SAS Who Dares Wins candidate Nathaniel has told of his life after the show as he opens up about heart-breaking personal traumas that have taken him to the brink of suicide.
Nathaniel Shaw, perhaps best known to millions of Channel 4 viewers as recruit number 16 on the military-themed reality TV show, has told Forces Network of difficult times in his life, including a suspected gas explosion at the family home that left his mother severely injured, and how he has battled depression and mental health troubles in a lifetime plagued by homelessness and bereavement.
“It’s like suicide is calling to you and you go numb and you can’t see or hear anything, and you just stare out into nothing.”
In the television show, five ex-Special Forces soldiers aim to recreate the SAS’s selection process – putting 25 civilian candidates through a series of tough challenges to test their physical and psychological resilience which includes brutal exercise, sleep deprivation, interrogation and complex mind games.
Speaking to Forces Network, Nathaniel, 28, also opened up about going into foster care as a baby, how the death of a loved one at the age of nine triggered his mental health journey and revealed who was there for him the most during the filming of SAS Who Dares Wins.
Since leaving the show, Nathaniel has been creating uplifting and motivational videos and has been offered the opportunity to talk to his peers at places like Lancashire University. He said:
"My dream is to become a motivational speaker. I just loved everything about helping people through hard times and also motivating people to achieve greatness."
For now, it seems as though the goals Nathaniel had before SAS Who Dares Wins might have shifted somewhat. He thought university was the route for him but now he is being presented with so many opportunities that he is planning to finish the year and then see what happens next.
Nathaniel’s emotional journey on the Channel 4 programme inspired many viewers to take to social media to express their support, something he has found incredibly motivating.
In the latest series of SAS Who Dares Wins, a group of 25 men and women were sent into the punishing Andes Mountains in Chile to discover if they had what it takes to join the real Special Forces.
Like many recruits in this series, Nathaniel found managing his mental health in the hostile and unforgiving winter warfare environment difficult.
He prides himself on being physically strong and trained hard before filming but found balancing his mental health a struggle. He said:
"I was at a disadvantage going on ill. I was battling with my health and the elements of the show.
“Imagine somebody going on the show with a hamstring knowing they wouldn’t stand a chance but went on anyway to push their limits - that’s how I felt but mentally.”
One of the toughest challenges Nathaniel faced was early in the competition.
A boxing challenge designed to test the recruits' ability to channel their strength and aggression pitted contestants in a fight against each other.
Every recruit chose an opponent of the same gender until former Special Forces soldier and SAS Who Dares Wins Chief Instructor Ant Middleton said:
“The enemy doesn’t care what f***ing gender you are, f***ing race you are, f***ing religion you are. They just wanna f***ing kill you. Full stop.”
After these strong, no-nonsense words from Ant, midwife Louise Gabbitas was the first recruit to choose a man - Nathaniel. He said:
"Although it was inevitable, and something I tried to mentally prepare myself for, it was one of the most difficult tasks I had to do during the series.”
Credit: Channel 4 / Minnow Films
Many people have expressed their concern online regarding how Nathaniel is being looked after being withdrawn on medical grounds from the show. He explained that the production team had offered him help:
“They have helped me a lot, they put in a referral for me and I've had a psychologist helping me whenever I need it.”
There has been a concerted effort by the team behind SAS Who Dares Wins to highlight the importance of not hiding mental health struggles. It might be perhaps rare to see men express such strong emotions on screen but the Channel 4 programme does not shy away from the issue.
Nathaniel said the experience of being on the show had taught him to push past his limits and that he now feels more capable than he initially thought. His experience has overall been incredibly positive. He said:
“If I’m honest everything I take from the show is positive. It teaches you to live on the edge and push your limits.
"Ant [Middleton] was the first person in my life to pick me up off the ground and tell me that I wasn’t a piece of sh*t and someone special.”
His mindset has strengthened but becoming the man he is today has not been a straight forward journey.
Nathaniel’s childhood was not easy. He only recently discovered that he entered foster care at the age of nine months old and there are not many people that he considers to be family. He said:
“I don’t buy into that you can't pick your family, but you can pick your friends.
“There’s friends that will take a bullet for you and there’s family members that will be the ones pulling the trigger.”
Only since appearing on SAS Who Dares Wins have some members of Nathaniel’s family got in touch, he said. However, there are some loved ones he is close to. He said:
“The family members who I’m close to are proud of me and my little nephew looks up to me.
“He watches all my YouTube videos and thinks I live in the phone.”
When Nathaniel turned 18, he ended up homeless and ended up living in a hostel following complications over his foster care.
A year later, Nathaniel’s mother and two younger sisters were involved in a suspected gas explosion in their house in Nottingham that left his mother without her eyesight and the loss of one of her legs. Nathaniel says it was this traumatic experience that first sparked his interest in joining the military. He said:
“When she was sent to the military hospital in Birmingham, that was the first place I got inspired to join the military.”
Has his time on SAS Who Dares Wins encouraged Nathaniel to join the real Special Forces now?
