Ant Middleton and his team of Directing Staff will give 12 celebrities a massive culture shock in the latest celebrity series of the Channel 4 series, SAS Who Dares Wins.
Stripped of their luxuries, clothes, identity and without their celebrity comforts to fall back on, how will recruits like former Atomic Kitten singer Kerry Katona, presenter Ulrika Jonsson, musician Wes Nelson and TV personality Saira Khan cope during this version of the Special Forces selection course?
Will they be able to overcome their insecurities or will the fear of being their true selves get in the way of success? Directing Staff Jason 'Foxy' Fox said:
"Its like being naked. It's like 'f*** me, that's who I actually am'.
"It's the most exposed these people will ever be, I think."
Chief Instructor Ant Middleton, who Channel 4 announced they will no longer work with following discussions with the star over his "personal conduct", is back with his Directing Staff (DS) of Foxy, Billy Billingham, Melvyn Downes and Anthony 'Staz' Stazicker.
The previous series have been brutal, highlighting the extreme way Special Forces are selected and this celebrity version is no different.
The series is once again set in the birthplace of the Special Forces – Scotland. Some of the Special Forces' most challenging training takes place here and it is where the founder of the Special Air Service (SAS), Lieutenant Colonel Sir Archibald David Stirling, was born.
The terrain is unforgiving and the weather is far removed from the stereotypical lifestyle of the rich and famous. How will the likes of Paralympic athlete Aled Davies, TV personality Vicky Pattison and former Premiership footballer Kieron Dyer cope living on basic rations with very little sleep and being shouted at by the DS?
VW, TQ, DS, GTTEOI: What do the terms mean in SAS Who Dares Wins?
- VW is Voluntary Withdrawal
- DS is Directing Staff
- TQ is Tactical Questioning
- GTTEOI is Get To The End Of It
Over the course of eight days, the recruits will face brutal challenges designed to push each of them beyond their limit to see who has the ability to prove themselves in the eyes of the DS and pass this Channel 4 version of the SAS selection test.
What Is The Trainasium?
The first task is called the Trainasium and is used to assess a recruit's ability to overcome fear and follow orders at a considerable height.
The aerial confidence course helps recruits learn to stay focused while in a position of being very uncomfortable. Allowing panic to take over their minds will make them lose concentration which, on the battlefield, could get people killed.
If these recruits think they can rely on good looks and charm, they are in for a big surprise. As Directing Staff Billy Billingham said:
"What we're looking for is what's deep in your core.
"The biggest mistake a celebrity can make is to turn up with an ego."
Recruits Ulrika and Kerry do not turn up with egos. In fact, they turn up with something quite different. The DS are convinced that both recruits are letting demons from their past hold them back.
Kerry openly admits to being "unstable and getting married loads, having loads of kids, bankrupt, drugs”.
To Ant and Melvyn, she reveals that, as a child, she saw her mother cut her own wrists and that she took speed at 14 because she was told it was sherbet.
The singer then begins to talk about her most recent marriage but is so overwhelmed, she cannot finish what she is saying.
Kerry's third husband, George Kay, died of a drug overdose in July 2019. The former rugby league star was the father of her youngest daughter, Dylan-Jorge.
In an emotional moment of television, tearful Kerry claims to have been abused by him for several years during their relationship and it is this violence from her past that triggers the resurfacing of negative feelings from her when she is shouted at by the DS during the first two tasks. She said:
"My youngest, her daddy died last year of a drug overdose.
"He was really abusive and it just took me back to being really worthless – the shouting and being last."
Kerry says her children heard the shouting between her and George and saw her black eyes, which led to the singer eventually leaving the relationship. She did not want her kids to grow up in an abusive environment, saying:
"I've made so many mistakes and my actions have had consequences on my kids.
"You've got to hold your hands up, Staff."
Ant and the DS are keen to see her do well on the course after hearing how much she has struggled with life. Melvyn goes so far as to say:
"I'd prefer to go to wars again than f****** what you've been through."
Will this emotional barrier prevent Kerry from progressing in the course?
