SAS Who Dares Wins recruit Mark Peart has spoken of his heartbreak over the death of his wife and his determination to encourage men to be more open about their own mental health struggles.
The former Royal Air Force fireman revealed in a raw and honest conversation during the filming of the Channel 4 show where five ex-Special Forces soldiers aim to recreate the SAS selection process, that his 27-year-old wife Chelsey committed suicide just months before he signed up to the show.
Credit: Channel 4 / Minnow Films
Mark came in and spoke with Verity Geere and Richard Hatch on Forces Radio BFBS about joining forces with SAS veteran and Directing Staff Matthew “Ollie” Ollerton plus fellow 'recruit' Milo Mackin to climb Mont Blanc in the Alps in July.
The aim is to raise money for Strongmen, a charity which Ollie co-founded to tackle the stigma around male mental health.
Mark was a man of few words on the Channel 4 series and didn’t plan to discuss his wife’s suicide at all. However, Chief Instructor Ant Middleton and Directing Staff Jason Fox wanted to know what was driving him so they sat him down for a face to face chat.
Mark is incredibly fit and was able to cope with the physical challenges. However, he took a little while to open up about his wife’s suicide. He said:
“I lost my wife six months ago, she committed suicide. She was perfect, honestly, in every single way.
"She was beautiful, she was funny, happy honestly, like a fairytale. But she had these things that ate away at her own self-esteem and anxieties. I’m still really lost with it and I don’t fully understand.”
WATCH: In the clip below Mark discusses his battle with his own mental health
He explains to Verity and Richard that he has been overwhelmed by the response online since he spoke about his wife’s suicide on SAS Who Dares Wins. He said:
“Quite upsetting, it proves how many people are actually out there suffering.
“Someone coming forward and speaking up, the power that actually has is incredible.”
He wanted to take that further so signed up for an epic challenge in July to help raise money for charity Strongmen but also to spend time with other people who are experiencing grief. He said:
“You get an insight into what people suffer that have these illnesses and just being around other people and having people to speak to is so important.”
Mark has a greater understanding of other peoples mental health since appearing on SAS Who Dares Wins but what has he learned about mental health over the past year?
“I think the biggest thing is the fact that it’s an illness, it’s out of people control.
“It’s a cancer of the brain. You wouldn’t say the things that people say to the stigma around mental illness, you wouldn’t say it to someone suffering with cancer."
Mark wants to use his voice to encourage people to talk about their own mental health struggles to normalise it. He said:
“More needs to be put into educating people to understand it more.
“We can all sit here and say, ‘we need to break the stigma’ but if we don’t understand it then we’re just saying words and it doesn’t really mean anything.”
“People go about every single day and you think they’re absolutely fine and then if they spoke to you, you’d realise they’re in such a bad place and that’s what’s so scary about it.”
WATCH: In the clip below Mark chats about his Royal Air Force career
Like many recruits on SAS Who Dares Wins, Mark found talking about his mental health an incredibly emotional experience. One thing that set him apart from the others, however, was his military experience. He served in the Falkland Islands in 2011 and then deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 until 2013. After five years of service, he left to join his local authority fire service.
Mark didn’t speak about his service while on SAS Who Dares Wins so Verity wanted to know what was life like as an RAF firefighter in Afghanistan. Mark gets straight to the point with his response. He said:
“Looking back, it’s quite grim. You definitely feel like you’re part of a cog, you know, that you’re doing a role out there and you’re helping people so yeah I’m really proud of it.”
In July Mark will join forces with fellow SAS Who Dares Wins recruit Milo Mackin and his older brother Corbin plus Directing Staff Ollie Ollerton to climb the highest mountain in the Alps, Mont Blanc. Milo and Corbin’s brother Marine Travis Mackin was killed in action in the Kajaki area of Afghanistan's Helmand Province on the morning of January 11, 2009.
The goal is to raise money for Strongmen so that they can help men deal with grief. The charity is designed to help men tackle difficult emotions after bereavement but, as Richard asks Mark, is it easier for men to talk to men about their emotions? Mark said:
“After I lost my wife, I would have loved something like this to have been available or to know that it was there.
“Where it’s not therapy, you’re not sat in front of someone who’s got a degree in psychology … sometimes you just want to speak to someone that actually understands.
“There’s a bigger stigma around men and men coming forward and speaking up about their feelings and that was the biggest shock with the show.
“For people to see me break down and become emotional it’s like people have never seen that before.
“You stereotype these men, especially military and fire service and people that play sports, there’s a lot of alpha males … you feel nervous to talk about your feelings.”
The best advice Mark has heard since embarking on his journey of self-discovery is to always have achievable goals to focus on. He said:
"... always having something you can strive towards because if you’re not your thoughts and everything that’s going off can consume you.”
What Is Strongmen?
The charity Strongmen was set up by former 2018 SAS Who Dares Wins recruit Dan Cross and Directing Staff Ollie Ollerton after their own experiences with loss. Dan’s own battle with grief began after the death of his wife in 2015. He has tried to help others cope with their own bereavement ever since.
Efrem Brynin, recruit 11 from the 2016 series of SAS Who Dares Wins, also joined the Strongmen team because he knows bereavement is a never-ending process after his son James died while on his second tour of Afghanistan in 2013. Alexandra Wells completes the team. She brings her own experience of helping children with their mental health and working with male prisoners. Mark said:
“It’s going to keep growing, there’s going to be a lot more opportunities for people to get involved in [Strongmen].”
WATCH: In the clip below Mark chats about what it was like to be on SAS Who Dares Wins
Meanwhile, why did Mark apply for SAS Who Dares Wins? It was his friend who suggested he should apply for it and even filled out the application form for him saying it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Mark said:
“All the way through the process of applying I never really had any intentions of ever actually going on it.
“I just kind of used it as setting a goal and it gave me something to keep working towards.
“Even when I got the phone call saying I’d made it through to the last 25 ... I was still thinking ‘well I’m not going to go’, I had no intentions.”
One question Mark gets asked a lot is what is it like to be on a show like SAS Who Dares Wins? He remembers being very impressed by his fellow recruits as they gathered together in Chile. He said:
“And then I was just like ‘oh well I’m Mark from Rotheringham', I play a bit of football and do a bit of running.
“I genuinely felt massively out of my depth. I was so nervous flying, I was just thinking what have I got myself into here?”
Mark found his anxieties creeping up on him during the first few days of filming. He said:
“You’re stripped of everything. It’s like going back to basic training ... you’re just a number again.
“It doesn’t matter what walk of life you’ve come from, what job you’ve got, how much money you’ve got ... it just doesn’t matter, they don’t care.”
If you want to donate to the Strongmen expedition go here.
WATCH the full interview below...
Cover Photo: @mark_j_peart