknesses, which the leaders "exploit" and use to "isolate you and rip you to shreds, basically", said Mr Middleton.

"But we don't isolate to break them," said Mr Fox. "If people do really well we'll pick on them to see if they can impress us even further. Then people who aren't doing so well we pick on them to give them the opportunity to pick themselves up."

Mr Middleton added: "They find their true selves by the end of the course. They'll either love themselves or hate themselves, it's as simple as that."

In the real special forces, Mr Ollerton explained, an average of one in 10 SAS applicants gets through the training, which has traditionally been kept out of the public eye.

But the Channel 4 show has put the reality of the course on television screens nationwide.

Mr Ollerton said: "There's a lot of intrigue out there. People are genuinely interested in the special forces and I believe in every man there's a warrior instinct that is striving to get out."

Describing his own most memorable SAS experience, in which he narrowly avoided death, Mr Middleton said: "I was hanging out of a helicopter firing at the target and later when we landed we found two holes from enemy rounds that went past my head and hit the top of the helicopter two inches away from the hydraulics.

"So two inches either side and I would have had my head blown off and it would have taken the helicopter down."

He added that, if he had a chance to pick a celebrity to bring to the TV show jungle, he would choose Lone Survivor star Mark Wahlberg.

He said: "He plays a good soldier, so I'd just like to see if he can put his money where his mouth is."

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