Speaking to Forces News before the show aired, Kerry admitted that appearing on the show was like therapy for her and made her realise her own self-worth and that she does not have to prove anything to anyone. She said:
"I think the show was counselling.
"For me, I felt I was able to grieve for myself, for the little Kerry."
She praises Channel 4's mental health support during the filming of SAS Who Dares Wins and for helping her feel as though she now has closure, saying:
"As awful as the show was... I felt I was in a really safe place to really let things out."
Ulrika's demons were also holding her back during the filming of Celebrity SAS Who Dares Wins and affecting her confidence in tasks like the Trainasium. However, she impressed Ant and the DS by calmly completing the gas chamber task.
Dressed in nuclear, biological, chemical (NBC) suits and wearing goggles, the recruits must enter a gas-filled room, take off their masks and save a fake hostage after stating their mission.
As explained by Billy, the gas overwhelms the body and makes it feel as though it is being suffocated. He said:
"I remember the first time I was exposed to CS... it was the most uncomfortable thing I've ever done.
"It was f****** horrible and I got outside and puked everywhere."
The other recruits are anxious about Ulrika taking on the gas chamber challenge as she was taken back to base before the first task – the trainasium – had even started due to suspected hypothermia. Her first chance to prove herself is in the gas chamber.
Speaking to Forces News before the show aired, Ulrika admitted that, despite what the DS felt and saw, the gas chamber was the hardest challenge for her, saying:
"It was overcoming fear itself which is the big thing.
"What I knew before I went in was that whatever happened, I just needed to do it because I will spend my entire life procrastinating, working out pros and cons and assessing a situation which puts you in touch with your fear which disables you from doing anything."
Before appearing on the show, Ulrika sought advice from a friend who was a physical training instructor in the British Army. He tried to prepare her for what she was about to face because, as she admits, she is "soft and nice", the opposite of what she feels is needed to succeed during SAS Who Dares Wins.
She found the difference quite interesting and an important take-away from the experience, saying:
"Just cutting away the bull**** from your life... just crack on and do it.
"That was really a wonderful experience and I see the appeal of being part of that kind of a family."
Speaking with Ant and Billy about her suspected hypothermia before the first task, Ulrika admitted she felt disappointed in her body's ability to cope with the cold. She also revealed that her biggest fears are disappointing people and not being good enough.
Billy reminded Ulrika about how bubbly and confident she seemed in the 1990s while presenting ITV's entertainment show Gladiators, BBC2's comedy panel show Shooting Stars and the BBC's The National Lottery, to name just a few. The DS asks why she has lost that effervescent personality she was well known for. She said:
"Menopause didn't help, brought on lots of anxiety and it was really easy to stay at home and hide away from everything.
"I do struggle with believing in myself, but I need to gain something, I need to reclaim something.
"I feel I don't have very much self-confidence, but I feel very determined."
Billy encourages Ulrika by reminding her she bravely chose to take on the challenge of SAS Who Dares Wins and that she is capable and should not see the other recruits are more worthy of being there, saying:
"Just believe in yourself a bit more, get that confidence back because we want to see you do that.
"I know you can go a lot further, that's for sure."
Ulrika reveals that, while she had an incredibly successful television career, her "one and only ambition was to be a mother" and that she is very maternal. Now that her children have grown up, she feels as though her life's purpose is fading and she finds letting them go and be independent very difficult. She said:
"I feel like I'm emerging out of a period where I've been needed very very greatly by those around me and coming into some stage of trying to find out what I am now and to be honest I feel lost."
Ant encourages Ulrika to use the love she feels for her children to help her focus on completing tasks. He also reminds her that the selection course is about mindset and knowing how and when to act.
Every task is designed to take the recruits out of their comfort zone so they can get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Cover image: Kieron Dyer, Ore Oduba, Jake Quickenden, Aled Davies, Wes Nelson, Shanaze Reade, Ulrika Jonsson, Saira Khan, Kerry Katona, Alexandra Burke, James Cracknell, Vicky Pattison (Picture: Channel 4).
If you or someone you know has been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can find links to organisations that might be able to help here.