“I want to join the RMR [Royal Marines Reserve] but I don’t know if my mental health will hold me back?
“I was offered to join the Marines when I went for my Navy test a few years ago but turned them down to join the Navy but didn’t end up pursuing any at the time.”
Nathaniel admits he is obsessed with fitness and that without it he would feel lost. Even on days when he feels low, he can always muster the energy to go to the gym. He was a keen footballer when he was younger. He said:
“I used to call myself Mixrace Beckham and would cut my socks and turn it into a captain's armband and play in my garden with myself.
“I would play at school as well and I was actually captain at one stage.”
From an early age, school was something Nathaniel really enjoyed. However, things changed when he did not get into his first choice of school due to moving foster homes. At nine years old, Nathaniel saw his grandfather, with whom he had lived for several years, die in front of him. He said:
“I was a mess. I was only nine and I had just watched the only person to believe in me deteriorate in front of me.
“This is where my mental health started. I wasn’t born mentally ill, it was triggered by trauma.”
It took Nathaniel eight more years to realise the devastating impact the death of his grandad had on his life. He had fallen into a depression and even lost a scholarship to America. He said:
“I developed OCD [obsessive compulsive disorder] when my grandad died but I didn’t know I was ill until I was 17.
“I was at the age where you start to find who you are and didn’t know what was wrong with me.”
Suicidal thoughts began to take over Nathaniel’s life at the beginning of 2018 while he was at university.
Nathaniel wrote a letter to his fellow recruits before leaving SAS Who Dares Wins in which he opened up about his suicide attempt.
“While I was at uni I tried to hang myself.
“I fell so far down I didn’t think I could get back up, but when you fall on your back, you can’t fall any further.
“I’m physically able to carry on but mentally I’ve reached my limit.
“There is no switch to turn mental health on or off and I’m sorry if you think I’ve let you down, but I have to put my health first."
Credit: Channel 4 / Minnow Films
Speaking to Forces Network, Nathaniel explained what the days leading up to his suicide had been like.
He describes himself feeling as though his life was being filmed on CCTV and that his “final steps were being filmed.”
He was not able to control his emotions and found himself crying and not being able to stop. He also stopped eating and missed lectures. He said:
“I would just cry until it became too much.
“It’s like suicide is calling to you and you go numb and you can’t see or hear anything and you just stare out into nothing.”
Since leaving the show, Nathaniel said he feels that he has come a long way. He said he feels people might not understand but suggests that is because people do not know what he has been through. He said:
“Win or lose I’m still a winner because I’ve got this far.”
Speaking to Forces Network, Nathaniel went on to explain himself even further. He said:
“For me I’m my own winner. No one knows what I suffered in my life.
“My journey has been very difficult when you watch the recruits, they have one thing that keeps them going that they’ve been through, but I’ve been through so many things and to just be standing on that parade square is winning for me.”
What advice would Nathaniel have for someone who was inspired to be open about their mental health after watching him on SAS Who Dares Wins? He said:
“You have to acknowledge where you are and understand that the storm will pass. You just have to ride it.
“I fall into darkness all the time but I’m a lot better at getting out of it. Also keep your head up and keep fighting.”
Meanwhile, Nathaniel speaks fondly of his time with SAS Who Dares Wins Chief Instructor Ant Middleton and his directing staff Jason ‘Foxy’ Fox, Ollie Ollerton and Mark ‘Billy’ Billingham.
He feels as though they are “how men should be and how role models should be”. He sees them as inspirations because they encourage people to improve their lives. Something he aims to spend more time doing after leaving the show. He said:
“More people should look to them instead of these silly Instagram rappers holding guns.
“Foxy is my idol, such a good guy. Billy is very professional and caring and is a machine, what you see is what you get with him.
“Ant is the man you see on the screen but more. He has time for anyone. He helped me so much and we had conversations about my health and how to get better off camera.”
He told how he was closest to fellow recruit, fitness Instructor and motivational speaker Esmee, on the show.
Esmee, 27, had been left paralysed from the waist down from the age of 18 due to complications in surgery during a hernia operation.
The story of how she had battled back by teaching herself to walk again and taking small steps in physio - walking out of hospital weeks later - has inspired many since she entered the public spotlight.
She had been a constant support for Nathaniel during the show and kept his spirits high. His fondest memories of Esmee did not make the final edit of the show. He said:
“She got me through so many hard times and it would have to be when I was climbing up the mountain and we were singing the cup song from Pitch Perfect.
“They cut all the good memories of me and Esmee out, but she really helped me a lot because I’m not a very sociable person I didn’t get that close to a lot of the recruits.”
Who was Nathaniel’s winner from the start? He said:
“I always knew Mark would win - he was just a different league from everyone.
“I had no idea of his story and just thought they put someone in who was ex-RAF so there was at least one person who would pass the process.”
If any of these issues affect you or you feel you need help with your mental health contact Combat Stress, The Samaritans or SSAFA.